"I am a soul. I know well that what I shall render up to the grave is not myself. That which is myself will go elsewhere." `Victor Hugo
It’s been two weeks since my Grandma passed away. 3:35pm never meant much to me before, but now it’s the time that Grandma took her last breath. Mom and I were there, Moya too and K, a family friend who is more family than friend. We surrounded her, holding her hands, touching her face, telling her she could go, we would be okay, don’t be afraid. As my mother said, “You are surrounded by love.” And so she was.
My uncle didn’t want to see it. His best friend has watched his parents die and he said it haunted him still. I was afraid, I will admit... I didn't want to be haunted by my Grandma’s last breath. But I have spent the last few years telling Gran I would be there for her until the end and damned if I wouldn’t be.
I’ve never seen anyone die before. It wasn’t so bad. The rattle in the breathing and the physical struggle we saw as she tried to draw a breath went away in the end. In the end she simply took a few shallow breaths and then it was over. I don’t know what I was expecting but I was not expecting it to be so... so quiet and calm.
And life goes on. Mom and Moya and I went back to work on Thursday, a day after we buried her. K made the long drive back home and Grandma’s room at the nursing home facility is already home to someone else. I mostly try not to think too much right now… thinking about Gran only makes me cry. But sometimes I can’t help it, some memory or smell or song comes unbidden and I’m reminded that my sweet Grandma is gone and suddenly there is no air to breathe and something is squeezing my heart and it hurts.
I keep wondering where she might be. Is she happy again? Is she young? Can she still hear us, see us? These are the times when I wish with all my heart that I could believe there’s some white dude with blue eyes and long flowing hair in the sky and that Grandma is floating around somewhere in the clouds, watching over us still. That kind of faith would no doubt be a source of solace right now and not for the first time I have to wonder why I must be different in this thing, too.
I remember once hanging out with friends in Baltimore. We were sitting in a pub somewhere in the Inner Harbor doing what we do best, drinking and talking. Moya asked us all what we thought happens when we die and Dan said one of the most profound things I think I might have ever heard. She said something like "I believe that when I die the energy that powers my physical body will join a larger pool of energy that no longer recognizes my individual contribution."
I keep going back to that, because at the time I believed it too. I couldn’t put it quite as eloquently as Dan, but that’s what I’ve always thought. Your energy never goes away; it simply dissipates into the universe to become something else. 'We are all one' and all that.
I still believe that, or some version of that. And it brings me no comfort. I just want my Grandma... the pleasantly plump, gray and white haired, kindly-faced woman who helped raise me. She would bounce me on her knee when I was very young and bury her face in my neck to tickle me… I would laugh and laugh. She read to me, let me sleep beside her when I was scared, cooked for me, took care of me when I was sick, always asked me if I needed money and taught me what unconditional love means. I miss her hugs, I miss her voice, I miss her smell. I miss everything about her. Even when the Alzheimer’s had gotten bad there at the end, she still loved my hugs. The last words she said to me was on the Monday before she died. She was sleeping in a drug-induced haze and I sat beside her and said “I love you Grandma” and she woke up and said, clear as a bell, "I love you, too".
Good words to hear if they are to be the last. I’m grateful she was able to say them. I believe it was a struggle for her to say them but she surely must have known on some level that she was nearing the end and she said the words. I will remember that always… I think it was the only gift she had left to give.
Everyone says it gets better with time. I suppose it does. Perhaps the memories no longer cause pain and tears but love and laughter instead. Maybe I can convince myself that the mourning doves and the three escaped horses in the yard on the day of her funeral and the spilled drink in the kitchen were all signs to us from Grandma. I do believe that some spirits stick around long enough to say what they have to say and I used to say to Grandma "You come back if you can and let me know you’re ok"... and Gran would laugh and say she would if she was able.
So I keep looking for signs and wondering if this is one, was that one? It’s enough to make a person a little crazy.
And so begins the transition to a new chapter in my life... one in which Grandma only exists in my memories. It’s an odd feeling, but I guess I’ll get used to it eventually.