My Grandmom is lying in a hospital bed, 10 miles from here, dying.
I hate typing that sentence. I hate that it’s true. Even today, all evidence to the contrary I hope it’s not. She’s fought off so many previous illnesses, isn’t it possible she could pull out of this? Possible perhaps, but unlikely.
Last Friday, when it seemed like just another hospital stay, I visited with her. We had an hour of girl talk. I showed her pictures of Nalu, and all the babies in my life, and we chatted about the weddings coming up this summer and the showers, and all the other news I had for her. She looked great, had plenty of energy, seemed optimistic. Right before I left she took out her dentures and I had a sense of foreboding. Her face collapsed in that hollow old person way. She looked vulnerable in a way I’d never seen before and I didn’t like. But I shook it off as a momentary thing. She was ill, but this wasn’t it.
Unfortunately things took a bad turn over the weekend. Her breathing got increasingly difficult, and she said she was ready to go home. Not to her condo in Media, but to God. When my dad broke this news to me on Monday, over a bad cell phone connection, I was shocked. “No, I just saw Grandmom,” I said. “She was fine. She was planning on coming to the wedding shower on Sunday, to the shore this summer, to Richie’s wedding in August.” I thought it must be some terrible mistake. But slowly the news penetrated. When my mom said that if I wanted to say goodbye to Grandmom I should go the next day, I knew this time was different. No one had ever said that before.
I cried and cried. Nalu did her best to cheer me up, acting goofy and mischievous, but even as she leapt and spun, fighting with her stuffed monkey, the tears streamed down my face. I was not ready to lose Grandmom. I didn’t care that she’s 92 and that she’s ill and that I’ve had her for 33 beautiful years, I still was not ready.
And how could I say goodbye? What could I possibly say? I was really scared. Right until I walked into the hospital room to find my Grandmom alone. And then it was just me and Grandmom, just as we’d always been. I told her everything that was in my heart—that I didn’t want her to die, but that I understood that it might be her time; that at least I knew she’d be with my Grandpop, with her sisters and her beloved nieces who had left us too soon. I held her hand, and she held mine, transmitting warmth and strength to me right through her skin, a love transfusion.
I told her I was grateful to have inherited her Irish charm, and her stubbornness. I recalled for her that she had taught me the word stubborn when I was girl, having called me it when I was misbehaving. Though I understood that she was frustrated, I still had to ask, “What does stubborn mean?” We laughed at the memory and she told me, “Some stubbornness is good. It will help you in life—help you to make the right choices and stick with them.”
I thanked her for writing down her recipes for me, for teaching me how to make her classic Sunday roast beef dinner complete with homemade gravy. I thanked her for her mother’s serving platter that she gifted to me, and the teapot that her mother-in-law had given her when she’d gotten married. I told her how I cherished the memories of when we were two single girls together, sharing rooms in Ocean City and in Ireland. I told her how I treasured our times together in Media, going to mass and coffee with her and her girlfriends. I thanked her for being a great example to me of how to be a feisty lady and a kind lady and a compassionate lady.
And after I told her everything I had to say and listened to everything she had to say, we just sat together, holding hands. A few times I looked up at the TV, which was on without sound, and saw professional wrestling, which just adding to the surreal feeling. Grandmom is dying and WWE is on TV.
I went back to see Grandmom with Carl last night, and she was in a morphine fog, still with us, but not completely, on her way out of this world. I still hate it. I still don’t want to lose her. But I know that I loved her as best I could, that she knows what she means to me, that I showed her every chance I had, and that is an amazing comfort.
I’m holding on to gratitude like it’s my life jacket. I don’t want to lose her, but how amazing that I’ve had her for 33 years, that we’ve been so close, that she’s taught me so much, that I was able to say goodbye. These are gifts and I will suck all the sweetness I can from them, to temper the bitterness.
Good night and God bless you, Grandmom.