In January, I spent 2 weeks in Florida when my grandmother went into the hospital, hospice, and her funeral. Below are a few snippets of my attempts to reconcile and process my grief.
The In-Between of Grief
It’s January 10 and I’m sitting by the bed of my grandmother with a washcloth and tears in my eyes. She’s lost most of her ability to speak today, but her breathing is loud and labored. Hours, or days, it doesn’t really matter at this point because she gave up when they brought her in a week ago.
This is the face of the dying.
I choke up every time a nurse comes in or one of my relatives shows up or they leave or…
Then I wipe away the tears, breathe in deeply, and smile. It doesn’t always work the first time, or the third, but eventually I move past the moment and into the in-between of this and the next outburst.
Scrounging around in my brain is a bug frantic for memories, fragments, moments, thoughts about this woman who has been so distant and so far from my life for years. I’m here, I tell myself, because I remember her and my brothers don’t. I’m here because I can’t be at home or at work, seven hundred miles away.
My friends think I am here for the Florida weather and to be with my family. They don’t know that the weather is poor and I rarely go outside the hospital, or that this family is almost foreign to me.
The bug does find those glimpses of the past – of Sunday buffets during the Packers games while building forts out of blankets and tables, or of her laugh and ridiculous t-shirts, or of the willow trees shading the backyard, or of her cats that seem to be ever present including our former kitty. Those years are long gone, but I remember.
At least she remembers me.
When I came today, her baby sister was there, talking enough for both of them. I traded places with this great-aunt I haven’t seen since the last funeral.
“She wants to talk to you. Let her know you’re here.”
“I’m here, Grandma Mickey.” I stroke her forehead. “I love you.”
She stares back at me with red-rimmed eyes beginning to glaze over. She doesn’t speak, just stares, as tears run down my face. I don’t make any move to stop them – she needs to know I am sad, that she shouldn’t be in pain, and I will miss her.
It’s an honor to be with her, they tell me – all of them – trying to make me feel as though being alone with a suffering woman when she passes is glorious. I dare not tell them that this is my worst nightmare, to be alone with someone when they die. This is not glory, it is death, and death is far from perfect or kind.
In the garden, there was no death.
We forget at Easter that bunnies and eggs have little to do with the comfortless agony of the cross. Of death for he who has not sinned.
Phone to my ear, I’m babbling nonsense and fighting back floods when a girl with purple streaks and a punk look rushes to the elevator. She’s choked up and on the phone too.
“Dad just died,” she croaks to the person on the other end.
“I’ll be right back, Mom,” I say as I toss the phone down on the waiting room couch. I go to the purple-streaked girl who hasn’t said anything else. “Can I give you a hug?”
She throws her arms open and we embrace. She starts sobbing and I start crying too.
“I’m so, so sorry,” I say over and over.
She coughs out another sob of overwhelming grief.
A boy shows up, taller than both of us, and he takes over as best he can. A boyfriend, perhaps, but awkward. “Do you want to sit down?” he asks her as I pick up my phone again and leave the area.
She doesn’t want to sit, I hear her. No, I think, she wants her dad back and she wants to cry. I know how she feels, the sorrow of loss.
I go back to grandma’s hospital room and cry some more – for the girl who has no father, for myself, for grandma who lingers on with every hard-earned breath.
Today I have started a bucket list, but not the movie version. This is the kind of bucket list that goes in the Living Will and Testament, the kind of thing no one thinks about except when staring death in the face.
It will have sunshine, and fresh air, and Shakespeare.
This is my bucket list, the thing that will carry me from this grief to the next until it’s my turn to look at death and welcome him because there is glory on the other side.