A month ago I kissed my Grandmother’s forehead for the last time.
If I’m honest, it was probably the tenth “last time” for me. Every time I left her to take a break from the hospital, I kissed her head and told her I loved her and walked away like it would be the last time I saw her. And every time I walked away, a little piece of me broke and I would cry in the elevator on the way to the main floor. I would cry in the hallway to pay for parking. I would cry as I opened my car door and sat, hands on the wheel, staring at the concrete wall in front of me. I would cry on the way home. I would cry in the shower. I would cry driving all the way back to the hospital. Every moment I wasn’t with her, it felt like she had already died. I thought I would be prepared, but I was only fooling myself.
If I’m honest, I feel a little bit guilty for feeling relieved since she’s passed. Not in a, “oh, good, I’m glad she’s dead” way. No. I mean in the way that you can only feel relief when you know someone is in a better place, breathing easily, not constrained by the pains and burdens of this world any longer. It’s the relief that comes after the constant worry, the constant fear. I’ve lived with that fear of her death for years, but it was only so palpable in her final weeks. I hadn’t realized how tired, how scared, how anxiety-stricken and fearful I was until a few days into her hospital stay. Since she’s passed, my fear has shifted from her life to my Grandfather’s. Sometimes I catch myself watching his chest rise and fall as he sleeps, just like I watched Grandma.
It’s been the longest month, but also the slowest. It feels like forever ago that I said goodbye to her, said I loved her one last time. It also feels like it was yesterday, and like any time I round the landing to go upstairs, there she’ll be, sitting in the chair in the corner of her room. But she’s never there. And she’s never in her bed. And she’s never in her recliner. Or at the dining table. And her oxygen tank no longer hums or takes up space in the living room. I don’t trip over her breathing tubes that run up and down the stairs haphazardly. I can’t hear her coughing. I’ll never hear the way she says “cookies” again.
“Ralph, get my cook-kees. I want my cook-kees and milk so I can go to bed.”
Her final days didn’t include cookies or milk and barely any water. It all happened so quickly, and so agonizingly slow, too.
Now I cry because I can’t believe she’s gone. I cry because I hardly knew her. I cry because sometimes the silence is just too quiet. I don’t cry often – only late at night when I can’t sleep because it’s too quiet, too cold without her.
So tonight, a month since I’ve seen her and kissed her and held her hand and told her I loved her and cried on the way home, I eat two cookies and drink some milk and cry a little bit at the bitterness of losing her and the sweetness of knowing she is with Jesus.
And when I wake in the morning, my first thought will be the memory of how I woke a month ago. The phone ringing at 5:43am and my mom sobbing on the other end of the line. Me walking down stairs with the phone to my ear, nudging Grandpa from his sleep, kneeling beside him in his recliner and holding his arm and telling him that his wife of 62 years had died.
What a cruel, hard new year it’s been.