I’d heard my mom describe being in the room as someone passes away as a “privilege” and I will admit, it struck me as odd. A privilege? Don’t you mean depressing? That must be what you meant to say. Or scary as hell? Yeah, that’s probably what she meant. But a few weeks ago, after sitting at the foot of my grandma’s bed as she took a few last peaceful breaths, I finally understood what my mom meant. It is a privilege to be there in those moments, because not everyone gets that. And as hard as it is to watch someone you love leave this world, it’s also an honor to be there to help them along. To make them comfortable. To hold their hand or stroke their face or wet their lips or just to whisper “I love you” in their ear. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything and I am so thankful I made it there in time.
A few days later, while we were at the funeral saying our final goodbyes, I was having a serious internal struggle about whether or not I was going to speak. I had something prepared. A few paragraphs typed out and stuffed into my purse. One minute I was ready to tell the minister that I was for sure going to speak, and the next I was ready to go outside and set that piece of paper on fire and find the nearest bar. Funerals are dumb. Dying is stupid. There was no way I was getting up there to stutter like an idiot in front of all my grandma’s friends and family. She deserved better than that.
I sat and listened to the minister speak so kindly about my grandma. How humble she was about her crocheting talent. She made blankets for everyone. Beautiful, elaborate blankets. She made blankets for the hospital, so they’d have something special to wrap stillborn babies in. She crocheted clothes for my barbies when I was a kid. They are amazing. And for her, it was no big deal. It was just something she did. And I cried because I wish I’d told her how special all those things were too me. Maybe she knew. I hope she knows now.
When it was my mom’s turn to speak, she talked about my grandma’s strength and how she loved her family and cared for them the best she knew how. But one thing really stood out to me, and it’s when my mom said she couldn’t ever remember a time when she saw my grandma afraid. She was strong and she did what had to be done. It was true. And there I was with sweaty palm over whether or not I was going to get up and talk to a room full of people for 2 minutes. She’s have had no problem talking to all them. And so, I decided I wouldn’t either.
This is the story I shared with them:
A couple of months ago I was visiting my grandma in the hospital. Her heath was declining pretty rapidly, and mentally it seemed like she was barely there. But somehow, through all the illness and confusion, she was determined to have her personality shine through. She joked with the nurses and every offer of help was met with an “I can do it myself!” That was definitely grandma.
Eventually it was just the two of us in the room. I turned on White Christmas, a movie I watched for the first time with her so many years ago. After a while I realized my grandma had stopped watching the movie, and was smiling and staring at me instead. I smiled back and said “I love you Grandma.” She replied “Probably not as much as I love you. You know, you seem just like one of my grandkids.”
She didn’t remember who I was.
My heart sank a little. She didn’t know me. Except, she still knew she loved me. And in that moment I realized what an amazing gift she’d just given me. She showed me that while this life may take our bodies and our minds, those aren’t required for love. Our souls take care of that for us. There I was, sitting with a woman who’d forgotten me, but our souls were still as connected as ever. And I knew they always would be.
Thank you Grandma for being so determined to stay who you were through everything, and for the comfort I feel now knowing that even though you’re gone from this earth, your love remains.
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