Right now, I have a thousand miles between myself and a painful ripping in my family.
Today, my grandpa is moving away from his wife and his home ~ his beautiful wife of 63 years who he no longer knows, although subconsciously sometimes seems to remember ~ his home since I was a toddler, where I envision him pruning roses, growing lemons & tomatoes, tenderly bringing in paradise flowers to fix with toothpicks in Grandma’s little crystal dishes to decorate their oval kitchen table with a whole collage of crystal & blooms.
Last night was the last time my grandma would get her husband dressed in his pajamas, and walk down the hallway with her hand in his toward their bedroom, to climb into bed together. He did not know it, he probably did not even know her, but she did. And thinking about that just absolutely breaks my heart.
Today was the last time my grandma would wake up in her bed with her husband warming the other side of it. This morning was the last time she would fill two bowls with cereal, and pile another bowl’s worth of fruit (bananas, peaches, blueberries) on top of each. Yesterday was the first time she had to buy half as many groceries when she made her weekly trip to Trader Joe’s.
Today will be the last time they walk out of their house together, knowing that they will come home together… today will be the first time Grandma leaves her husband in a different home and comes back to her house without him.
Sometimes death comes so suddenly that it leaves us reeling in shock and surprise.
Sometimes death comes so slowly that it just peels away at our very souls, one tiny shred at a time.
I am not there, so I get to be numbed to most of the reality of what is happening. I did not go help buy Grandpa’s new room decorations or the twin-sized blanket for his new bed. I did not cook his last dinner at home or eat his last breakfast beside him at his own kitchen table. I am not the one who has to drive him down the cul de sac and away from his home. I am not the one who has to walk back out to the car and blow him a kiss goodbye after taking him to his new home.
But as I sit here thinking about my mama and my grandma, who are the ones doing all those things, I just can’t stop crying.
I am crying for their pain.
I am crying because lasts & firsts can both be so hard.
I am crying because mortality is a harsh reality when you face it head-on.
I went to bed last night, and watched my husband fall asleep on the pillow beside me. And reality is, I do not know when I will do that for the last time. Sometimes it is easier not to know. I can’t imagine having been my grandma last night, knowing that it was her last time.
I naively think that I am closer to the first time I went to bed with my husband than the last time. I remember sleeping in my bed in my old room the night before my wedding, thinking how that was the last time I ever had to sleep alone (business trips and such don’t count!), and how glorious it would be to have someone to fall asleep with and wake up next to for the rest of my life. (And it is glorious!) I bet my grandma had those same thoughts the night before her own wedding, just over 63 years ago.
So right now, I don’t cry for Grandpa, because my mother just sent me a picture of him sitting at his kitchen table, so handsome in a blue-collared shirt with a big smile on his face, his silver hair topping him like a halo. He is happy, he is handsome, he is oblivious.
But I cry for what was & no longer is.
I cry for my mama, watching her daddy disappear into the shell of what he was, slowly & painfully saying goodbye piece by piece.
And mostly I cry for my grandma, who has not only had to suffer through losing her darling husband little by little over the last couple of years to the horrible ugly monster of Alzheimer’s, but who has had to be the one to physically care for him every day no matter how hard the battles have been ~ and now she has to be the one to sign the papers, to drop him off, to kiss him goodbye, to go home to her new reality which includes her empty bed. And the empty bed simply symbolizes so much… and it breaks my heart.
I remember saying goodbye to my grandpa last fall, the last time I saw him in person. I remember telling him that if he gets to heaven first, to tell my babies hello for me. I remember him staring deeply into my eyes and smiling and saying “I will do that.”
I remember him throughout my childhood in various ways.
One of the most prominent places he holds in my memory is at his own kitchen table (perhaps because we ate a lot of meals there together).
So I am glad for this picture of his last morning at home at his table. With his wife and his daughter.
And while I don’t know when his physical body will die and his soul will fly to heaven, today my family endures a ripping that is a kind of death. It is a step closer to Death. And it is hard, even from a thousand miles away.
It takes a different kind of courage
to face death when you cannot run,
when you cannot fight,
when you are pinned beneath heavy decades,
beneath the weight of life—
when your faith really must be in Another.
~N. D Wilson, Death by Living, p45~