On Grandmas and Dying and Living and Saying Goodbye
My grandma died yesterday. I wasn’t there, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I imagine she slipped away peacefully and beautifully in the same way she’d lived her life. I believe her last words, taken from my cousin’s facebook post about the event were, “I love you all.”
“I love you all.” I hope I can say something like that at the end of my life. If I can say anything at all. I guess it depends on how I go. My dad wasn’t able to say anything at the end. He was never given the gift of last words. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that was a gift in and of itself. No awkwardness, no formal goodbyes, but also no way to find peace in their passing, to resolve any issues that needed resolving, no way for those remaining to feel reassured that all was good between them.
And that is what got me thinking…My grandma had been in the hospital for three weeks (give or take a few days). For about half of her stay we were all wondering if today was the day. At least, I think “we” were. You see, I wasn’t there. I was about 1600km away…waiting. Waiting for the call that never came, wondering if that meant I should head out there, go say goodbye, see her one last time. At first, I didn’t really think I had time. I was worried I’d hop in my car and make the trek halfway across the country and then she’d pass away and then my drive would have been useless in that I’d have to go back home, unpack to repack to head back there again for the funeral. So I kept waiting. And then, she started to get better and I thought, Oh, well, maybe I do have time. I’ll wait until she’s a little stronger. The kids are out of school soon, there’s a long weekend coming up, I’ll visit her then.
Then things took a turn for the worst again. My auntie read her my blog and I realized, those were the first words she’d heard out of me since she got sick. Well, I’ll write her a blog. That was my plan. While waiting to go see her, I will write a blog to my grandmother and then my auntie can read that one to her and I will have had my chance to speak to her, to say what I needed to say before she goes.
Well, just like everything else in my life, I put it off too long and she slipped away before I ever did write that blog post. Before I drove out to see her. Before I could say goodbye.
But I did say goodbye the last time I talked to her. And I said goodbye the last time I saw her. I did say I’d come visit this past Christmas and never did but I did call her. That counts, right? Was that enough? She knew the roads were bad and we weren’t sure about driving on them in the dead of winter. We were going to come in the summer instead. She knew that, right? And, did she know I thought about her every day? Did I tell her that a smile creeps along my face every time I think of her because she was just such a cute and wonderful little grandma (and I say little because she was, indeed, quite little).
This is what death does to us. It makes us go back and wonder, were we enough? Did we do enough, say enough, love enough, help enough, call enough, visit enough, and on and on. In my case, the answer seems to be…no. At least, it feels that way. It felt that way for my dad and now it feels that way for my grandmother. And each time something like this happens I think to myself, I’m going to be better. I’m going to do better with the time that I have left. I will call those who are still here more, I will tell them I love them more, I will make more of an effort to see them and be with them and…
And, and, and. That is all that comes of it. Then life keeps going the way it seems to do. I do not call my mom more now that my dad is gone. I have not made a bigger point of spending time with my siblings because I learned how valuable family is. I didn’t start to realize how little time does exist for our grandparents and make a point of calling the one grandmother who does remain.
No. I simply felt this horrible pain in my chest, right where my heart is, and sat down. I thought, “Oh. That’s it then,” and I allowed the weight of it, the loss of her, to take over for a while.
Adn then, life seemed to take over again. I got an email I had to respond to. A text. My husband came home and had lunch and I realized I also needed lunch. My laundry needed to get done and my kids needed to be picked up after school and now we will need to figure out what’s happening for the funeral but first we need to deal with today’s activities and what’s even happening this weekend and when is a good time for my son to go to the movie he wants to see and I wonder if both kids managed to make it through school without any incident today and what will I do while they have swimming….
There’s my life, moving on, continuing, as my grandma’s has ended. I am sure some of my family in Saskatchewan are not able to pick up and continue right now, but even if they didn’t want to, they still must. That is what blew me away when my dad died. Here was a horrible, shocking blow to the guts and I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that life just kept going, time kept on ticking away.
My dad was dead and I was in so much pain because of it I didn’t think I could even drag myself out of bed and yet, I had to. Because I had kids and a family and I needed to eat and breathe and pee and sleep and, and, and….isn’t time supposed to stop when things like this happen?
But things like this happen every day. If time stopped when someone died the world would stop revolving. Days would no longer be days. Everything would be over. Because, if everything stopped for death then there would be no life.
It is the pain and sadness, the finality of death, that makes us truly appreciate life. My grandma’s death didn’t make me think, Oh, Life is so short!, it made me think, Wow, look at all the time we have to do amazing things before we go!
This morning, just before I received word about my grandmother, I had just finished watching a youtube video by a guy named, Guy Vaynerchuk (https://youtu.be/jqgOA6-Up1Q). He was frustrated with fifty-year-olds for deciding they’d come to the end of their lives and for thinking there was no more time left. According to him (and science), we now have forty to fifty good years of life left after we turn fifty. And he’s right. I mean, I’m not even close to half way yet, I have a good sixty years of my adult life left (and I specify adult life because that just makes it seem so much better). I’ve got decades to come without all the bullshit of school and growing up and hormones (oh wait, nevermind, I’m pretty sure that will hit me hard soon enough) and friends and all that crap that comes with being a child and an adolescent. And here I thought I’d better get my life in order, get my career started because I’m running out of time.
But I’m not. I have so much time left. And I am going to live that life in a way that shows people I care about them and love them even when they aren’t there, or when I’m not there, or even when I’m not calling them or saying those three words that, I’ll admit, aren’t the easiest for me to say. And I can do this because of my grandma.
A while back I called my grandma, this was probably last year or something, and was really late in wishing her a happy birthday, or maybe it was thanking her for a birthday present or something. Either way, I was late, I hadn’t called in a while and I felt really bad. I told her, “I’m so sorry. I suck at these things. But it doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking of you.”
And you know what she said back? “Oh, Randi. I know. I just say to myself, Oh that’s just Randi, and I don’t worry about it.”
You see, she knew the fact that I hadn’t called wasn’t due to my not caring about her. She knew it was because I hadn’t gotten there yet. I was busy and I forgot and, honestly, I know they’re excuses, but in my life it is really, really hard to pick up the phone. That truly is just me and she knew that and she accepted that part of me. She gave me permission to be who I was and to know it was okay not to be the grandkid that called her every Sunday, or visited all the time, or any of that. The “good” grandkid I thought I had failed to be. Because she accepted me for who I am and knew that I cared. She could have been bitter about it, she could have been angry with me, but she chose not to carry that. She chose instead to be loving and accepting and take only from people what they were able to give. And that was the greatest gift she could have given me and it is what had allowed me to come out of this sadness with a smile on my face.
Yes, life can be short, but it can also be long. And it can be so full and it can be so empty if we want it to be. People can go in an instant or they can take weeks or months to finally pass away. It’s not about rushing out and saying what needs to be said before they go, it’s about making sure they know how you feel about them long before they go and accepting the people in your life for who they are, not what you want from them. Then, whether you’d talked to them the day before or the month before or the year before, doesn’t matter, because how you feel about them doesn’t change. I didn’t rush to my grandmother’s side in the hospital to say everything that needed to be said to her, because of that phone call. Because she knew how I felt about her and I knew how she felt about me and, well, I couldn’t go through the hospital goodbyes, something she would have understood.
Don’t hug your kids because they’re going to grow up fast and it will be over soon, hug them because you love them and they’re just so damn cute you just can’t stop yourself. And don’t tell someone you love them because you want to make sure they know it in case something happens, live your life in a way that lets them know you love them so it doesn’t matter if it was said or not. At some point, someone is going to leave you and you will be left sitting there, your heart breaking, and hopefully you will be able to say, “They know who I was and they know how I felt about them regardless of anything I did or did not do.”
The end is just that, the ending. It’s all the stuff leading up to that that matters. And I know, all the memories I have of my grandma leading up to that ending, bring a smile to my face. That is what I will hold on to, not the sadness or the grief or the hole she left behind and I can only do that because she accepted me as who I am, utterly and wholy and completely.