Today marks two years since my grandmother passed. She was the first person I was actually close with who I lost to death. It was the first time in my life I had to confront the end of life on an extremely intimate level. The reality of it, though, was that I lost her in pieces over time, as if someone took apart a complete puzzle, bit by bit, without saying when the next piece would be removed.
I remember receiving the message from my mom. I was in the faculty room at Brandywine on my prep period. 4th period. I didn’t cry. We had known the end was near. Two afternoons before, I remember texting my mom, asking if I should make the drive home in order to see my grandmother before her death. At the time, my grandmother was in a coma-like state–she wouldn’t open her eyes for anyone, wouldn’t respond to greetings, wouldn’t even recite her prayers. Instead, she was just laying in bed, asleep and yet not asleep.
My grandmother lived with dementia, which then transformed itself into the elementary stages of Alzheimer’s. Her husband also lived with Alzheimer’s and died from the disease nearly 15 years before my grandmother succumbed to it. Unlike my grandfather, my grandmother never got to the point where she forgot many of our names. This was a blessing. Despite that, she did experience many sad, unfair symptoms of this disease. She was unfit to live alone in her house, and thus, began to live in a dementia unit in an assisted living home. There were countless times she imagined her new residence as something other than it was: her elementary school, a rectory, her childhood home, a hotel in a different state. She always knew this place was not her home, even though it had all the comforts of it. My mother wondered, every day, if my grandmother (her mother) cried once my mother said goodbye or felt alone at nights.
We never received answers to our wonderings, and this was a blessing. I had always been very close to my grandmother. My parents purposely bought their house near my grandparents so that we would always be within walking distance. Growing up, I was at my grandparents’ a lot–I slept over, played in the driveway, watched cars pass on Cottman Ave from their lawn, danced in their living room, ate dinner in their kitchen. Sometimes I would even fake sick in elementary school so that I could have my grandmother pick me up and we could play Scrabble on her kitchen table. I never lost that closeness with her, even when I went away to college. I would call her often and when I came home, I would make sure to visit her. She always asked me about school, but more importantly, she always affirmed that I would be successful in all my endeavors.
Toward the end, I also experienced a secondhand closeness to my grandmother through my mother. Being that we were the closest distance-wise, my mother spent a LOT of her time over my grandmother’s (the home in which my mother grew up). Before she went into the assisted living home, my mother and her siblings attempted to be my grandmother’s “roommates.” One summer, my mother barely even lived with me and my father. Instead, she stayed over my grandmother’s ~6 nights a week in order to take care of her and make sure she didn’t leave the house or leave the burner on for the tea kettle. During this time and at the beginning of my grandmother’s admittance to the assisted living home, my mother received an adequate amount of backlash. In addition, my mother lost one of her closest sisters. Overall, it was a tough time. I witnessed everything my mother experienced during this time, good and bad. I felt close to my grandmother even more because of all the sacrifices my own mother was making. It made me want to make sacrifices, too. It taught me loyalty and bravery.
So when I asked my mom if I should go visit my grandmother during her final week of life, I was surprised when my mother suggested I did not. We talked it through and my mom felt it was best if I remembered my grandmother for who she was outside of her current state. So I didn’t go see her. Two days later, she passed. I never did get to say goodbye to my grandmother directly and that has made me feel extremely guilty.
On the morning of her funeral, I was forced to confront the fact that I would no longer get to spend another moment with the woman who taught me faith, perseverance, what it means to be a good neighbor, and the importance of conversation. The least I could to do honor her was sing at her funeral, which I did. It was my final farewell to her.
Two years later, not a day goes by I do not think of her or feel her, even in fleeting moments. I can sense her every time I go to make tea, when my cousins and I bring her up in conversation, when I walk into my apartment and see a piece of her furniture. She is always with me. And even though a disease took her memory, it could not take away the memories we shared or the memory of her from our lives. The disease could not and will never discredit the lifetime we all spent with her.
Two years feels so brief, like a crunch of a leaf under my boot, like a flurry of snow that lands on my glove & melts. Instantly.
Two years feels so long, like the space in between phone calls from a lover over seas, like the time it takes for an ulcer to heal. Achingly.