“Well, you know, this is good for you.” My grandmother said to my mom and I from her deathbed.
“What is?” I asked for some clarification.
“This”, she said, waving her hand around the hospital room. “You are learning a lot about life.”
“Ha!” I laughed nervously and loudly to divert from the idea that this was actually happening.
My mom or I said “a lesson I’d rather not learn” and I am pretty sure it was me who said “well this lesson sucks”.
“It’s good,” she said “this lesson will help you.”
I’ve always been a good student. This was a lesson I’d have rather not been a part of.
My mom was a young single mother when I was born. I burst into our tiny family and instantly my grandma, grandad, Auntie Helen and mom joined forces to raise me. When I was 2 my mom met the man I know as my dad.
While my mom worked I stayed with my grandma a lot. Many of my childhood memories are of my grandma and I together. She was from Liverpool, England and born during the war (in a bomb shelter!) on Christmas Eve. Full of stories about her fascinating life, she fueled my love of learning and history. She taught me how to read, eat healthy food, encouraged my imagination and very much helped mold me into who I am today. She and I had a bond that was exceptionally strong.
My little family was celebrating our Christmas here in Madison before leaving to be with our family in Colorado the following week. The phone call I got from my mom came out of nowhere (my grandma had never been sick and was always in good health).
“You need to come home. Today.” My mom said wearily from the other line. It was then the whirlwind began.
I was on a plane with my daughter within 5 hours. We thought my grandma would die that day-but luckily she didn’t and I was grateful to spend two weeks with her before she died, three days after Christmas.
Death is, as we all know, a part of life. Of course I wish it wasn’t. It’s painful, raw, vast and dreadful to navigate. The feelings that oozed out of me when she was sick were indescribable. Knowing she would never lay eyes on my second child, who was growing safely inside me, was beyond heartbreaking. The pain of knowing she was leaving me was insurmountable. I told my Auntie Helen several times that parts of my soul I didn’t know I had were aching. I was unable to sleep for 2 weeks because I was afraid that when I closed my eyes I’d have nightmares of her being gone.
But, throughout it all, my grandma was right.
She taught me that yes, while as much as death just absolutely sucks and makes you want to crumble into pieces, there is a lot to learn.
I miss my grandma. SO much. I really wish I could call her and laugh and ask her advice and hear her tell me a story she’s told me a hundred times before. There is not a day that goes by where she doesn’t flutter through my mind and just like a breeze, touch my heart and disappear into the day. I think she’s with me.
My grandma loved to teach and was true to her ways, as she was teaching me right until the end. I learned from her when I didn’t want to…
There is beauty in everything. For example: before leaving for hospice she had an amazing CNA. He kept darting out of the room every time his wife called-she was 41 weeks pregnant. He was so thrilled to meet their first baby that he was gleaming nervously whenever he talked about her. It was so touching and a timely reminder of the cycle of life.
I kept my eyes peeled for the good during the longest two weeks of my life. And it showed itself. My husband was supportive and attentive. I had a perfect life growing inside me. My daughter was healthy and thriving and full of joy. My good friend is a nurse and was able to help our family navigate some terrifying choices. There was a Starbucks in the hospital lobby (sometimes it’s the little things). The list could go on.
We are surrounded by good. Most people are so good. I really believe that. My in laws were beyond helpful, taking my daughter everyday for almost 2 weeks so my mom and I could go to my grandma’s side. They sacrificed their Christmas season for our family in the darkest moments of our life. We will be forever inexplicably grateful for them.
Life goes on. This is a bittersweet one and a hard pill to swallow. The idea that life doesn’t stop when your loved one leaves seems like a slap in the face. I wanted things to just stop. Just for a minute. But, they don’t. And in that I chose to find comfort. There is more than death. There is life, a life that is waiting for you to live it.
Don’t take anything for granted. Hold tight to the good moments and remember that the bad will pass. I can now better recognize things that are a ‘big deal’ versus those that are trivial a bit easier now.
Grief looks different on everyone. Not everyone feels things the same way or grieves the person they love the same way. There is not a right or wrong way to feel your emotions. It’s ok to be angry, depressed and straight up unreasonable while you are grieving. Let yourself feel what you are feeling and know that this too shall pass.
And during a quiet moment when my son and I were alone on the day he was born, I knew my grandma was teaching me that death isn’t the end.
I know she was with us, even for just a moment.