Allow me to bring the room down for a second:
My grandmother passed away on October 19th. 83 years old, she would’ve been 84 on the 22nd, and she was one of the sweetest, most amazing woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing—the nicest person I’ve ever met.
No, seriously, the nicest. The worst thing I ever heard her say about anyone was, and I quote, “Hitler was not a nice man.”
Understatement, Grandma. Serious understatement.
One of the most important people in my life, she influenced me in the best possible way. Cardinal sin of the family: upsetting Grandma. One simply didn’t do so, and if one did upset her, the guilt springing for her disappointment was a far worse punishment than anything handed down by my mother. She unwittingly acted as a sort of behavioral barometer: if we didn’t want Grandma to know about it, then we probably shouldn’t do it in the first place. As we became adults, this general rule was later paired with another: if said activity was generally acceptable but not actually Grandma-approved, as a family we simply made sure she didn’t know about it. (Hello, getting shitfaced/having a sex life/taking the Lord’s name in vain/getting in a fight/wearing revealing clothing/indulging one’s road rage/any number of other enjoyable past times!) My grandmother was a focal point, a sort of lynchpin, the (sometimes uninformed and rose-colored glasses wearing) matriarch.
Hers was not a sudden passing; hospice care started in early September. I started mourning then as I watched this vibrant woman slowly fade away, and every visit she was a little bit worse, until eventually every visit I found her to be a lot worse. No surprise when the call came that she was unresponsive and didn’t have long left.
A couple years ago my family faced the sudden death of my father. I’ve yet to find any experience more jarring than the county sheriff knocking on the door in the wee hours of the morning, and one of the most painful aspects was not being able to say goodbye. This time, at least, I was blessed with that chance.
And I’m grateful. The call came around 5 p.m. on Friday, and I was at the nursing home by 7:30. I stayed roughly three hours, keeping my grandfather company, discussing matters with my uncle, and in general keeping vigil. We didn’t leave until my mother (who had driven back from a camping trip) and my sister (who had been working) arrived. When I left, I had the opportunity to do what I hadn’t been able to do before:
I held her hand. I told her that it was okay for her to go. I told her I loved her.
I then cried the entire 35 minute drive home, and she passed away early the next morning.
Whether or not she knew I was there, whether or not she heard me, is debatable. We have no way of knowing, of course, since it’s not like we can tap her on the shoulder and ask. (Although how interesting would that be? Tap, tap—hand her a glass of wine. So Grandma, did you know I was there? How’s the other side? Is God as snarky as I’ve always imagined?) But let’s be honest here: when someone is that far gone, keeping watch over her is more for us than for her, more to make us feel better than to truly ease her way. Who it’s for doesn’t really matter, though, because she’s now at peace and, because I had those final few moments, I’m more at peace, too.
Of course I’m sad. I’m upset and I’m hurting and I miss my Grandma, but I know she lived long, she lived well, and she knew before this that I love her. She didn’t need me to tell her at the end.