Can you do me a favor? I need you to hold a good thought for my dear friend. He flew home yesterday to say good-bye to his father. The radiation therapy didn’t help the tumor. In fact, where there was one, now there are two. He’s in hospice. He says he’s talked to people who have already passed. He asks for his son, my friend. He is waiting for him to say good-bye.
There is a process to dying. Signs that alert the watchful that the time is drawing near. In a sense, it is a blessing. To know, to be there, to sit and hold your loved one’s hand as they cross over.
And it’s the hardest thing to do. I’ve been there.
Many of you know that my father passed away when I was 19. I wasn’t there when he died. And I am not able to share that story with you now. It’s too heavy, too complicated, too much to unearth. Maybe another day…
Next month will mark 4 years since my grandmother passed away. She spent her final days in hospice, surrounded by her family. All 6 of her children. All 16 grandkids. That was her favorite thing- to be with her family. It was such a gift to her, for everyone to be there to say good-bye. To laugh and share stories. To kiss and hold her hand. I think she held on for so long because she didn’t want to leave us- our rowdy energy, our hopeful futures. All the moments ahead of us, without her.
My grandmother was an amazing woman. Polite, classy, kind, loving, forgiving and generous. My sister and I were quite close with her and had made a point of listening to her stories so that she was not just a grandma in our eyes, but a woman who had lived a full life with integrity, bravery and character. She loved so many things- like a good stiff drink at cocktail hour, Lawrence Welk and dressing up in costume for Halloween. She was quietly stoic and quick to laugh and cry.
It had been a few days since she had eaten. The morphine helped ease any pain. We sat in vigil at her bedside, even though she hadn’t spoken in a day. We knew she could still hear us, even if she couldn’t respond. We’d retell old funny stories, letting our laughter fill up the emptiness in our hearts. We’d brush her hair and bring a moist sponge to wet her dry lips. We’d tell her we love her and hold her hand. Time travels differently in the light of such loss. Minutes feel like hours. The days creep on- torn between wanting the suffering to end and not wanting to say good-bye. I would try to go to work but couldn’t concentrate- what is more important than being there?
I was able to spend some time alone with my grandmother when my aunt and mom went to get some dinner. It had been another long day. I pulled a chair close to her bed and took her hand in mine. I told her it was me. I told her I was going to sing her her favorite song and apologized ahead of time for screwing it up. With a voice cracked with emotion, I began, “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby…”and as I sang, tears streaming down my face, I heard her hum. She was humming the song along with me. “Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me…”And she squeezed my hand as I sang, “If happy little bluebirds fly, beyond the rainbow, why, oh why can’t I?”
Crying, I said, “Grandma, it’s okay if you need to go. I will take care of mom. I promise. Will you say hello to my dad for me?” In a hoarse whisper she said, “Ok.” I was trying not to sob when I said, “I love you Grandma.” She turned her head a bit towards me, without opening her eyes and managed to say, “I. . .love you, too.” I kissed her on the cheek and told her to rest. I let go of her hand with a final squeeze and walked out of the room.
She never spoke again. She passed away the following night.
That moment with my grandmother was priceless. I carry it with me, knowing that she is with me all the time. I wasn’t able to be there for my father when he passed on but somehow, being there with my grandmother soothed that regret. As painful as it was to see her go, I am so grateful I was there.
As I think about my dear friend, his father, their journey, my heart is full of emotion. I can only hope that their final moments together brings them each peace.