It had already been a bad night. I’d had to sit through a school board meeting. On the way home I got a flat tire. I had a mountain of AP Environmental Science homework waiting for me. I was sitting alone in the front room watching Law & Order and pretending my homework didn’t exist when I heard my mom’s scream coming from my grandma’s room.

She’d been getting sicker and weaker for awhile. She was on oxygen all the time. She hadn’t been able to make it to the table for Thanksgiving dinner just a few months before. I’d been avoiding her room, because I didn’t know how to show her love through my fear of her mortality. I don’t think I’ll ever regret anything more.

I sat in my little sister’s room with her as the EMTs filed in. They asked questions, counted her pills, and rolled her away. I couldn’t think of a single word to say. Tears rolled slowly down my cheeks, landing in two puddles in my lap.

My grandma was the first person close to me to die. She’d lived with us most of my life and in many ways helped raise me. She loved collecting movies and always had dozens of colorful pens. She was constantly drinking Pepsi and was boldly defiant. She taught me fierce independence and to not give a damn. She adored her tiny Chihuahua and Long John Silver’s. She’d picked herself up after her husband left her, and sacrificed years of her life to care for her own mother before losing her to Alzheimer’s. She loved her grandchildren and wanted to give us the world. She cussed when I was too young to hear it, and she tenderly gave me the space to process my first heartbreak while still assuring me that she saw my pain. She was broken and she was strong, and I will always be sorry that I didn’t tell her so.

I wish I could go back and sit with her, watch movies and drink Pepsi and love her little dog. I wish I would have been brave enough to lay next to her when she was weak, to listen to her stories and hungrily store them away, to tell her I loved her and that her legacy would be a beautiful one.

I wish she could meet my kids–one as much of a firecracker as she was, and the other with her bold red hair. I wish they were going to grow up knowing her unbreakable spirit and her gentle love. I wish she could touch their baby soft cheeks and hear the unadulterated joy in their giggles. I pray I can raise them to be people who don’t cower from the pain they see in another’s soul. I pray they will be bolder than I was. I want them to hear her story so that they know what it is to be resilient but still need to be cared for. I want to teach them to love well because eventually time will run out.

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