This past week has been a series of conflicting emotions – they consisted of pure joy and utter heartbreak. I traveled to Florida to visit family and celebrate my cousin’s upcoming wedding by throwing her bachelorette party. A big group of girls were getting together for a long weekend by renting a house with a pool, playing like kids in go-carts and bumper cars and getting one of those old time saloon photos taken – among the usual shenanigans that tend to come with these types of weekends.
It was all set.
Only, when I arrived earlier in the week to visit with my grandparents, I walked into my grandmother’s nursing home to find the hospice nurses waiting to inform me that my grandmother was within a day or two of passing.
This is a woman who has been a part of my life for the last twenty-years. She’s my grandfather’s second ‘wife’ (although not in the legal sense) whom he met after they both became widowers. They caught one another’s eye at the school bus depot where they both worked and the rest, as they say, was history. As I grew, her home became my family home.I spent the better part of my college years winning ‘gas money’ at their dining room table over a weekly game of Yahtzee or Rummy. This was of course, after they fed me. Because college kids are poor. We celebrated birthdays, graduations, the birth of my first child. I even had my first new-mom breakdown while my husband was deployed with her support. She told me to ‘bring the baby’ and let me go off with my friends for the day. I never forgot how she helped me through those months and how lucky I was to be close enough to ‘go home’.
Her death has been a devastating loss for me. She was more like a mom to me than my own.
And, yet, I was also down there to celebrate. My original plan for the visit was to celebrate another, equally as important person in my life. She and I were raised like sisters, the term ‘cousin’ simply isn’t fitting for our relationship – it implies more distance and we are not that. I remember the day she was born, babysitting her through my high school years, living together, and her first days as a girlfriend with her now, soon-to-be husband. High school sweethearts…you really can’t get any better than that. When she asked me to be her Matron of Honor, I was so full of joy, optimism and excitement. I was elated that I had the opportunity to be a big part of her day.
And, so, I left my grandmother in the hands of her children, after I had two lovely days on my own with her before their arrival – simply sitting in the quiet of her room, watching her breathe late into the night, helping her fix her positioning so she was more comfortable, and getting final glimmers of the love we shared over all of these years.
When she said, “I remember” as I showed her photos from their visit to Hawaii after our twins were born just six short years ago – I knew that she knew I was there with her. I stroked her hair, I told her I loved her, and that I was thankful for her. I thanked her for loving me, and for loving my babies. Because that was the biggest gift she gave me in her life.
And, then I left her to celebrate the next chapter in this life, our family’s life, my cousin’s future marriage. I left her to laugh, find joy in the simple, and the pure silly moments.
And, while I was gone, she left me. For a better place, a more peaceful place, no doubt. But the emptiness she has left behind is painful.
I left with a single picture of her when she was young, and my memories because everything is changing after this.
This week has been gut wrenching and joyful all at the same time, and I have struggled with reconciling that. My grandfather said to me, “The good Lord knew you were coming and made this happen like this, so you could be here for her.” He then told me to go and celebrate with my cousin, his other granddaughter – even in the midst of his own grief. Even though I knew he wanted me to stay.
I can only hope he is right – that it was all meant to be like this because I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this order of operations. My heart was so full and yet, it battled with being so utterly devastated.
What a place to be. A confusing, and fortunate place to be at that moment and at that time. But, I know life moves forward. And, perhaps that was the gift of this week – a reminder that the next chapter is ahead, a good chapter. So, I will honor my grandmother by trying to savor those good days ahead, by taking care of my grandfather in a way that hopefully allows him to find a ‘new normal’. Because, I am all to aware just how very, very fast the days and years go by. And, just how much I can sometimes take that time for granted.