my grandma died (pt. 3)
I left my grandmother’s room and exited into the 3rd floor lobby. There was a young worker who turned on pro wrestling as he wiped down the place. Maybe he’d snatch snippets of it as he went about his business through the night. He saw me watching him for a moment and dipped his chin in one of those affirmative nods.
I circled the main area towards a waterfall splashing down to the first floor chapel. Light refracted through stained glass windows adorning each floor.
Nan had a stained glass window in her room at our house, a keepsake from a time before me. I’d gotten to see more of it these past years than she had, since she moved out.
Spotlights shone up at me as I looked down on someone kneeling — praying probably.
Back when I was a kid, Nan was putting Christmas lights up outside the house with my grandpa, and they were using the brightest spotlight I’d ever seen to illuminate their canvas. Something about the light entranced me, and I stared into its white depths until bubbles of color appeared in the haze.
Nan shouted out and pulled me away from the light. She said I’d go blind acting like that, and told me to sit down on the porch and keep my eyes closed until things went back to normal. I still saw the colors dancing despite my eyelids making every effort to shield me from the world. I got really scared I would indeed go blind and that I’d made a terrible, irreversible mistake.
Eventually all the colors settled back into blind darkness, and Nan took me inside. But I took another glance at the light, partially to spite her I think. I didn’t like her telling me what to do.
Standing in the hospital overseeing the chapel, I didn’t make the same mistake. I had to look out for myself. This time Nan wouldn’t be around to scold me for my foolishness. She’d never tell me anything again. She’d never mutter some barb under her breath. She’d never tell me, “I love you today”, like she did every day I saw her.
A hand on my back kept me from going farther. It was my cousin, coming to check in.
I told him I was fine, asked him how he was. He said it was tough, being unexpected. He wasn’t prepared. He’d had this odd chest pain for the past few days, the same kind he had when our grandfather and his other grandmother died in turn. Looking back it was a sign, he said.
At least his final conversation with Nan last week had been a really great one. The best they’d had in years and years. She’d told him to always be himself, and cherish his uniqueness. She said that people would come around to him, or if not they weren’t right for his life. She said that him being gay was a blessing, and something that made him special and to not let anyone diminish him or take that from him. I wondered if she included herself in that group.
He wanted me to know that she thought that. “I don’t know how much you ever talked with her about your own stuff.”
No I never got that far — I said to myself because my throat was suddenly unresponsive. I turned away. Looking at the spotlights was easier than dealing with that. I just assumed that one day I’d be brave enough.
We got a message that my sisters were five minutes out. He and my aunt went to wait in Nan’s room while my parents and I stood on the 3rd floor lobby, idling. I walked over to the tv and muted the sounds of cage wrestling and chairs smashing into backs.
As my sisters texted that they were at the ER doors on their way up, the intercom blared a Code Blue for ICU bed 14. My dad swung to us and said he’d go help with that. And he disappeared down the corridor. My mom and I stared at each other, realizing we’d be breaking the news to his daughters that his mom died.
My dad still wasn’t back when my sisters found their way to the third floor. My mom actually did the talking, and the better hugging from what I could tell. I was in the dark on how to console my sisters, my own sense of loss lost in their intense distress. I looked up at the TV, happy that I muted the WWE smackdown.
My younger sister was crouching against the wall, and my youngest sister was listening to what she’d missed. I don’t know if my mom was biding time for my dad to arrive on the scene or if she thought they’d need to process it all before going in.
We eventually tried to buzz in, but my dad intercepted us in the hallway. After brief hugs he led the way to Nan’s room, where my aunt was holding her hand.
I didn’t want to be in the way, so I slowly sat down in the same chair I had occupied hours ago when things weren’t yet final — when we were one drip into a urine bag away from a good outcome.
Turned out the pain of my aunt talking to Nan’s body was surpassed by my father doing the same. “Look mom, the girls are here,” he choked out. This isn’t the first death my dad has seen in this ICU, probably not even the first this month — maybe this week. I wondered if those walls had heard him sob so hard that he couldn’t catch his breath. I hadn’t.
I was finding it all so overwhelming, and seeing my sister’s fresh grief was more than I could manage in the moment, so I stepped out again. The room’s heat was suffocating.
The next hour or so passed with each of us going into and out of the room in turn, except for my sisters. Enough time passed that confusion snuck into my emotional spectrum. They hadn’t let go of Nan’s hand since they arrived by her side — for an hour, two — I couldn’t tell anymore. I just didn’t get it.
Then in between some showy wrestling moves and a failed attempt to exit to the third floor balcony, it occurred to me that they might never touch her again. Maybe at some funeral home, but by then the waxy formality of death would have been cemented, and she’d be even further removed from our memory of her. I didn’t know how they’d ever let go.
We all gathered back in the room for goodbyes, and my aunt went first, sobbing all the while. I thought she would’ve gone last, being possibly the most impacted person there. Then my cousin left and it was just the five of us.
I assumed I was the natural next in line, from least to most important, so I composed myself and said a goodbye. I nearly asked everyone if I could have the room alone — I felt like I wanted that alone space with her so badly, I don’t know why — but I kept it to myself.
In an attempt at some privacy despite the audience, I whispered an apology and told her I’d miss her. I remember being surprised by how much I meant it.
And I walked out of Nan’s hospital room for the last time. It was the last time I’d leave the place I last saw her alive.
Once everyone was done, we took a lonely elevator ride down together. My dad was examining the floor. I saw the same answers in that tiling as in the stained glass of the chapel.
Leaving Nan there felt unreal, like we’d have to go back and get her. Didn’t she know mom just paid her rent earlier? We wouldn’t have done that if she wasn’t gonna make it.
No one had anything to eat all day, so we stopped by a grocery store for dinner, where I found myself walking with my dad ahead of everyone else. He told me that he knew Nan could get under my skin, but that she always loved me.
I didn’t want him consoling me — his mother just died. And he really loved her. He needed her. I felt so clearly that I should be doing the consoling, not him. But I had no clue what to say.
“I know” was what I got out. And then he was down the frozen aisle before I was any more cogent.
My dad had said she loved me. Midnight struck, and the last day of Nan’s present tense expired. Everyday was past from here on out.
And that is how it goes.
— a grandchild