Email I wrote to my sisters:
So everything today went very well. Grama was beautiful. I mean, really truly beautiful. I felt like it was such an honor to be there in that moment with her, I will never forget it, ever.
I drove there unannounced, as I had planned. I noted that Dad’s truck wasn’t there, so that took the edge off a little bit. Uncle Rick saw me at the door and he opened it for me and I immediately gave him a hug. I was bound and determined to hang onto him for as long as he would let me, and he did let me, for longer than I thought he would. He said he would go get Aunt Linda. So I stood in the kitchen till Aunt Linda appeared and I gave her the giant-est hug I could give her, too. She semi-mildly accepted it, and when we all sat down at the kitchen table over by the window and I got a chance to look into their eyes, I instantly felt this calm reassurance that I was exactly where I should be. I felt like this is my uncle and this is my aunt and they love me and this is what I came for. I had expected it to feel like it usually does with this half of the family – awkward and unfamiliar and forced. But it wasn’t like that at all – at least not for me.
I felt I owed them an explanation for why I suddenly showed up, so I stumbled a little bit as I told them that I wanted to see Grama and see them and see how they were doing. I made a joke then, that Dad told me not to come, so “here I am!” and they both laughed. Uncle Rick, appearing to me as a much less-threatening version of Dad sitting across from me, with the same voice and the same facial features but different build and entirely different eyes, told me a little bit about how Grama was doing day-to-day, and how they were sure that things were going to end sooner than they had, but Grama is still holding on. The way he put it is that “she’s not ready to leave us yet.”
They asked about me, they asked about you guys, we talked about jobs and the kids and where everybody was at and what everybody was doing. I asked Uncle Rick about his dogs (they just got a new puppy; he is 7 months old) and asked Aunt Linda about her grandkids (of which I knew not one of their names) and she told me about the camping trip they had just been on together, how Howard renovated an old trailer and revamped the whole thing to be brand-new and that’s what they took with them for that trip in June.
Then, somewhat abruptly, Aunt Linda said, “well, why don’t you go see her?” and Uncle Rick said, “okay, let’s go see Grama” and he stood up. He stopped at the entrance way into the dining room and put his hands on the edge of the stove and turned to me and said something to me. I can’t remember what it was, because all I remember thinking of is how much he sounded like Dad. The way he said it, the attitude he said it with, the inflection in his voice – I guess I just forgot how alike they are. So the words he said were something about how it’s going to be when I go in there, preparing me for what Grama might say or do, and how best to handle it. Oh yeah – I remember now. He told me to speak right close into her ear; that when they do that, she seems to pick up on what you’re saying better than if you are just facing her and talking.
So I followed him into Grama’s bedroom (which is the ONLY room in the house that doesn’t look exactly the way we remember it) and she is in one of those hospital single beds with the incline and the railings on the sides, and I asked him if she was sleeping cause she looked like she was. He said she was but that it was okay to wake her and he leaned over her and said, “Ma – Loni’s here, Mike’s youngest.” So I leaned over her ear then and said “hi grama” and I was able to get right down close to her face cause of the way the bed was positioned and the way she was laying with her face toward the side I was on. So I crouched down there and got myself into a more comfortable position and stroked her hair, from the side of her face to behind her ear and down her neck. And I talked to her in her ear and I told her all the things I have been holding onto for the past 2 weeks. And I told her how much we love her and I said everyone’s name so she could hear us speak to her and I choked but only once. And I didn’t know if Uncle Rick was in the room or not cause all I could see was Grama’s face and hair and ear in front of me. And I was glad that I didn’t know if Uncle Rick was in the room or not and I was glad that I didn’t care if he was there or not.
She opened her eyes a few times. She reached up to scratch her hair. She adjusted her pillow. I just rubbed her hair for as long as I could, for as long as they would let me. I had no other plans than to do just that. I reached out for her hand but Uncle Rick said then that sometimes she will let you hold it and sometimes she wouldn’t and I didn’t want to bother her with that so I didn’t try.
After a long while of brushing Grama’s hair from her face and rubbing her back and her shoulders, it felt like it was a good time to get up off the floor and say good-bye. I talked into her ear and said what I needed to say and I kissed her a few times. And then we were done.
My cell phone rang and it was Dad and I stepped out onto the porch and took the call and after asking if I was okay, he said, “Uncle Rick ratted you out,” and we both laughed. He just kept asking me if I was alright and told me to call right away if I start to lose it. He didn’t say “lose it” but he said some other Dad-way of saying it – like, “call if you get caught up” or something like that.
I gave Aunt Linda another hug and they asked me if I was okay and I said that I was, that I was much better than I had been for the past three days. That I had been feeling neasous and exhausted and really sick to my stomach, but now I felt like I had some peace. Uncle Rick said, “Well, I can’t let you leave without another hug” – he actually said those words as he walked towards me with his arms open – and I was so glad.
When he sat back down at the table, he really knocked me right off of my feet when he said: “We’re proud of you.”
Thinking about that right now, I have tears just streaming down my face.
I just spent almost an hour writing a thousand-word email telling you all of the feelings and emotions of what it felt like to see and touch our dying grandmother, and yet to try to explain even just an ounce of how those words make me feel and why – I got nothing. I can’t express it.
Went and picked up the boys after that. Tonight, at Mom and Dad’s, after I got the kids in their pajamas and settled down, I just sat on the couch with Naeem laying down in my lap, and I just stroked his hair from his forehead over and over and over. I had him cuddled right up on me and I just kept stroking his little blond hair while he held his teddy bear and blanket close to his face and closed his eyes and I just couldn’t do anything else but that. And I didn’t want to move and I didn’t want the moment to end, I just wanted to keep putting my hands through his hair and over his forehead and feel his weight on me. And it was so calming.