I’m currently reading House of Leaves and like Johnny Truant does in the book, I feel compelled to rattle off because a passage reminds me of a memory in my own life. What I just read was an entry where a character tells another character they can go now while said character is on their death-bed. I apologize if this counts as a spoiler, but I don’t think it is, because the book is so out there and all over the place. The way it’s written, I could be talking about anyone or anything.
Anyway, this passage reminded me of my grandmother’s own passing. She was on hospice and I had made travel arrangements to go and see her. I was already living in Los Angeles at this point. I only had a couple of days til my flight, but I ended up getting a phone call from my mother while I was shopping at Ikea of all places. My mother explained to me that my grandmother was most likely going to pass that day. She told me she was going to call me in a few minutes so I could say goodbye.
I was shell-shocked. I didn’t know how to react or what to say, so I just said, “Ok.”
I was with the artichoke boyfriend at this point in time. He didn’t know what was going on at all. He just wanted to get a futon for the place we were moving into. I told him I had to step outside, that my grandmother was dying. His response was similar to my own. “Ok.”
So I sat outside, on a bench, in front of the Burbank Ikea. I felt so numb. I learned about death fairly quickly in my life. My other grandmother died when I was six. I had many pets pass over the years. I felt knowledgeable about death. You’re never really prepared for it, though, no matter how well acquainted you get.
I was searching for what to do and say when my phone rang, it was my mother. She explained to me that my grandmother had lost her voice, but she was going to put the phone up to her ear so she could hear me. My grandmother had severe Parkinson’s. Her body slowly fell apart on her over the years to point where she could hardly walk and even eat. I figured her disease had finally affected her voice as well. Despite this, her mind remained quite sharp. I was confident at the very least she’d be able to comprehend who I was.
I could picture my mother placing her phone up to her mother’s ear and I thought of what I wanted to say. I wanted to see her one last time, but I also didn’t want her to suffer anymore. So I told her this, “Hello Grammy. I hear you aren’t doing well. I’m supposed to fly out soon to come to see you and I hope I can. I know you’ll probably try to wait for me too, but if you have to go, it’s ok. I will understand and I love you.”
Telling someone goodbye who can’t talk back is an emotionally deafening experience. Here I am, laying my heart out and I have no means of gaining any response. The silence continued on the other end and suddenly I heard my mom’s voice again. “She heard your message baby. I’ll call you later. Love you.”
When I hung up, I still felt numb, but then a couple of seconds later the tears poured out of me. I found artichoke in the kitchen aisle. He had a dumbfounded look on his face. We quickly got what we needed and headed to our place. A couple of hours later, my grandmother passed.
Mom said the whole family was there, waiting for her to go, but then dinner time was approaching. So everyone left to eat and that’s when she left. She was from Tennessee and a true steel magnolia. She wasn’t going to let her family see her die and so she waited it out as long as possible.
I love that stubborn strength of hers, but I hated that I couldn’t see her one last time. When I got back to Indiana I asked Mom if she thought grandma understood what I had said. She smiled sadly and said, “I know she did, because she had a tear in her eye when you were talking to her. She loved you a lot. She loved all of her grandkids.”
Then we laughed because she was so stubborn that we were a little surprised she didn’t hold out til I got there.
This is why I told her it was ok to let go. I ended up being the only one who didn’t get to say goodbye in person and that’s ok, because I didn’t want her to suffer anymore. She struggled with her Parkinson’s for a decade. It was painful to see her. I regret not spending more time with her when I had the chance more than not making it time to see her one last time.
Life is too short to allow fear to determine your lack of action. I wish I had learned that lesson sooner.