Monday, February 7, 2011

the empty chair

I felt inspired to write today,

until I remembered that my grandma died last week and my words are all stuck up, globbed in grief and steeped in sorrow, like all the composite bad stuff of my life got conglomerated into one big ball and broken open by this event.

I’m still going to try to get something out, because all this stuff is important right now. Not in five years when all of it is past, but right smack dab in the middle of things when tears are fresh.

Her 90th birthday would have been in just a week. She was so frail and old and really, we all told ourselves that death for this woman would have been a blessing a long time ago.

So why doesn’t that make things easy?

She had a stroke on Monday morning: bleeding into her brain, not a candidate for surgery. 30% of people with this type of stroke? They die within a couple weeks. 40%, within three months. But that’s just normal-person statistic; not 90-year-old-my-grandmother statistic.

“I can’t think of anyone on this earth more precious than her,” my mom said. It’s true; this lady was full of sugar but genuinely sweet compliments every time you saw her—a hundred rounds of “I love you!” and, “you’re marvelous!” Every time I would wake up with her in the night and help her to the bathroom, seven exclamations of, “you’re wonderful!” would spill from her mouth.

We passed the people in scrubs, the gift shop where you can buy stuffed animals and balloons, the hallways with giant posters of friendly looking doctor men.

And there she was, in the hospital, dying in the arms of those children she raised—the last of which, my dear mother.

By the time we made it, she was already gone; we were too late.

Seeing her body, I felt so immediately that she wasn’t there anymore. It was so arbitrary—a cheek, a shoulder, a mouth—not my grandma. I had this wonderful image of her as a younger woman—her spirit gliding and hopping around the room; I felt so happy that she was free!! The wounds and hard things of life wouldn’t hold her for one second longer. If air could be classified like this, the air in that hospital room was peaceful. It was sad. The air was heavy but it knew what had just happened, in all the glory of the reality of the Plan of Salvation.

Inside the air filled with all those things, my brother and I talked to her. We talked to the spirit we knew was close as we held the empty body, both sobbing and hugging our mother, who now has no mother of her own in this world.

Grandma, do you remember the time you made the kids walk all the way to Ream’s when milk was on sale? Dad asks.

We laugh through our crying because when I was four and Garrett was six and Grandma was seventy something she babysat us and we walked what felt like eighteen hundred miles to the grocery store and fumbled back with jugs of on-sale milk. She was not one of those plump, baking grandmas who sits around all day. She knew about sales and coupons and hard work and sewing and God and raising twelve kids. She knew about walking when you had no car and getting through tough times. She was strong and smart but kept her sweetness all the time.

We said our goodbyes and there was hugging that was essential for healing, crying that was essential for understanding.

Together—me, my brother, my dad, my mom and my husband—we walked out of the room forever,

past the mortician and the white boards with bright dry-erase marker.


On the way out there was a picture of a house and a porch and a chair—an empty chair. It felt perfect to accompany that moment.

You go, grandma. You can get off your porch and leave your house and go home.

Her dementia was severe and getting worse; she was adamant the last time I was there that she had to wake up and get ready for school. She’d wash her face at least four times a night because she couldn’t remember that she’d already done it. She’s slept with two liter pop bottles filled with water in her bed for as long as I can remember, and ate brown rice for breakfast every day for probably all of those ninety years.

All of that seems like such a distant memory, faded into some fabric—mashed up with all the other things I knew of this incredible lady.

I want to know her for real.

I want to know her independent of life in an old, decaying body, laced with the frailties of mortality.

I want to know that gliding, hopping spirit.

It’s so indescribably wonderful to know I will.

Because someday I, too, will be a hopping spirit inside an old, decaying body. I’m excited for the day to come—the day when I get to get up out of my porch chair, too!

and go home.

1 comment:

Claire said...

Oh, honey. I am glad you had the courage to write this out. Like you said, you'll be so grateful for it later. Because you are in the moment. I am happy for your grandmother's soaring spirit and freedom. She is lucky to have you as a granddaughter.
Love you.