I stood back, by the end of the bed and let the two of them say goodbye. I couldn’t see my twenty-five-year-old daughter’s face, but I could see my grandmother looking adoringly at her great-granddaughter; the two faces mere inches apart. It was eerily sweet; she couldn’t take her eyes off her. It was as if she was memorizing her glistening blue eyes, her compassionate smile, and her youthful innocence.
I stood there, quietly appreciating this scene unfolding before me. I watched as my grandmother held my daughter’s hands in hers, and then swept her soft frail hand alongside her soft cheek. I listened to their whispers back and forth, “I’m so glad I got to see you…the girls together again…I will be back…I love you…I love you too.”
I watched my grandmother’s long thin fingers gently grasp my daughter’s hair alongside her face; holding it like a piece of billowy cotton freshly picked from the field, feeling each soft strand against her skin. It was clear, she didn’t want to let her go.
She looked deeply into my daughter’s eyes, commenting on the beauty of her blues. “They’re just like your eyes Gram,” my daughter remarked, “I get them from you.” My grandmother smiled sheepishly, as if she was a bit embarrassed. It was a tender few minutes of two souls, generations apart, connecting.
Finally, it was my turn to say goodbye. Never sure if it would be my last, I took her hands in mine, leaned in and kissed her gently on the cheek. I told her I loved her; words from my childhood rarely uttered, but now on my lips with ease. She looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I’m ready to go…but I’m still here.” What could I say then to bring her clarity and comfort? “You’re a strong woman,” I said, and she replied with her signature, “evidently”, making me chuckle with her honest and smart rebuttal.
She studied my face as well; possibly recalling my childhood and reveling in the woman I had become. I told her it had been a wonderful visit to reminisce and that I would be back soon. She remarked about me making such a long trip to see her, and I reminded her that being with her was well worth the trip.
I cupped her cheek in my hand and then gently brushed her white thin hair back on the top of her head; leaving her is such sweet sorrow. Although my visit could not restore her failing physical body, my hope was that in some small way it lifted her spirits, brought a smile to her face, and most definitely, much needed laughter to her voice. I hoped to provide her with even the smallest assurance that when her next adventure begins, she would, without a doubt, feel safe and loved.
For those of us who sit by her bedside, the not knowing is excruciating, and yet I certainly don’t want to know. After receiving one call from my parents suspecting the moment was at hand, the emotional rollercoaster that ensued was devastating, and I told my mother I would prefer to only be informed when she passes.
While my grandmother grapples with her failing body, professing she has lived too long and is ready to go, many of us close to her grapple with being there for her in her final moments. Honestly, we grapple with setting life’s indulgences and necessities aside, making the time to be with her while making sure when we say goodbye and leave the room our guilt for living and leaving is in check.
Eventually we all will die…but while we are living we’d like to not think about that fateful day. We don’t want to know; we just want to live and while we do that, we desperately hope we don’t waste too much of our time complaining, obsessing, making excuses, being angry or sad. My grandmother has lived a full life on this earth for 99 years, and yet it is so difficult to watch her decline physically, especially when her mental capacities are still so sharp.
Like my daughter, I am grateful for every last moment I have with my grandmother. For every last smile and touch, for every last laugh and kiss, for every last look into her blue eyes; for every last I love you. I strongly believe that for as much as I feel my grandmother benefits from seeing me and other family members, we benefit from being in her presence; sitting by her bedside and lingering in our connection to the very soul of a woman we so desperately love.