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Behind that door

IMG_3434I pushed the heavy door open, slowly, and a bit reluctantly. The room was somber and devoid of sunlight. I could see my aunt caressing my grandmother’s thin white hand while gently cradling her face with the other. My grandmother appeared strained, tired, absent. I gingerly walked into the room finding my place at her bedside. She was confused, and according to my aunt, had been fearfully crying just minutes before I walked in. I had no doubt that I would witness her die that day.

The moments passed slowly. Finally, she was able to focus on me with her stunning aqua blue eyes, still so vibrant, and she recognized me. As more moments passed, she slipped in and out of slumber while her we conversed quietly in the room. I prayed that if her destiny was to move on that day, that God would take her tenderly.

Thirty minutes passed and she became more alert, but still unsure of her surroundings. She very thoughtfully said, “I think it’s time I went home.” She said this repeatedly. As more moments passed, she fell in and out of sleep. Thankfully, I was afforded some time with her alone, and when she awoke again, she knew where she was; in the hospice home.

Now that she was more alert and clear, I showed her photos of my daughter’s trip to China, and I told her about those relentless black birds devouring my bird seed during the last winter storm. “Why do they have to do that,” she said with disgust. I said I didn’t know, and then we laughed, followed by more laughter about how much we loved to laugh together.

Quiet moments passed, and then she expressed a kind of embarrassment in regard to her earlier behavior; not understanding why she was confused, and referring to herself as crazy. I wanted her to focus on the present moment, the fact that we were together; talking and laughing, and not worrying about the past or future. The present was all that mattered.

When my aunt returned, she sat next to my grandmother on the bed. We talked quietly as she slept, until the slam of a door or voices in the hallway startled her. At one point my aunt asked her what she should do about the people in the hallway. My grandmother lifted her head slowly from the pillow, and with her hands in my aunts, succinctly, slowly, delicately, and deliberately said, “you tell them, to shut…up.”

My aunt was aghast, immediately reminding my grandmother that in her youth that word was never to be uttered. My grandmother gently laid her head back against the pillow, and with her eyes closed and a big smile on her face, she said, “Oh, I’m just kidding.” Her sense of humor is beyond compare.

 

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Artwork by Donna Estabrooks

As time passed, I found myself alone with her again. I watched her as she dozed, and decided to take the moment to look at what was ‘right in front of me.’ This woman; this tiny frail woman, who has lived nearly one century, has been a fighter all her life. Born in 1917, she has experienced so much change in the world, and in her own life. Death is no stranger to her; it has claimed those she has cherished, and has personally knocked on her door many times. I have never known anyone who has fought so hard to survive.

 

I looked at her, then glanced over to the dresser where framed photos reminded me of events and times from her past when she was healthy and vibrant. Then, I looked at my hand resting lightly on hers, and I was keenly aware that years may separate us, but the connection we share is irreplaceable and good.

When the time came to say goodbye, my grandmother started to weep, and as I gently wiped her tears away, I said, “No more tears. I love you and I want you to enjoy each moment. Will you do me a favor,” I asked her, “Will you laugh, especially when I am not here?” She shook her head yes, still fighting back the tears. I hesitantly left the room, reassuring her again that I loved her and I would see her again soon.

I didn’t know what I’d find behind that door, that day. Upon entering, I thought I’d witness one thing; I was prepared for it, and then, it didn’t happen. Instead, I had a few more blessed hours with a woman I genuinely love; a web of time, woven with precious moments that I will cherish for the lifetime I am given.

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