My mother returned from a recent trip to my grandmother’s house in tears. She had visited my grandfather’s grave site. “What’s wrong?” I asked her. She told me that the grass was starting to grow over his grave. She said there was a certain finality to it that made it hurt her heart even more. She was right. When you see it with your eyes, the thin green creeping over that rectangle in the ground, it says something to you. I means that time didn’t stop. Winter is still coming. The world didn’t quit turning.
I have heard people say that there is nothing like witnessing a baby being born, a human being taking its very first breaths. While I do not have children yet, I can tell you that there is something spiritual and life-changing in watching someone die. When they take their last breath and slip from this world to the next. It is surprising how moments like that stay with you. The details, like what was on TV that night, the sound of panic rising in someone else’s throat, the purple on his hands, the smell of antiseptic in the hospital, the color of his cheeks as they went from fiery red to dull pink to sullen gray. The shaking voice informing others of the news, the long and tearful hugs, the guttural cries and gasps and words of love from my mother and uncle as they spoke to him for the last time. Some of those specific memories may fade over the years. However, the strong emotions and the deep meaning of what had just happened is something I will never forget. I saw that being there at the end matters. Being a witness to someone’s life matters.
God pulled a lot of strings for me to be there at the right time, to be able to share that precious moment with my grandfather. What a gift it was to be able to have spoken some of the last words he heard. Through tears telling him how much we loved him, how much everyone loved him. That we would be okay, that we would take care of my grandmother. Choking out the words “it’s okay to go” felt like it would physically break my body in two pieces. As he took his last gasps of air we told him everything we needed to. He left this world knowing that he was loved, and that matters. I have seen raw emotion, but it is not the same when it is people you love. Hearing the cries and sobs from my family members physically wounded my heart in a way I didn’t know was possible.
I also won’t forget leaving. Walking bleary-eyed into the hallway outside his hospital room. The nurses averted their glances and were quiet. I am so glad that even though they witness this on a daily basis they gave us quiet. We got on the elevator and left my grandfather. It felt wrong to leave him there. To walk out of the room and drive home and leave him. We went home without him. In his casket, he looked the best he had in months. The purple on his hands, a detail I vividly remember from the night, was gone; no doubt due to heavy makeup. Someone put a lollipop in his casket. It fit. The weather was dreary, or I could just be remembering it that way because it is how everything felt. Dreary fit. At the gravesite more words spoken, then it was over. It felt wrong to leave him there. Not yet in the ground, just waiting atop a hole. Alone. It felt unclosed. Unfinished. It didn’t fit.
For purely non-reasonable reasons I wanted to put a blanket over him, just so he wouldn’t get a chill from the weather. I have still not totally come to terms with the finality. I still want to bring him a blanket when it is cold outside. When I saw for myself the grassy outline of his grave I saw that my mother was right. This is it. The world keeps turning even when for you it has stopped. The grass keeps growing and the seasons keep changing and life goes on. It seems cruel that nothing else stops, but it doesn’t. It would have been easier if I hadn’t been with him when he died, but it also wouldn’t have meant so much to me and given me an utterly beautiful moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. We don’t usually hear death described as beautiful or as a gift, but he gave me a gift by allowing me to be with him at the time he slipped peacefully from our world. He also gave me a gift by allowing me to experience it with someone else, my cousin Candace. This has forged an unbreakable bond and understanding between us that did not exist before. Granddad’s death was full of gifts, which is the only way he would have wanted it. We miss him dearly and daily.
We love you.