Death is a curious thing. In a way, we spend our entire lives preparing for it, yet it always seems to take us by surprise. I’m not talking about stepping in front of a bus or boarding a doomed plane. That’s just random noise. I’m talking about otherwise seemingly healthy people in our lives who are suddenly, out of the blue, lost to us.
Many times, I’ve cried over lost love. Many times, I’ve let go of things of which I was quite fond. Many times, I’ve yearned for rebirth of that which was lost. Today, I lose someone I didn’t expect to lose, in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. There I was in my lover’s arms early this morning, feeling a happiness I could never hope to fully explain in word or song, when I ignored a call from my aunt. Early morning calls rarely convey good news. This news was no different.
My youngest grandmother had been in and out of the hospital over the last week, losing weight quickly and painfully. First, it was this. Then, it was that. Then, it was surgery and finally, serenity. Inoperable was never a word that made my legs weak until it was applied to one of my favorite people.
Her daughters have taken it pretty hard, as one might expect. One day, I know I will lose my mother. That day, I’m sure I will face shock, doubt, and pain for which I can not prepare. The best hope I have is to cherish the time I have with her and choose to take those precious few opportunities I have, to spend money I don’t have to visit her, because she’s precious to me.
I live my life with few rules. One of those rules is to embrace choice, to live without regret. Still, every now and again, I find myself feeling the bittersweet sting of missed opportunity. I knew she was in the hospital. I even had her number. Yet, I thought, “She’s strong. She’ll get through this. We’ll chat about it over the holidays.” I didn’t call. Now, I’ll never have that chance. Instead, I’m sitting on a plane, flying home, drunk and devastated.
She never stopped caring, even at the end. She would give everything she had, everything she was, and everything she might ever be if it meant someone else might be a little more comfortable or have a slightly easier life. She taught me how to be human, to rise above petty bullshit and take the highest road available. Moreover, she taught me how to blaze trails in the unknown, to be bold in my compassion for others. She set the standard for excellence of self and of community, and she aimed high.
She gave me shelter when there was only storm. When my father chose his girlfriend over me and I was out on the street at 17, she gave me a roof and a whole lot of real perspective. She taught me that nothing is free, and even our parents can unearn our respect through action or inaction. She inspired me to believe that everyone earns their right in this world. She earned it. She uprooted her life for me. I know what it’s like to live alone. It’s glorious. She sacrificed that for me.
So, I’m left with this crippling loss, and at the same time I feel this unbearable happiness knowing she gave me the best advice, the best start I could have imagined. And I can rest easy, knowing she is so much more than proud of me for all I’ve achieved in my brief 35yrs. Even now, I can feel her influence. She’s saying, “I think you could restructure that 2nd paragraph. I don’t think anyone wants to hear about your lover. This is about me. Maybe tell a story about my life and how I changed yours.”
Well, grandma, here’s to you. You made me. You managed to keep my mom honest long enough to settle down and have me. You steered me off the sholes more times than I’m willing to admit. You always gave me good advice, and you’ll be in my thoughts until the end of my days. I love you. I promise I’ll write something that makes you proud. I just needed to get this part out first.