As life flows past, and time ticks away, I find myself stepping into darker and deeper uncharted waters, walking through a time of loss progressively more painful than any losses before.
Unequivocally, today I've said the most difficult goodbye yet. While the sun shone in an unusually brilliant blue sky, I stood outside a busy building full of people and noise, trying to find a silent space to hear the gentle but still strong voice over the phone, connecting to the woman on the other end, my grandmother, lying in a hospital bed in the States.
The weeks of attempted rehab are over, the months of artificial feeding at an end. She is tired, and at 83, who can blame her? She has lived a full and happy life and she firmly believes it is her time to go.
As I listen to her familiar voice over the phone, tears rolling down my cheeks, the panic that rises in my throat at the thought of saying goodbye to Grandmother, of all people, is not unknown. I remember as a child just thinking about the possibility of losing either of my parents made me almost breathless with a blind, dark fear. After Mom and Dad, Grandmother was the person I'd think of next and feel terrified of losing. She has always been there. Treating me like an equal, not afraid to either disagree with me or praise me, she has been a constant presence in spite of the fact that for much of my life, we've lived far apart. Her desire to have a relationship with her grandchildren was strong, and she wrote to us constantly. We learned how to return her letters, and I had a regular correspondence with her until I was thirteen, and she moved to live nearby. This resumed when I moved away from home, and has continued unabated over the years.
Somehow, as hard as it was to lose my grandpa last year, this feels so different. My sister Emily accurately pinpointed why. "She's not just a grandmother; she's been more like a close friend."
For those of you reading this who do not know her, this is Grandmother. [We were not allowed to call her anything else; she couldn't stand 'Granny', nothing other than 'Grandmother'!] She is a study in contrasts. Gentle, iron-willed, determined, yielding, creative, practical. She is an intellectual lover of books and learning, but she is also extraordinarily gifted at connecting with children, reading a simple book with them, interacting on their tiny level. Listening to them, making them feel treasured, loved, and accepted as equals. She loved it once when I described a child as a "miniature person". I can still hear her saying; "Of course! That's exactly what they are!"
"Hugs, hugs to you all," were her last words to me over the phone today. The last time I hear that caring voice, the strength within it flowing out, reaching across the miles to comfort and encourage.
She's always had plans. However, in the last few decades of her life, she set aside her own plans in order to be a practical support to my mother with homeschooling. She chose to live in a place she didn't necessarily love just so she could be a tangible part of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren's lives. Having left her beloved California behind, she selflessly made the best of her surroundings in Indiana.
Selfless. It's a simple word but an accurate description of my grandmother. I'm hoping to see more of the inspiration and characteristics of Grandmother's life woven into my life and the lives of my family in the future. I will hear her voice again, echoing across time with words of strength and wisdom.
For now, though, it's the raw depths of goodbye that we're walking through. Grandmother's life is in its final stages here on earth, and her going-away is leaving a supermassive black hole in our family's universe.