From time to time we are asked to face something unexpected. When this happens, we are often made to look at uncomfortable realities.
Last week I was told that my grandmother may not live more than a few days. If I was to see her, I had to make a decision to leave quickly. As I hastily packed my bags, I decided to drive away into the night for one last chance to see my grandmother. I wanted to hold her hand and see her face, I wanted to say goodbye. And this was not to be.
She was ready to leave before I could see her. She was tired. And she was really almost gone when I got the phone call that day. That veil between life and afterlife was thinning. She was already far away, long before she drew her last breath.
With all of her daughters by her side, she was held. She had no fear, no sorrow, no pain.
As she passed, her daughters curled next to her in bed and held her body. In that quiet and dark room they held for her a most beautiful vigil. With angels by their side, they took up a tub of water and bathed her tired body. Massaged with lotion and powder and her favorite shade of coral pink lipstick applied, she was made a baby again, cradled this time in her children’s arms.
My grandmother knew how to die, with her five daughters ushering her a golden passageway, in the way only five daughters know how.
As heaviness filled my chest the next day, I noticed how tightly I had been holding on to the thought of seeing her one last time, something I thought I desperately needed. But, she knew better.
I did still get to drive into the night to see her, but this time in a different light. In viewing her body a week later, a goodbye of sorts began to unfold. Her body did lay so still. And the sight of her hands was what actually struck me. I couldn’t take my eyes off her hands, and this was what brought me back to her. Those hands looked exactly as they had, those beautiful hands that worked so many miracles in her long life. In that moment, I began to understand why we hold wakes, because in this we can begin to start saying goodbye, and begin the healing process. This is where we begin to learn to live without this person.
The photos of long lost days, the songs she loved, the stories and memories, those too came pouring in. And what a breathtaking life she had lived, and died.
The next day, her body was laid softly in the ground, just next to her beloved, in the land where she was born a baby into this world. Somehow in this moment, I noticed how I had been clinging to so many things, things I thought were right, things that made me feel safe, things that…held me back. When some of these things were pulled away from my tight grip, only then did I notice how I been clinging to them. Hopefully, these moments can remind us that holding so tight doesn’t often serve us. It can obscure our vision and hold us back from growing and expanding.
Death has a funny way of washing us clean, pulling away our many layers. It has a way of paring us down to our most primitive selves, breaking us down and forcing us to take a long look in the mirror, often taking away with us only what is necessary. It can make us whole again, if we let it.
How lucky I feel to have been a part of the holiness that surrounds such a beautiful spirit passing. Not many times in life are we given the opportunity to stand so close to angels.
With great fortitude my grandmother lived and died. Now she too is made whole again. She is complete. I am forever grateful for the time we had with her on this earth, and the lessons she taught us…to say it like it is, to be proud of who we are, and to never regret. But most importantly she taught us, as my mother said… how to die.