What a thing it is to wake up in the morning and, soon after, be completely exhausted emotionally. This morning became an unparalleled reality of that exhaustion; at 10:30 A.M., my grandmother breathed her last.
At around 10:22, I heard the phone rang and I picked up on the third ring, fully expecting to hear my mother’s voice. “Come quick,” she said, “Grandma is leaving soon.” I stopped whatever I was doing and ran downstairs, half urging myself on faster, and half shrinking away from what I knew was at hand. I went to look for the house keys first, then, realizing that they were gone, just left the house and locked the door. I jogged to my grandmother’s house, not wanting to get there too soon for fear of what was going to happen, but at the same time, wanting to be there before she passed on. It was truly a day of dichotomies. When I got there, I opened the unlocked door and saw the face of someone I believed to be the nurse, a different face than when I left home a weekend ago. I went to the room where my grandmother lay and took in the scene.
My uncles stood by her bedside, one holding her hand, and the other wiping away moisture at his eyes. My aunt was on my grandmother’s left side, holding her hand and telling her whatever encouragement she could muster at death’s approach. My mother stood near my grandmother’s legs, sniffling and letting go of the emotions held within. How apparent now was death upon my grandmother’s visage, masking her features and draping her with its dark shadow. “Come hug Grandma and tell her you love her,” my mother said. In that single moment, I wished more than anything to have been alone, to have been able to let the words come naturally and nakedly before my grandmother; I didn’t want it to sound forced like all the other shows of affection that had been requited of me. In that moment, I wanted, in a small way, to rob my family of a few moments of their time with my grandmother in order to come clean before her. But as it was, I could only embrace her fragile frame, lean in by her ear, and tell her that I loved her and that she was going to be with Him soon. My mother said, “You were always the one she loved the most,” and that ended whatever facade of stoicism I was attempting to indulge in.
The non-feeling that I had experienced my first time realizing that she tread the dread border of life and death crumbled, and for the first time, a pure, innocent, painful flow of tears came forth and bathed my anxious soul. The thoughts that came to mind at that moment were overpowering; the reminders I left for myself in my previous post about my grandmother, of all her love and gentleness, were there. Thoughts of shame at my mistreatment of her heart were there. Thoughts of how I failed to fully honor my grandparents were there. Thoughts of sorrow and the realization of loss were there. I had no tissue to brush away my tears, instead burying my face into the rough UCSB tee-shirt that I had on. The shaking was silent until I found the inhale of my lungs, and made a desperate gasping sound that all but asked for more time with my grandmother. I was no longer ashamed of how I felt or how I expressed it – it was simply just a long time coming. My aunt moved aside and told me to stand by her bedside and hold her hand, something that I should’ve done while she was with us. I couldn’t help but feel the shame as well in that action: that holding of her hand that I desired to do with those I fell “in love” with, I should’ve done first to the one who showed me what it is to love at all.
Her hand was wrinkled and cold, and watching her entire body make an effort to draw another breath filled me with desperation. No matter how warm my hands were, her hands were never to know warmth again, regardless of how long I held them. I watched as another breath rattled out of her with exertion, holding on to the precious few seconds she had with us. She took a total of four more breaths until the neck muscles refused against all power of her being to strain again. “It’s been forty-five seconds,” the nurse said, apparently counting the time between breaths drawn. At 10:30 A.M., my grandmother breathed her last.
Upon this singular event, the acknowledgment that my grandmother had indeed passed, my aunts withdrew from the room, one by one, and the wailing of their sorrow filled the house. That dear old house, where we would come and have the majority of our celebrations, from birthdays to Christmases. Now, we came to witness the departure of someone who lived ninety-three years, who made an impact on each of our lives, knowing each of us for the duration of our own existence on this earth. They called for their mother, knowing that she would never again respond to that call, and not because she was going deaf. My uncles gently moved me aside as the nurse made whatever evaluations she needed in the passing of loved ones that nurses themselves never share. I stood vigil just beyond the foot of her bed, imprinting the memory of all that transpired in the most powerful, heart-wrenching fifteen minutes of my young life. I thought back to my grandfather – her husband – and his passing and realized how much more painful my grandmother’s death was. I found out from my mother after school one day back in middle school about my grandfather’s death; today, I witnessed my grandmother receive her last breath.
The majority of what happened after this became lost as I retreated more and more into myself, thinking a wide array of thoughts. I thought of how desperately powerful death is, that all who it beckons to have no choice but to come. I thought of how insignificant we are, that my grandmother’s death would not be mourned outside of her family. I thought of the fact that human lives were like leaves in the wind and how we are unable to resist the pace of life. I blankly stared into the glass table in the living room as the thoughts swirled in my head – I hardly noticed people who would come to me and console me, not allowing more than a few words at a time to proceed from my lips.
The tears came forth intermittently as my mind fell upon particularly tender moments that should have been between my grandmother and me, until I finally ran out of tears to shed. A numbness overtook my mind as I knew that I would be chronicling the day’s events on my blog; I realized another thing: poems are rarely, if ever, born in the moment of searing loss. It is only after the heart has been tempered by the fire of grief that the poet is capable of putting the words together. A biographer’s art is made known upon the loss of a life, as his craft is the preserving of legacies; a poet’s is the sculpture of figures past. Perhaps sometime after my grandmother has been given her proper burial will the lines come to my mind that will give her life in verse, but for now, I labor on in the accurate portrayal and preservation of her last moments. I know not why these particular thoughts chanced to make themselves known to me, but I suppose it was because I needed to secure my emotional stability by taking my mind off the event at hand.
My grandmother’s passing was a gentle one; she did not seem plagued by terrible pain or disease in her final moments. I am glad that the Lord did indeed answer our prayers of receiving her gently and that she knew Him for a good part of her life. I know that God worked marvelous wonders through this independent woman and that she shall be with Him in heaven. A Christian’s loss is often one of very mortal sorrow followed by the acceptance of the eternal blessing to come – a life spent with Him. And so, I can finally wipe away the tears that were never mine to shed in the first place and be at ease, knowing her position in His plan is secure and that she is enjoying the hope that we, the living, continue to press forward and share with the world around us. She never wanted to be well-known or looked up to even, but the works she’s done on my life and my family’s life have been a wellspring of love for us – we live on to bear her lasting gift to us, a divine love and welcoming that few other humans can know: the love of our savior, Jesus Christ. 婆婆, may you rest in peace and enjoy the reward that you have sown during your time here on Earth; God has met you and found you so doing, and you will be truly blessed by the Father in heaven.