[Disclaimer: I’m just writing to write at this point; ‘*’ denotes when I can’t quite keep track of chronological events I’m writing about.]
This morning, my grandmother passed away.
Since she was in the hospital (and eventually the nursing home), it’s been pretty hard to keep track of time. I posted earlier about how I felt guided by duty, and that has taken shape during this season through me constantly wondering about my next task. As a result, my ability to differentiate days has gone down the drain as my mind is filled with thoughts about how my dad is actually doing, how I can better support my mom, and when I should disobey my dad’s instructions to not visit my grandma because he didn’t want me to be distracted from my schoolwork.
As soon as I finished my New Testament exam, I went into duty-fulfillment mode, making sure any idle time I had was spent at the nursing home so that my parents could take a break. At first, I’d bring a book (The Faith of Christopher Hitchens) with me to read, but a few days after I began visiting my grandma during my available hours, her condition seemed to worsen. She would moan in pain and she would look at me with eyes that no longer recognized me—adjusting her head and putting the travel pillow under her neck for support felt almost like an intrusion of space. So, the hours would pass, and I would be caught in an internal struggle: do I keep attending to her every time she groans, or do I learn to just be there and sit through it all? I was never able to quite come up with a system, and I’d find myself holding her hand at times and needing to leave her room at others just to find silence.
My mom said that the previous day, she sang a hymn while sitting at my grandma’s bedside, and miraculously, she sang along. Despite not recognizing any of us anymore, she still knew the hymns she sang in church. “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 11:18 ESV). The day after she told me that, I visited her and she was moaning consistently. The patient next to her said, “I think she’s in pain; she’s been moaning all morning.” I think about the plaque that read “Rapid Recovery” in sans serif, all-caps, and it seemed like a cruel joke. I kept talking to her, asking her if anything hurt, but I never got anything coherent from her. As a last ditch effort, I opened Spotify on my cell phone, searched “hymns,” and began playing them. Immediately, she settled down. She began to nod slowly and nearly imperceptibly, given her weak physical condition. When “Rock of Ages” began to play, she even tried to sing along—I remembered how much she loved to sing, and I saw how she no longer could. It broke my heart, and singing along with her, even for her, I wept.
I could feel the toll the stress was taking on my physical health. Bowel movements were irregular and often frustrating. How were Mom and Dad doing all this? I needed to do more for them. I wanted the process to be as easy as it could be for them. My mom would talk about how she was sorry that when her time comes, it’ll be just as difficult for me because I have no siblings to rely on. Still, I made plans with friends knowing that anything could happen with my grandma at any time. I had to cancel a few plans because I decided the dutiful thing to do would be to go to the nursing home. My parents never forced me to go, but I felt compelled to go; sometimes, I would be compelled against my will. There were moments when I wanted nothing more than to be with my friends and leave the world of suffering behind. I couldn’t bear the load like I thought I could. I would hear her moans in the silence of my home. I began wondering how I could even begin to share about this with the new church community I’ve begun trying to be a part of. Who would want to hear such a depressing story when benignly asking about how my week was? I felt isolated in my experience, knowing that I would just be a conversational dark hole and ruin the mood for whoever was unlucky enough to ask how I was doing. It felt like no one ever asked. It felt like I was selfish for wanting them to.
I woke up this morning to vibration that shouldn’t have been what I woke up to. “Dad.” I pressed the green talk button and got the news. I got up, took my retainers out, washed my face, put on deodorant, and told my grandpa what had happened. Mom came home right after; she had been crying. I drove us to the nursing home, and I braced for impact. When I saw my dad, I knew it was real for him. She was there, silent and still. I felt peace, and I felt relief. The guilt of that initial reaction is still weighing on me. Why didn’t I cry? Why couldn’t I? I’d like to say that it was because I sat through hours of her groans, and her quietness was bereft of pain. Maybe that’s an excuse for how callous I appear to myself. Nevertheless, she was resting with the Lord. Maybe it’s the result of having been suicidal in the past. You come to envy the people who die before you do; as a Christian, there’s a strange limbo between hoping for death and embracing the gift of life.
She had paid her dues, as they say; she lived a life full of hardship from her youth until the very end, but never once did she express a thought of injustice. She loved to sing, to paint, to measure my height against hers every time she saw me. She knew and loved the beauty that she saw in the world her Father created. To think that a life filled with that many trials could still be a life filled with love for the Lord made me realize that if there really was nothing next for her, she was to be most pitied out of all of us. She was dealt a bad hand. If there was no comfort in life with Him, there certainly wasn’t going to be any comfort here. As I write this, tears are starting to come. Have I just been suppressing my sadness about her death?
This morning, my grandmother died. The body that caused her all the pain in her life was left in the bed for us to look at, to remember her by, to whisper to, to stand with, to let tears fall on. But she wasn’t there anymore. We’re left here with a body to lower into the earth, but we do so knowing that she has gone to be with Him. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.