It was a Wednesday night at the very beginning of January, 2001.
Christmas break was over. Thursday school started up again, and I was home from college to live for free while I did my student teaching.
I don’t remember much of the day other than what was going on right in that moment. I had just helped my mom finish up the dinner dishes. Both of my brothers were in the basement watching TV or playing video games.
Mom and I were going to go get groceries and the boys were going to go to youth group later. While my mom fluttered around trying to put things away, the phone rang.
My parents didn’t (and still don’t) have caller id.
Mom was getting ready to get groceries. The house was dark because in the winter it gets dark around 5:00pm. The only light came from the light over the sink and the glow of the stair light oozing up the basement stairs. Even my brothers were sitting in just the glow of the TV downstairs.
I was the closest to the phone, so I answered it.
The woman on the phone identified herself as being from the nursing home where my grandma lived. She asked to talk to my mom. Something in my stomach turned over.
I told my mom that the phone was for her.
She stood near the counter where our phone hung. I sat uncomfortable on the kitchen table wringing my hands.
My grandma had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for some time. At this point she was in the final stages. She was in a total care nursing home. She didn’t know who she was, who we were, that she even WAS. She couldn’t eat on her own…her body forgot how to do that long ago. So she was in a bed. My aunt and cousin would go and take her for walks and paint her nails and do her hair. But she wasn’t my grandma anymore.
My grandma loved life and was out of control awesome.
this person didn’t know she was alive. and because of this? We had accepted the inevitable long before.
anyway, that phone call was to tell my mom–the power of attorney for my grandma–that she had passed away in her sleep. My mom calmly took the information.
When she got off the phone she was stunned. I asked her if she wanted me to call my dad at his archery club and have him come home. She said no. I asked her if I could help. She started saying how she had to call all three of her sisters and make arrangements and tell my Grandma’s brothers and sisters.
I told her she didn’t have to do it NOW. She could take a minute.
And in the weirdest moment of my life up until then, she looked at me and nodded. We momentarily switched roles.
She went off to the bathroom.
I called my dad at his archery club anyway. He said he would come home.
I went downstairs and sat down in the dark and told my brothers to please turn down the volume. Then I told them that Grandma had died. They were both sort of quiet and stunned.
None of us had experienced death before.
My middle brother asked me what we were supposed to do.
I didn’t know.
I asked them if they were sad.
They said they supposed they were, yes.
I asked them if they wanted to stay home from youth group.
Neither did. I understood that. It’s easier to go and do your life and avoid thinking about it.
Then I went upstairs to tell my mom I had told the immediate family.
I found her in the bathroom, with the light off, sitting on the closed toilet softly crying for her momma.
And that is when I realized….
Grandma? Was not just Grandma.
She was a mommy. She was my MOMMY’S mommy.
Lots of people lose their grandparents. Old people die. That was a fact of life I knew.
But mom’s don’t die. My mind couldn’t understand what it was understanding. A mommy had just died.
Suddenly visions of my mom as a baby and a little girl and a teenager and a bride and a new mom flooded my brain. Her mom was always there. Just like my mom was always there.
And even though Grandma had been sick, she was there.
But now she wasn’t.
And I hugged my mom.
In my family? We don’t hug. We don’t say I love you.
We just love.
I hugged my mom in that dark bathroom. I told her I loved her.
And I have feared death irrationally ever since.