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Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Death is inevitable. It also never happens. At least not to those that we love. At least not to grandmas. Grandparents seem to escape this reality. One believes this until the reality comes knocking. This reality came to me December 5, 2008, when my dad’s mom, Grandma Neoma Nelson passed away. Allow me to share this completely surreal experience with you.

It was the evening of our company holiday party. I was scheduled to leave on the first flight to Los Angeles the next morning so I decided to leave the party early in order to pack and sleep. It was a frosty evening and my black dress did little in the way of warmth (or coverage for that matter). I made a mad dash to the car and headed home. Noticing a missed call and a voicemail from home, I didn’t think much of it until I was driving along noting how peculiar it is for my folks to leave voicemails. So I phoned home to make sure everything was ok. Sure enough, mom sounded fine but in a very matter of fact way shared that Grandma Nelson had passed a few hours ago.

Now, death is something that I’ve never really been faced with. I’ve been to two funerals, both of family friends. When mom shared the news I wasn’t sure what or how to feel. Grandma had been admitted to hospice four days prior to her death, which was location less than a mile from my place. “Convenient,” I thought I would visit her when I got around to it. Getting around to it came too late. But, I still wanted to see her. I pulled up to the building, still decked out with my hair up, dress on, make up on the verge of being washed away via tears. I eventually made my way to grandma’s room, Room 5. I was little prepared nor anticipated what the night would have in store for me.

There was grandma. She was half the size I remember her being. Her hair was short and didn’t have her teeth in. The light in the room was dim, warm and quiet. I surveyed the room for any sign of others who may have been paying their last respects. No sign. No one. For a while I just stood and stared. Then approaching the bed, I reached my hand out to touch her arm, she was still warm. I took a seat next to her and merely stared. I kept watching to see if her chest would rise. I kept watching to see if her hand would twitch. I kept watching to see if she’d open her eyes. I kept watching for one last moment. I just kept watching. In the process of watching, I saw little bits of me in her. I noticed her nose was my dad’s nose, was my nose. I noticed her high cheek bones were my dad’s cheek bone, which were my cheek bones. I noticed on a genetic level, I was very much the physical descendent of my grandmother.

The room was very quite, very still. I had been able to keep it together for a bit until my phone rang. It was my sister. A wave of emotion inundated me and I began to tear. Sara, thousands of miles away, asked that I say good bye for them. She asked in a most heartbreaking way in that she wished she could be there herself to do it. I told her I would. Not sure how, but I told her I would. We chatted for a bit, really just crying. Then it dawned on me: I was the only one there, the only one there who could say good bye to her for them, and I knew I would be the only one there to finish out the night.

I resolved to stay until midnight, at least finish out the day with her so she didn’t do it alone. So there I sat with my grandmother, I was still dressed to the nines, make up certainly washed away at this point, alone in her room. It was all still so surreal. I prayed. I talked to her. I talked to God. Ask for His grace and to welcome her home with open arms. Time seemed to slow and race by at the same time. Before I knew it, midnight was a few minutes away. The day would officially come to an end, the day that would be my grandma’s last.

When it became officially midnight I got up, planning to say my good byes. Planning to walk out having prepared for it to be the end. Planning to be “ok.” I stood and approached her bed, touched her arm and she was cool now. Disbelief set in and I dropped to my knees asking one more time for the strength to do this, whatever “this” may be. There was something too final, too absolute, too inconsequential of me walking out. So I didn’t. I merely stood there.

If there was a moment of saving grace, it came at this instant. A man entered the room introducing himself from the funeral home to take her away and that I was welcome to take all the time I needed and to let me know when I was ready. I asked him what it all entailed and if I could stay while he did it. He went into detail of what he would be doing, to which I asked if I could stand outside while he did what he needed and retrieve me when he was done. He obliged and I excused myself to the hall. As left the room I entered the very empty hallway. At this moment, I thought, “This certainly cannot be happening. I cannot be the only person here to see my grandma off.” And most certainly, I was. In a heightened moment of clarity and self-awareness I looked around and saw myself standing on my own two feet (stilettos to be exact), draper in a long black dress, experiencing an overwhelming sense of solitude and aloneness to the depth I thought incapable of feeling.

The man rolled grandma out and motioned to the hospice worker that he was done. He rolled grandma down the hall, the hospice worker and I followed him in a slow, trance like procession. We reached the door way and the cold of the winter night sent chills through my dress to my bones. The gentleman, opened the van rear door and gently rolled grandma into the back. He closed the door, turned to shake my hand, quietly stated his condolences and got into the vehicle. With the start of the engine and the shifting into gear, he drove her away. No turning around. Out loud I spoke the words, “Good bye” but didn’t really mean it. Then, I, too, got in my car and drove my one mile home, back to a life that keeps going.

I close with these two sentiments: 1.) There will be a fury around the estate, the burial, the relationships between the siblings, etc. I pray that my grandmother rests in peace, I pray that her legacy is that of positive, if not immensely comical, memories and I pray for those she has left behind, forgiveness and love supersede all else. Because, the truth is, grandmas do die. And the truth is love and forgiveness is all that remains. 2.) In the times of need, God puts the right people in your life at the exact right times. A friend who you wake up at 1:00 am and while you rob her of her sleep, can still empathize and sympathize, say all the right things and tell you that you are never really alone while you cry together. He puts a friend in your life that will hop in her car and drive an hour and show up at the door with food, beverage and a warm and gentle spirit to hug you and help you pack to board a plane to Los Angeles in less than 6 hours. He will put friends and experiences in your life that you are made to endure and make your life’s experience full of the richness that life is meant to be lived.


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