” ‘…Sometimes it’s loud and you can see it coming. You can prepare for it. Other times, it sneaks in quietly and affects your thoughts; your ability to trust yourself ‘ ” – K.M. West
The walls are a subtle gray-blue in the room we’ve been assigned to; the same color as her hands. What’s left of her beautiful, wispy blonde hair tucked into a cap, because she couldn’t bare anyone seeing her patchy, mostly bald head. Her lips look like the Sahara Desert because she is no longer able to eat or drink. She can’t open her eyes, and when she finally builds up the strength to do so, they are full of tears. Her regularly thin frame is reduced to a translucent barrier to her bones – at 5’9 and 85 pounds, she resembles a skeleton. Despite being buried in blankets, she is ice cold and can no longer speak, her voice merely soft grunts. The nurse appearing every hour or so to check her diaper, because she no longer controls her body.
This woman was my rock. How was this possible? This is the same woman I stood trembling with in the doctor’s office two weeks prior, fully functioning, making the decision to stop her treatments. This is the strong female who built me to be a strong female. She was my constant, no matter what was going on in the world. She can’t leave me. The woman who taught me the most important life motto I know – “toughen up butter cup, cause that’s how the cookie crumbles”. The same woman who took no shit from anybody, now completely catonic. Her ice-cold hands in mine and her shrunken frame curled into me like an infant – I knew it wouldn’t be long until I wouldn’t have her.
I could feel the fear radiating off her, reverberating through my own soul – all the conversations about life and death flooding through me – the ones we had many times. Conversations I regularly avoided – because if we avoided them maybe she wouldn’t actually die.
Hours went by before I left that day– a friend convincing me it was okay to leave her; knowing she was safe and comfortable.
I was restless that night as I tried to sleep in her bed at the home she raised both my father and I in. The beautiful mauve and golden, sun- yellow walls of her bedroom glowing softly in the moonlight, her handpicked auction artwork surrounding me. The soft flannel sheets that she loved (even in the summer) doing nothing for the chill I felt in my bones. The air, kicking on and off like a melody, the old clock chiming every hour adding to the rhythm.
I think I finally drifted off to sleep around 330AM, only to be awoken again at five to the deep, melodic, dong of the old clock accompanying the modern ding of my phone with the text: “Sarah, I’m so sorry. She has finally passed. We will need you to come collect her things.”
I stepped into the scalding hot shower, studying every tile; remembering the day she made me go to the tile store and HAND PICK every tile for her bathroom.
I never felt the water on my skin that morning. I felt nothing.
I picked up the remainder of her belongings – a sweatshirt, her purse, and her favorite coral lipstick.
I pulled back into her driveway. The birds chirping as they always did; they lived for her morning an evening “seed showers”. The flowers in her arbor all droopy, almost like they knew she wasn’t coming home, begging for a rain storm in the Arizona heat. The black and orange calico stray we had dubbed “Mama” many moons ago, sitting on her porch chair soaking in the sun, not bothered by the neighbor’s coonhound crooning to warn whoever would listen that I had reappeared. The sun was shining that day; I could sense its warmth radiating through my skin, but I could feel nothing. I was numb.
All at once, I became acutely aware that the last of my paternal family had passed away. My grandmother. My constant. The woman who offered me stability when my parents shuffled me back and forth, who helped me sort through my father things, who held me after I had watched her husband die, completely unable to save him. I had nothing except grief.
Grief is a funny thing. I had high hopes of offering you all my incredible wisdom. All the wisdom my old soul has acquired about rich, full, beautiful, messy lives and imminent deaths. I wanted to offer a post about the “infrastructure” of a home – but as I sat journaling and mapping this post over the last week I realized I can’t fit my grief into a tidy, beautifully wrapped present to offer each of you, and I can’t make it bend to fit my box.
“Twenty years now and his grieving still wasn’t over. In fact, it hadn’t even shrunk. There it was, exactly the size and shape as it had been when it first appeared, but his life had grown around it.” K.M. West
Sorrow and heartache and death all have their place, and grief never truly goes away. It rests in our soul as a reminder of the depths to which our love can grow while simultaniously teaching us to love those around us more wholly and to be present always. But the truth is, grieving is exhausting.
I didn’t grieve the loss of my father or my grandfather – as an adult I believe I was too young to understand the emotions (a future blog post in the making). I didn’t grieve the loss of my future and I didn’t grieve the loss of my present. I repetitively chose to stuff my grief into the deepest, darkest, most secret places because it was too loud and too messy.
The problem with stuffing, is that eventually the stuff doesn’t fit – and it comes pouring out relentlessly until you deal with it.
When I moved last year, while Robbie and I had separated, I was forced into unpacking my grandmother, grandfather and fathers lives – literally. Finally sorting their belongings required me to face all the emotions I had been stuffing. It made me face the true antipathies I had toward Robbie, and it also showed me exactly how closed off I had become.
I can pinpoint the moment – I was unpacking a box full of pictures, one of my best friends voluntarily (LOL) putting an Ikea bed together in another room. Daniel walked out to ask me a question and at the same moment I picked up my first family picture – a picture of me, Amelya and Robbie – that I had gifted my grandmother for Christmas. It was a picture that highlighted the life I had hoped to have. Like the rush of the wind, my grief came pouring out and not subtly. So much so I collapsed to the floor, and If it wasn’t for Daniel, I may never have gotten up. He held me, he told me it was okay to be messy, and he let me cry until I was done crying (and then told me I smelled like a garbage pail, a moment in which I will forever be grateful for). In the next weeks, I ended up with extreme financial strains, 10 stiches to my big toe, and I became the sickest I had ever been in my entire life – and it was a wakeup call (the universe has a way of forcing us to slow down). These unfortunate events single handidly saved my marriage. I realized in each of those moments, the depth of who and what I loved, because grief is precisely that – love.
A home is nothing without the infrastructure; it is cold and lifeless without the electricity and intricate layers inside of the walls and foundation. The infrastructure is the exact thing I avoided for so long and It deprived me of love and understanding. Beginning to process my own grief provided me the ability to see the depths of the love I held and allowed me to power my home.
Does your home need power?
“No, I am not afraid to die, its every breath that comes before. Heartache I’ve heard is part of life, and I have broken more and more, but I can hope how this will end – with every line a comedy, That we can learn to love without demand, but with unreserved honesty.” – The Oh Hellos