I’ve tried to write this a hundred times, but had a hard time finding the right words. I was very close to my grandmother. She was so loved. She is so missed.
My grandfather sat in a chair near her bed, resting his head on their joined hands. After some time, he stood, smoothed the hair from her forehead and kissed it gently. He stood there for a while, simply looking at her. I could tell he didn’t want to leave her and I felt a bit guilty for witnessing such a private moment. When he finally did leave the hospital room, he came out holding her single shoe as if it were a child. It is a picture of grief I will never forget.
What does someone say in that moment, when they are saying goodbye to the person they’ve shared their life with? I love you. Thank you for loving me, for our sons, for everything. I’m not ready to lose you. I’m sorry.
My own thoughts reflected the selfish side of grief. I’m not ready either. I still need you. Are you proud of me? And later, standing in a department store, trying to pick out shoes through a haze of tears, I can’t do this Grandma. You aren’t here to tell me whether these are appropriate for a funeral or not.
Sitting at the funeral home and watching people come to pay their respects; I thought about how much of our lives belong to other people. Carolyn was a cherished, long-awaited only child. For a time, she belonged only to her parents. Later she was a student, a friend, an employee, a neighbor and a million other things. For many years, as a mother, she belonged to her four sons. As a grandmother, she belonged to us. As a great-grandmother, she first belonged to Trinity, the baby girl she never had. I was happy to share, and am so grateful for the bond she built with my daughter.
A lot of people can claim pieces of the years she spent on Earth. But as I watched my grandfather, bent over her recently closed casket with his head in his hands I realized that most of her had belonged to him.
I was humbled and a bit ashamed that I’d not considered her life before it included me, aside from the vague understanding that she’d had one. I imagined my grandparents when they were young, bringing home their first baby, buying their first home, building the family and life we all claim as our own now. I’d never before thought of them as being the same people that they’d been when they started their life together. I only truly understood the enormity of my grandfather’s loss then, when I realized that for everything she was to others, she’d spent the largest portion of her life, 58 of her 76 years, being his wife.
It was a strange moment of understanding. Not unlike the first time a child realizes that teachers are real people and have lives outside of school. When I looked at my grandmother in her casket, I saw the woman I’d always seen. I imagine that my grandfather saw much more. I’d imagine he saw his high school sweetheart, the girl he married, the mother of his children, the woman who made a home and life with him. I’d guess that when my grandfather looked at my grandmother