“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero
Today is the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. It’s been three years since I watched her die in a hospital room surrounded by her family. It’s been three years since I felt the warmth in her hands. It’s been three years since I was able to touch the silky silver strands on her head that refused to hold a curl.
The last time I had a conversation with her was May 13, 2010. I went to visit her and we chatted for a while and I can not remember for the life of me what we talked about. But she was much better than I had seen her in a long while. In her last year, she suffered horribly from dementia. It was painful to watch. Sometimes she would call me by my aunt’s name and vice versa. Growing up she had a sharp mind, strong, fiery, and hilarious. In her own way, she was very business savvy. She knew what to do to get what she wanted. She also always knew when you were up to no good and had no problem calling you out on your mess.
Although, she didn’t birth me, she was like a mother to me. I would live with her for months at a time. We would eat ramen noodles together when she didn’t feel like cooking (she was an amazing cook), watch soap operas, go grocery shopping, and play dominoes. I would walk to her house from school everyday. But she was sickly. She had several heart bypass surgeries, she had to be resuscitated when I was in middle school and was put on life support, among other things.
In the last year of her life, I regretted not being there enough. I regretted being too busy with school and my own life. I regretted avoiding her because it was hard to watch her deteriorate. After she passed, I felt empty. I kept replaying the last words I said to her, “Alright granny, I love you. I’ll be back tomorrow.” She had a massive grin on her face like she couldn’t wait. She had missed me. It had probably been a few weeks since the last time I had seen her. She kissed my cheek before I walked out the door.
The next day (Friday), when I came by the house, she was already at the hospital. I rushed over. No one knew what was wrong with her but every hour she was getting worse. I thought that everything would be fine. She’d been on life support before and made it through alright. I ended up not visiting her on that Saturday. I figured she’d stay a week and it would be fine. Saturday evening I got the call. There was no brain activity. They said it was some kind of blood disease. They told me my grandpa was going to decide to keep her on life support or not. Sunday I was told to come to the hospital to say good-bye.
I went there and almost everyone that saw her on a daily basis was there. Each of us stared at her body being kept alive by the tubes and wires connected to her. The one down her throat kept her chest filling with the air she didn’t need anymore. I held her hand, the hand that looked like an older version of my own. I had inherited her long, thin fingers with long nail beds. I kissed her cheek, my own wet with tears. We each said our good-byes to that empty shell.
A shimmer of hope probably still rested within us at that moment. Hope that she would pull through at the last minute. That her body would continue to fight. When they pulled the tubes out I watched the last breath of air leave her body. I watched her die before my eyes. I walked away. I couldn’t take it. I walked the hospital floor trembling, crumbling. I avoided my cousin’s room on the same floor because she had just had an aneurysm and they thought if she knew it would make things worse for her.
At the funeral I felt empty. I drank. I ate. I hung out with my family. Two days later, I shaved my head. I had to start over. I had to do something.
Now, three years later, with a massive afro and 70lbs smaller, I sat next to that headstone and cried. I told that headstone every regret, every fear, every worry. I told that headstone what was going on with me. I told it how I graduated college, how my love life was going, how I was trying to make her proud. I had only gone to that site one other time and that was with a group. I’d been avoiding it. I was afraid. I stayed there an hour and cried. It was an intense, emotional experience, but I left there with a lighter heart. Now, I think I can let go. Now, I can begin to heal.