The past few weeks, I’ve been having a hard time in the parking lot outside of my grandma’s assisted living home. If I go without my boys, I usually cry on my way there. I can’t help it. She’s 93. And she’s dying. It’s painful thinking about the last time you may have your grandma in front of your face. She’s my only grandma. And selfishly, I don’t want it to be my last time visiting her. Ever.
So, I cry in the parking lot for a bit. I sometimes listen to “Flock of Birds” which will probably produce insta-tears now every time I hear it. Under my sunglasses, the streaming kind of tears. Then, I wipe up my face with the inside of my shirt, suck up my snotty nose and walk in. I greet the residents sitting outside. If my boys are with me, I watch them all race to be the first one to press the handicapped door button. Inside, I listen to them decide who gets to press the outside button on the elevator, it’s usually Colby, the youngest. And the older two boys argue about who gets the more coveted job, pressing the “inside” button. Then, we wait semi-patiently on that slow elevator. Once we’re all inside, one of my older boys happily presses “3” and we are on our way up to her room.
One of my favorite memories of visiting her is watching my boys run down her hall. Their six pounding feet. I can’t keep up with them, unless I were to run too, which somehow doesn’t seem as socially acceptable. From behind, I watch them all barge into her room, like a couple of bowling pins knocking into each other. I miss seeing her surprised smiling face because I’m on the other side of the door. I sit and visit with her as she watches my boys play on the ground with the toys. They have learned to speak up really loud when sharing stories with her, although I usually still have to repeat what they said. One of my tall, skinny six-year-old boys always wants to sit on my lap, usually Julian. My grandma dotes on my boys in the most encouraging and extraordinary way. If you think a grandma loves immensely, you have got to witness a great grandma’s beautiful, overflowing love for her great-grandchildren. She talks about how well-behaved they are, even when they’re not. She talks about their hair, how much they love me, and how I need to get a bigger lap. It’s become more difficult to leave without crying. And hiding my tears. I don’t want her to be sad. I keep it together or think of something else, so I don’t have a complete come-apart. I have my boys line up to give her hugs. She holds their faces gently in her arthritic hands. Then, they zoom out the door and down the hall to hide from me. It has gotten harder for me to let go after hugging and kissing her. I always tell her several times, “I love you, Grandma.”
In visiting with my grandma, I can’t help but think about how differently we would treat those around us if we knew that we may not get to have another visit with them. If we knew we wouldn’t get to hug them, or hold them or talk to them again. It’s a painfully sad spiral staircase to go down. I start to think about all of my friends who have lost a dad, a sister, or a husband, or a mother, or a brother or a child. Too soon. It just shouldn’t have happened. It’s not fair. And I hurt for them knowing that they didn’t get the privilege that I am getting with my grandma. The luxury of knowing her days are numbered. The gift of time, even if it is quickly slipping away.
It may sound trite, but it’s true, every day we have here with each other truly is a gift. We owe each other our best. Or we owe each other an apology when our worst makes an appearance. Sincerity, encouragement, honesty, forgiveness, and unconditional love. It’s last day together kind of love. I experience my friends who have lost someone unexpectedly loving others around them fearlessly, passionately, and intensely. They’re not perfect, and they’ll be the first to admit it. But, they do the thing that’s the most important and that’s showing and telling others how important they are. They love people like it’s their last day, every day. And I am inspired and honored to know them. They unknowingly make us better people.
It’s all of our jobs to reach out and hear each other. Loved ones deserve to be talked about, cried about, laughed about. They deserve to be remembered. I will be the first to tell you that it hurts to listen to a friend talk about the person that they are missing the most. There are gaping love holes that will not ever disappear. And we shouldn’t try to make them disappear. We can try to fill them with memories, stories, and moments shared together. And on good days, hopefully, this can help hold us over til the day we get to spend forever together.
So, maybe we can all just start with today. We can all find someone that we love and show them how much we love them. And maybe tell them what you love about them. And treat people with that overflowing last day, last visit kind of love.