Holding Her Hands
Last Friday, March 11th, 2016, I lost my Grandmother. She was my last living Grandparent. She was 94 years old. The next morning I wrote the following...
He had never been a father.
He had not yet had children.
He had not yet known what it truly meant to be a parent. Yet in that moment he experienced what it felt like.
He was quiet as his Mother deeply and aggressively wept for her mother who had just transitioned into the next phase of her existence. He wasn't there in physical form to experience the loss, but as soon as she was gone his mother called. It was a Friday night in NYC and he was out to dinner when his cell phone rumbled to life. Knowing the news was coming and seeing his childhood home phone number he knew exactly what he would hear. As the words "Grandma's dead" sputtered jumbled from his mother's lips he didn't know what to say... What could he say?
His mother’s heart had been splintering slowly with time, like dried wood over the last few years as she tried to comfort, connect and be with her slowly dissipating mother.
He had been strong, a rock, a loving hand for grandma to hold. Not living near by, he would appear like a hero and glimmer of hope. He was a symbol of memories and of joyous times. She needed nothing more than to see his face, bearded or beardless, head shave or hair flowing, she was complete in him. The smile that beamed, the light that erupted and the love that flowed from her was that of legends.
For his mother he had been a voice on a phone far away, a voice that had removed it's self from her daily life, an ill that couldn’t be cured. She always wanted him close, but more so now. As she wept, her voice uttered pieces of words, not many… and the only ones to come through yearned for him to be close. Her voice had always been one of guidance and support for him; a most trusted advisor, yet always a parent for him...until now as he embodied it for her. Recently as her mother's health had deteriorated, her voice had become a voice of sadness, hopelessness and despair, a voice lost in the pain. She had lost not only her mother, but also what had become her purpose. In her voice, in her pain, in her sadness and loss, if for only in this moment the roles of mother and son had reversed.
In her tears, in her sobbing, in her unrecognizable dialect he'd had in only this moment become the parent. Parents want more than anything to protect, love and guide their young. Yet as they learn, and as he learns in the difficult moments, that life so often proves there is no guidance, there is no advice, there are no words. All there is and all there was were tears and a silent connect of love.
Unsaid and unexpressed, there was a hidden tone, a hidden feeling of relief. His grandmother, her mother had been gone for a while. Her mind had become a maze, a world saturated in deep fog, a heavy mist of lost memories, confusion and fear. Dementia is a terrifying existence, or maybe lack of existence. But that was over now, her soul had finally had enough, had finally decided it was ready to move on, was ready to let go. Who knows why, why now, or what it was waiting for... family to say goodbye, her husband whom had transitioned roughly 4 years earlier to come get her, or maybe it was something we the ones left cannot comprehend until we let go ourselves.
In her passing he thought about her and his grandfather, who he idolized. He thought about the pain he felt for his mother, who’s heart seemed liquefied by the loss. He realized that while he knew love for his grandmother and he knew of her love for him, he also felt he never really knew her, knew her in the way he knew his grandfather. And while he felt peace that she had passed, she was in a better place a place free of disease, free of pain, free of confusion, he was left thinking, confused about how he did not know her. How had he spent so much time with her, so many days, so many dinners, so many vacations, so much, so much...yet not enough? He knew of her deep love for her family and for her husband who she had supported and stood by. He knew of her warmth, her hidden humor, her vivaciousness, her love of music and joy in dance. He knew of her duality, her sense of peace and worry about the world and her family.
But he didn't know her essence, her story, her past, and her day-to-day journey. Maybe he did, maybe he knew more than he was capable of realizing. He just knew so much about him, her husband, his grandfather. He had paid so much attention to him, idolized him, asked him, told him, quizzed him, played with him...it was almost as if he had forgotten about her.
He had never thought about this before. It was just in this moment, in this time of loss and sadness, of seemingly endless pain he felt he didn't know her like he knew him. In her absence he for the first time realized he would never know what he didn't know...
While he had thought he had said all he had to say, while he thought he had always shared his love and had been there and shared with her...there was a piece that he knew he would never know.
I suppose there will always be that part of life or of people that we don't know. Myself being “him,” I suppose there will always be things we don't know, can't know, don't need to know, and aren't meant to know. That wasn't the story of this grandmother and grandson. That wasn't our journey. Our journey was one of her magnificent smile, her epic love of family, her holding his hands from the time they were tiny and gentle and fit inside of hers to the present when his hands had become sturdy and strong and hers had had become small and frail and fit inside of his.
Life is a journey. It's perfect exactly the way it is. Long ago a beautiful dancer, intelligent and funny women, named Sylvia met a dynamic, profound, intelligent leader of a man named Lee. Together they build a family, a family connected by love, expressed through support and connected through the most basic act of holding a hand.
Grandma, that baby, that boy, and this man, will love you forever and knows you will love him forever. He sees and acknowledges the family, your family, that you built, that you constructed on the indestructible foundation of your love, a family that you breathed life into and held together so fiercely everyday, for so many years.
I love you and all that you create. Your smile and loving gaze is forever imprinted on my heart.
This was the last photo I took of them together in July 2012
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