For years leading up to my Grandmother’s death I had conversations with her before I fell asleep at night. It was always the same. I would hug my pillow and talk out loud to her, recounting my memories of our time together, imagining myself on the floor of her living room next to her favorite rocker. With my head in her lap she would run her skinny fingers through my hair, the ones that look exactly like mine just older, and I would regale her with dozens of stories in very specific detail.
In my bed at night talking to the ceiling I was convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that she could hear me 6,000 miles away and that she knew I was with her. I pictured her in her hospital bed laughing out loud for each of the family jokes I reminded her of. And when the present moment predicament crept in and things inevitably got a little sad, I would tell her over and over, “I got you. It’s scary I know, but you’re OK.”
My father picked me up at JFK International Airport in Queens, NY on a very cold March morning at 7:00 AM, five days after my 36th birthday. Bleary eyed from a complete lack of sleep on the red eye from Hawaii, I fell into the winter coat he brought for me and leapt quickly into the front seat of his heated Saturn. All I could say was, “This totally fucking sucks.” All he could do was slowly nod his head and agree, “Yah. It really does.”
I wanted to stay right there at the airport as if refusing to move forward would keep it all from happening. Holding back the tears I once again ran through the countless happy memories as my dad stoically drove us north over the Triboro Bridge.
In my head I could hear her rattling the dice in the plastic cup during our endless games of Yahtzee, the clink of my uncles throwing horseshoes in her backyard. Thanksgivings when we’d put ice in her white wine and throw bread rolls to each other across the table. That time we all went to Europe and the cruise to the Bahamas. How she would sit under the Christmas tree every year and hand out gifts like Santa. How it would seem like everything was funny to her and we would never ever stop laughing.
When we got to Connecticut we took a deep breath and silently rode the elevator to the fourth floor. In her hospice room I took off my coat and climbed into her bed. Spooning my Grams I whispered the sentiment that was almost impossible to articulate, “Hey we gotta talk. This totally fucking sucks but it’s time.”
She couldn’t speak to respond but I knew she could hear me. So I sang her the song I’d been singing for years every time I visited the convalescent home she was moved to when the late onset Alzheimer’s got too much for anyone to handle. Snuggled up and wrapped around her, holding her hand, my forehead against the back of her head, my mouth as close to her ear as I could get it, I repeated Lou Reed’s chorus.
It’s such a perfect day / I’m glad I spent it with you
Such a perfect day / You just keep me hangin’ on
For five hours rather than cry, the six of us reminisced and laughed, sometimes a little too raucously. It was me and my mom and my dad, plus my aunt, uncle and cousin. When we got too loud we shushed each other then quickly burst into guffaws over how crazy the nurses and aides must have thought we were.
What kind of family laughs like lunatics on the deathbed of the long standing matriarch? The ones who have been living and laughing with her all their lives. The ones who understand exactly what she wanted: to go out the way she lived – surrounded by a rambunctious bunch of nuts making jokes until the bitter end.
As a child, and even through my twenties, I never believed the end would actually come, but in the early afternoon of March 8th 2014 it did. She took her last breath and with it the laughter temporarily died.
Up until that day I had never seen anyone die before. It gutted me unlike any other loss I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t understand how to leave the room but thankfully my father stayed with me and the two of us had no clue together.
My grandmother’s death is undoubtedly the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. Two months after that day I lost my dear sweet perfect Arugula Roo to kidney failure, the final stage of her years long battle with Feline Lymphocytic Leukemia. For sixteen years she had been my only daily constant. Through the ups and downs of life, 15 apartments, 4 states and everything life threw at me in between. She was an angel and perfect in every way, just like my Grams.
So I’m just gonna go ahead and say that 2014 was a very sad and difficult year.
Good things happened. But mostly I just had a hard time and felt unbearably lonely. I barely exercised. I drank too much beer. I didn’t participate in any races or go on many dates. I hardly wrote at all.
The first week of December I flew to Maui for the day and sang kirtan with Krishna Das at a little church in Makawao just outside of Paia. Right down in the front row I started crying with the first note that came from his harmonium. The tears kept coming as I chanted my little heart out. I cried for the loss of my grandmother, shaking from the pain, begging her not to leave me.
All year I felt so consumed by the emptiness and then suddenly there she was, gently pointing out how much of a dope I had been. “I’m not going anywhere, silly! I’m right here. For goodness sake, just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I left you!” I could see her throwing up her hands and shrugging her shoulders like “Duh!” And just like that I stopped crying and the hole started to close.
A few weeks after my excursion to Maui I did a seven day juice fast and life started to spring out of me again. Today I ran to Hanauma Bay. I climbed a mile to the top of the ridge trail and looked out over the ocean. Just as I crested the hill, Puja from Krishna Das’ Door of Faith album came through my headphones and I started laughing. Because that’s how life goes when you’re in tune and paying attention – everything you need appears without asking at exactly the moment you need it to.
I stretched and balanced in tree pose as KD om’d and woke me back up. Then I walked down the hill and ran home.
I can’t say I’m ecstatic or energized. Maybe that will come tomorrow when the New Year is really here. But for now I can say I am at peace, unbelievably grateful that I got to spend 36 years with my favorite person on the planet. And I’m ready to let the loss go so I can move on to whatever is next.
Happy New Year my dear ones. May it be filled with blessings and happiness for everyone. MUCH LOVE!