True love is helping someone die

She was my grandmother
Who would know, I’d sit by her side as she’d take her last breath
The horse crackle of those last gasps
Eyes glazed over
She had left days before

“Did you see that” my mom said
“Is it steam, it’s like evaporation or heat or something”
I watched my mom watching something in front of her
I knew it was my grandmother leaving, her spirit returning to the source
I could not see her leave

The month before was a wild ride
“The waters, they’re coming! They’re coming!” she yells
Throwing herself to the top of the bed
Yelling in the middle of the night when we’re half asleep
Half asleep because nights were filled with wild hallucinations

“I love you gramma”
“I love you too”
Eyes twinkle and our two hearts mingled
She taught me to waltz when I was little
She was a great dancer

She would lead me around the house
Her spirit wild, fun, and carefree
We’d spin around corners and Charleston down the hall
I’ve still never danced with someone like her
It was in her heart, she moved from her heart

She grew me up on cards and ice-cream
If it wasn’t a mean game of canasta
It would be a night with king’s in the corners
Sometimes Chinese checkers and tea
But always there was a game, always time to play

Inner satisfaction was sitting in whatever place in whatever state playing cards with my grandmother
She entertained the young, the old, the uppity, the shy
She was a lover of life
Not the glamorous adventurous life filled with outrageous activities
More of the house life, the one with a fire, my grandfather reading, and a good game played until bedtime

Before she would win, there was a quiet look in her eyes
Almost as if she was bored with playing
“I’m out” she’d say as she laid down her hand taking you by surprise
A twinkle in her eye and smirk on her face
She enjoyed life–she enjoyed the game

“There’s a little dutch girl… and a little dutch boy”
Always a song, always a whistle, always a shuffle
Even the shuffling of her feet down the hall had a rhythm
Everyday was paced like a song
Her activities one stanza after the next

Pearls on
Pins in
Jewelry clipped
Jacket tucked
Purse slung and she’s ready

She really was that methodical
Never surprised except when you laid down your hand and called “GIN”
She didn’t like surprises, didn’t like losing, didn’t like things out of the ordinary
Didn’t like spicy food or a new restaurant
Didn’t like things moved out of their place or shifts in routines

“What are you doing?”
“Cleaning your room gram”
“Well don’t! When is she gonna be done here? Is she trying to kill me?”
“You can’t live like this gram, the dirt and dust IS killing you!”
I drove her crazy, she never understood me yet we were best friends

The type of friends that are there by default
Never saying the right thing but their presence is a constant
The one that tests you around every corner but leaves a flower on every road
I laughed at her corks, she laughed at mine
Never did we take any of it personally, always love, pure love, to the core

The last month, my mom and I sat by her side night and day
The house became quiet for her
We we’re preparing, we were giving her death, served to her in the finest
With wash rags and bites of ice-cream, kind words and kisses, lots of kisses
Just like birth, death is a labor sometimes much longer than 9 months

The labor of death started about a year and a half prior to her passing
Needing 24 hour attention is one of the first signals
The deteriorating health grows with every new problem
The fits of itching, gasping, hyperventilating, clearing the throat, and headaches
The panic attacks, the emergency room visits and the morphine

On the inside, you don’t see the deterioration, you don’t see the change
But after being away, I’d return to someone obviously moving closer to death at an increasing rate
Everyone is tired, everyone is frustrated, people stop visiting and helping
Emotions, nerves, reactions, sadness, anger, impatience
The labor of death is not easy nor glorious

Diapers have to be changed
Beds washed, meals cooked, medications prepared, clothes laundered
And cards played, always cards being shuffled
Everyday, the same routine
Everyday, the same, day after day after day after day

My mom is a saint
First she cared for my grandfather to his death
Next it was my grandmothers turn
Both, she took responsibility whole heartedly, it was her role, she was good at it
And I supported her, learned from her, did whatever needed doing

What I learned was not simple
But now central to all my experiences in life
That there is always something constant, ever present in every set of experiences
And remembering can help me get through the resistance and inertia
There is truly NO circumstances worth fear, knowing…

Tenderness comes after long nights of anxiety
Understanding settles in after concentrated tension
Forgiveness underlies even the most challenging altercations
No matter how hard death hits us, the gentle caress always tends to us the morning after
Even death can’t keep love away.