Death is a natural process of life. At times it may catch us off guard and we may not feel quite ready or prepared to accept it. At other times, it’s expected and we have more time to grieve healthily. However, if there is one thing I know for certain, it is that there is something very special we experience within each loss we must accept and endure.
Though I have had many experiences with death in the past, three people stand out to me the most: my uncle Tad, my grandmother, and my grandfather.
Grandma was quiet and always seemed to be smiling (she’d have to with five kids!). Once a year on Christmas Eve our family would visit her and Grandpa. It was mainly a chance for all of her kids to gather in one place and joke with one another, but each year I looked forward to it. And, for whatever reason (possibly the presents), I was more than excited to make that trip every year growing up. But, we haven’t been to Grandma’s lately. We haven’t made that trip for the past four years, and we won’t make it again this year. Grandma passed away in November of 2007, and she hasn’t left my mind since.
I wouldn’t say that death scares me, but I would say it makes me slightly uncomfortable. When we knew Grandma was steadily declining, my parents took me to see her. Though I knew what to expect, I still remember that day as the last time I would ever see her.
When we walked into the house, everyone was in the back bedroom. I glanced at the huge painting of Jesus hanging in the living room before making my way back. As I turned toward the hallway, I remember thinking of Grandma’s love for owls and how she collected small glass figurines of them. I could feel my anxiety level rising with every beat of my pulse as I slowly stepped through the bedroom door at the end of the hallway.
Then, I saw Grandma.
Hospice nurses and aides had been by her side around the clock. Though Grandma had been lying in bed for a few days in a comatose state, each nurse made sure she was comfortable and without pain. Grandma could not speak, nor could she eat or move. We knew it was only a matter of time before she passed.
I watched her lay lifelessly; breathing in and out while Grandpa held her hand. Thinking back, I now see what a miraculous scene it was in that back bedroom. To witness a couple at the age of my grandparents, who had built a union over 50 years prior, hold hands while one was passing away was a breathtaking sight.
Now, it was my turn to say goodbye.
I slowly walked to the wooden chair beside Grandma’s bed, sat down, and reached out my hand. Fear and anxiety suddenly fled from my body. I wasn’t sure why I did it or what was happening, but I knew I had to touch her hand. All I knew was that somewhere in my heart, I needed to feel her touch once more.
The moment our hands clasped together, I felt her come to life inside me. It was an unspoken connection, and I never wanted to break it. Though the room was filled with heavy hearts, Jesus was lifting us in triumph that one of his angels was coming home and we were there to witness his blessings.
What happened next was something I’ll never forget.
I faintly remember telling Grandma hello and that it was I who was holding her hand. I’m not sure if I said anything else aloud, but as I watched her chest elevate and depress, I communicated with her spiritually. After several minutes of holding Grandma’s hand, that didn’t feel nearly long enough, it was time for my parents and I to go home.
I hesitated to let go of her hand at first and stared at her face for a little while longer. Finally, I told Grandma it was time for us to leave. I don’t know if I whispered, “I love you” or if it was only in my mind, but it didn’t matter. As I began to pull away and release her hand from my grasp, I felt something I had never felt before. She squeezed my hand tight and released. Though her eyes were not open and she could not speak or move, Grandma was telling me that she heard me. I knew that very moment that one last squeeze of my hand meant something. It meant goodbye.
The next day, after her eldest son arrived from California, Grandma went home to be with Jesus. To this day, I wear the ring she left behind and know she died without pain or suffering, in her home, and surrounded by family.