I walk through the doors of the hospital, clutching the hand of the strongest person I know.
The hospital itself swirls with memories of life events too complex to feel while simultaneously dealing with the process of losing a second grandma in a four month span. My ICU stay and subsequent week long stay on the mental health floor. The surgeries I endured while pregnant with the Munchkin; her eventual birth and walking out the doors without her in my arms. A recent trip to retrieve an item left behind by my grandmother during a stay and LittleBrother asking, “Is this where Big Mamaw died?”
I push it all down, push it back into the place that I hope remains hard to retrieve on other days like these. That’s a difficult realization in itself: There will be other days like these.
We wait for the elevators to take us to the fourth floor. Only two at the bank of four go all the way to the fourth floor, but pressing the up button calls for all of the elevators. Other people who arrived to wait after us extend an arm, ushering us toward their elevator—the one that doesn’t lead straight to the death floor.
“No, I’m sorry. We’re waiting for the elevators to go to hospice.”
Their eyes drop to the floor immediately and they quickly step inside their elevator, the safe one.
I learned last time that nothing can prepare you for the visual representation of dying. My paternal grandmother looked nothing like the fierce woman I knew when I walked into the hospital that June day. And yesterday, a blustery but sunny November morning, my maternal grandmother looked nothing like the grandmother I woke up early to have tea at her kitchen table one sleepover. She taught me to pour milk in my tea cup, to mix in the sugar. I don’t like milk and sugar in my tea, but I did it anyway. Because she did.
The bed sits low to the ground, a safety precaution from when she tried to get out of bed while on the morphine they’re pumping through her body to ease the pain of the leukemia that’s killing her both too slowly and too quickly. Her husband sits in the brown leather chair next to her head, staring at the second woman he’s loved and watched die. I watch him watch her and think the world too cruel, too painful for words. Later my mom told me as we stood in the family room of the hospice that he believed he was a jinx, that it’s all his fault. There are no words of comfort to heal a man’s forever broken heart at losing two wives to cancer.
I touch the quilted blanket set across my grandmother’s body. Mom tells me volunteers make them out of loved ones favorite clothing and donated to the patients who come here for service, for caring, for their transition from life to death. My fingers trace along a strip of shamrocks, a strip of children, a strip of leaves. My husband points out how all the seasons are represented. We have been here in this place in summer and now in fall. I do not wish to return in winter.
We stop in the living room to look at the view. We walk the hall to the kitchen to grab some too-strong coffee that we don’t really drink; we just need something in our hands to distract ourselves.
I take my husband to the chapel and I sit by the window. The chair squishes down and pulls me in, surrounding me with the love and tears and faith and heartbreak of all who sat in it before me. I have sat in it before; I sat in this chair, my phone in my hands, texting a trusted friend with a question that I still don’t have the answer to even now. “Is it okay to pray that she goes?” It still feels wrong. It still hurts so deeply.
We sit and look out over the countryside. We can see further than last time, the leaves falling quickly now around the oranges and yellows; bare brown branches reach skyward, waiting for the next thing to happen.
I stand and grab a prayer stone and pray. My prayers feel empty and useless; what prayer can I even offer in light of all my family endured over the past few months? And still, I pray. It is my default; it is what I do when I can do nothing else. I drop the prayer stone into the glass container, the second in four months.
And then I sit. I sit at the foot of my grandmother’s bed as her breathing sounds like the breathing of my other grandmother’s last day. The memories come quick and hard and my chest aches with the pain of loss, of remembering, of everything, of nothing. I sit and I stare and I try to reach for memories deep within, but all I can think of is how hard this feels and how so very alone I feel trying to make sense of it all. I look at her face and I see her; I look at her face and I don’t see her. She makes a small noise, and I hear her. Her voice.
It is time to go. We need to get back to the children, get them to evening dentist appointments scheduled months and months in advance. We need to go about the living which feels awful and wrong.
I bend at the waist, not wanting the memorize the changes in her face, so I memorize the colors of the nightgown she is wearing. Pinks and purples with blues, a large, pastel floral pattern. I touch the fabric; it feels soft and cool against her warm skin. I catch my breath.
I kiss her temple. I leave the room.
And once again, I walk out of that hospital without someone I love.