Friday, September 6th, 2019, 6am:
I woke up with the feeling of a gentle kiss, a soft breath on my cheek. I knew my Grandma had passed. Logically I knew there was no way she had made it through the night; spiritually I felt her leave. Emotionally I felt a sadness like a wet blanket. I laid in the clean white bed of the hotel room and watched the sun slowly light up the room. It was not the bright light of summer, but the filtered light through the clouds that arrive in Autumn. I rolled over to watch my oldest son sleep. I knew that when he woke up I would have to tell him that his beloved Great Grandma had passed. I wanted him to sleep a little longer; the sleep of the innocent.
How brave he had been on Wednesday evening when I had told him his Great Grandma was dying, and that I was driving down to say goodbye. He dropped his head and let the tears fall. After a few minutes passed he raised his chin and asked to go with me. I was surprised, and very proud of his insight. He loved his Great Grandma enough to be able to kiss her dying face one last time. I felt like at 10 years old he is ready to take this step.
During our 5 hour drive, we spoke about how different Grandma would look from what he had known, but there is really no way to properly prepare someone for viewing a person on their deathbed. 5pm: When we arrived, Grandma had her eyes open and my Aunt was waving us in to the bedroom, where Grandma lay surrounded by family members. I stroked Grandma’s face, kissed her forehead, sat next to her bed and held her hand. Her skin was hot with fever, her breathing lacked a regular cadence. I wondered if this was a mistake, bringing my child. I wanted to shield him while also understanding that sheltering him would not do him any favors. I could hear my cousin talking to my son about video games. I had never been good at video games (not super interested) but in that moment, I was eternally grateful that my cousin had spent so much time playing video games, as he could carry on a conversation with my son about something other than Grandma. I felt so loved surrounded by everyone in that room. It was apparent that Grandma would not make it much longer, and I was glad to see her one last time.
8pm: We had spent hours going in and out of the bedroom: hugging each other, monitoring, giving breaks, eating snacks, drinking water, waiting… It felt like we were on a team, and that we felt the need to pass the baton every now and then. My concern was making sure my mom was eating and drinking. I knew it would be a long night for Mom and Uncle. I needed to take my son to the hotel to sleep, he was getting bored and tired. I asked him “do you want to say goodnight to Grandma?” To which he replied “Yes”. We entered Grandma’s room, he was a little shy. Even though I had told him that Grandma wouldn’t be awake, he half expected her to wake up to tell him goodnight. It occured to me that during the hours we had been there and she had been resting, his brain was telling him that she should be waking up soon. I told him that it was ok to tell her goodnight even though she was sleeping. We all watched as he leaned over Grandma, hugged her, kissed her and told her goodnight and that he loved her. I knew this moment was monumental for my son’s emotional growth, and he handled it so bravely. I told him to wait for me in the living room. As he walked out of the room, emotions welled up like a boulder in my throat. I let the tears fall silently and laid my head on Grandma’s feet. We would miss her, we would all miss her so terribly. Grandma had been and was continuing to be vital to our spiritual growth, even in her physical death.
When Grandma left, I felt unclear for a few days. I felt darkness that comes along with big sadness. It was as if she had just disappeared. I even asked her “where did you go?” with no response.
Then I started remembering, and I remembered a conversation we had a few years ago. Grandma and I talked about everything, she was my person, my safe place. We decided on this day (I believe it was a summer day in 2016) that we would talk about her passing. We wanted to say everything we had to say about it, then, while we still had time. “I will miss you Grandma.” I told her to start the conversation. “I will miss you too.” said Grandma. Which I thought was amusing because she didn’t try to comfort me with the things that people tend to say like ‘I will always be with you’ or ‘look up at the stars and I’ll be there.’ She just told me about how she would miss seeing so many things like watching the boys grow and being there for me when I became a Grandma. I shared with her how important she had been in my life. And even though we were kept apart for so long, I knew that if I ever needed to go anywhere, that I could go to her house and that she would not take me back to the cult. In that moment though, I did not care that I had never run away. We talked for hours about anything and everything. She about her life and me about mine. Nothing was left unsaid and we felt at peace. I felt like I was able to accept the love she offered, and I gave her my love back. As a person who spent their whole life feeling unworthy of being loved, this conversation was a step of growth for me.
October 27th, 2019, Grandma’s memorial
While hearing everyone talk about my Grandma, it was apparent that she lived her life lovingly and compassionately. No one who came in contact with her was spared from her compassion. We were so lucky to have her influence in our lives. She gave love willingly, and was always looking for opportunities to help and ask the important questions. My Grandma is an inspiration to me of how to live an honest, giving, compassionate, and curious life. The verse that was chosen spoke about “choose life”. Which is interesting because that was the phrase that came in my head so many years ago when I thought about ending my life. I decided to choose life; my life. And while the pain of loss is great, the joy of life and love is abundant and goes on through family and friends. Just ask anyone who knew my wonderful Grandma Jan.