I had a visit from my grandmother the other day. It wasn’t a regular sit on the porch with a cup of tea kind of visit. It was more of an “I have something I need to tell you” type of visit.
She’s been unwell for some time, and I guess I had sort of hoped she would get better, and she would be back to herself soon enough. I noticed when she sat down and tears filled her eyes that it wasn’t going to be a normal conversation. Her eyes widened and she struggled to get her words out without breaking up.
“I have ALS,” she said.
At first, I was confused. I wasn’t quite so sure what having ALS actually meant. I looked at her and said, “So what does this mean?”
“I haven’t very long left to live,” she said as she choked up.
My heart sank to my knees, but I managed to keep it together. I never thought I’d ever have a conversation like this with her, not now, not ever. But it happened. And now we are faced with a reality I hope no one ever has to be faced with.
I had never had a second thought of a life without my grandmother in it. It already feels empty, it feels like a heavy weight on my chest that I wish would go away.
“No one lasts forever,” she said as she tried to comfort me.
You see, the thing about my grandmother is even in her own darkest days, she is forever looking out for us, more so than she has ever done herself.
Everyone has a special someone; well, I hope they do. Someone they turn to, look up to, and appreciate. Someone who makes everything OK. Someone you can come to and not say a thing—and that person . . . they just know. She knows. She has always known.
I have spent countless nights lying with her, laughing about the silliest things, cracking the most ridiculous jokes, and getting some of the best advice I have ever heard.
One of the best things I’ve done in these moments is I have come to know her.
What she’s done, where she’s been. I know more than her favorite color or her favorite band. I know more than the fact she would die for a seafood platter. I know more than her love of gardening and how she used to do the washing during her day. I know there is so much more to her than what meets the eye.
I know, and I am privileged to know who she really is.
The bond between a grandmother and granddaughter is like no other. She is the kind of person who lights up my day with just one visit. She knows my silence means something is wrong. She has seen me at my best and at my absolute breaking point. And she has always remained my most solid foundation. The most stable person in my life has always been her.
There are a thousand words I could say to her, and it still wouldn’t be enough. but there are two that fit the most: thank you.
Thank you, my beautiful grandmother.
For helping me through some of the toughest times of my life, for never giving up on me, and for always seeing the good under the strong layer of hurt.
Thank you for showing me how to grow the best tomatoes and for watering mine when I have (almost always) forgotten.
Thank you for teaching me how to make the most perfect deviled eggs, mushrooms that are to die for, and to only ever use butter, not margarine.
Thank you for the most spontaneous trips and wild adventures, the memories we’ve made have a very special place in my heart.
Thank you for always having the blankets feel so soft and comforting and smelling more like home than home actually was.
Thank you for cooking some of the best meals, the ones that warm you up with just one mouthful: the bacon hock soup, the apple pie, the trifle, and the butterscotch pudding, the corned beef, the most perfectly cooked roasts, the homemade mayonnaise, and every other meal you ever made.
Thank you for the times you have come to visit, always bringing a little something along each time, and having the Christmas tree so beautifully decorated awaiting our arrival.
Thank you for the hand-knitted pieces you have made my girls, chosen and made so conscientiously—they will be treasured forever.
Thank you for stepping up in so many ways, ways you don’t even know you have.
I can never actually thank you enough.
But what I thank you for the most is showing me that maternal love actually does exist. It’s real, and it’s the strongest, rawest love I have ever felt.
And I promise that I will be there on request, every time you need me. Because now it’s time for me to repay you for all the beautiful things you have shown, made, and taught me in this lifetime.
I know things look different now than how they used to. I can’t say I’m OK with that, I can’t say it doesn’t crush every bone in my body to see you this way, but this is our reality, and we can get through it together.
We can take in the time we have left. It may be six months, it may be two years, some sort of miracle might happen and it may be longer—we don’t know. But we do know there is a restriction on time, it is our biggest enemy in this battle.
And I’m not prepared for there to be a last day.
A last day of seeing your smile.
A last day of having you over for dinner or for a hot cup of tea.
A last day of being able to text or call you.
A last day of being told how to clean the oven or how to soak stains out of garments.
I’m not prepared for the last day of you.
Now, we have discussions about what to do with her ashes, where she wants to go, what she wants to do before she passes, and how she wants to pass. We talk about how she wants us as a family to keep in contact, for our matriarch holds us together in ways she doesn’t even know she does.
Everything she does is with the purest love and so much of it.
Grieving someone who is still here is harder than I had ever imagined.
And knowing there has to be an end, so much sooner than I had ever thought, has broken me in ways I didn’t think possible.
But I have to be as strong as she is. I have to be like her and think of the positives.
We can still make memories, we can still laugh, and we can still communicate, perhaps in other ways than what we are used to. We have to take this situation and work with it, accept it, and understand it.
Although things are hard to understand and even harder to bear, we get to embrace the presence of our grandmother a little longer, and that . . . that is the best thing we could possibly ever have.