We spend our lives saying goodbye. We do it on a daily basis. We kiss our spouses goodbye in the morning before we head off to work. We say goodbye to our children as they begin their school day. We say goodbye to friends after preschool drop off. We say goodbye to our loved ones after a big meal on a Sunday. We say goodbye to the waitress at our favorite pizza place on a Friday night. We say goodbye. It’s not something new.
“Saying goodbye is part of our every day. It’s when that goodbye feels final though, it is then that we start to think about the moments.”
It is then that we start to think about all the goodbyes that came before that one. It is then that we wish we had made time for more Hellos. It is then that we realize the moments are time capsules. They are little pockets of beautiful memory dust that our brains have collected as if our brain knew that one day we would need all those moments to compile our book of memories.
The beauty of life is that it is unpredictable. We have no way to know what lies ahead. As much as we plan our daily activities, most of life is simply unpredictable. No one knows this better than my grandmother. She was born in 1927 to Irish immigrants, just two years prior to the start of The Great Depression. As kids I remember her telling my sister and me often not to waste our dinner. What did we know? What did waste mean? We wanted for nothing. My grandmother though, she was a woman who knew what it meant to come from nothing. She knew what it was like to care for her younger siblings.
She knew what it was like to not eat dinner so her baby brother would not go hungry. She knew. She knew much more than she ever told us back then. Instead she told us the funny stories about her brother throwing baby powder out a window. She told us about being locked out of her walk up apartment and her brother telling her he wasn’t allowed to let strangers in. She told us how loving her parents were. She told us how proud they would have been of all of us. She gave us more than moments. She gave us the whole story.
My grandmother was a widow young. My grandfather died when she was only 53. I’m going to be forty this July. I can’t imagine how devastating this was for her. I was only three years old at the time and my sister was 18 months. My grandmother decided to take her grief and get rid of it by spending as much time with us as she possibly could.
My memories of her go back as far as they will allow me. I am full of memories of her showing up at our house every Friday and staying the whole weekend. She would sleep in a bed right outside my bedroom. We would laugh and laugh until she finally told me to go to sleep so we could make the most of the day when we woke up. There was something so comforting about knowing she was right outside my door. At three years old, the mere thought of my grandmother guarding my door was better than any amount of counting sheep.
She continued to fill my life with moment after moment. Every year we took our annual trip to Lake George, NY. She would tell my sister and I how her and my grandfather used to vacation there as newlyweds. She would tell us the stories about my mother and my uncle learning to water ski for the first time. As she would tell us these stories I would always play them out in my head. I would see my grandparents sitting by the lake in their old timey bathing suits watching my young mother, with her long, dark brown hair learning to water ski. I would imagine my grandparents as the young couple they were. I would imagine the joy. I would hear the laughter. I would feel her sadness. I would feel her loss.
“As time moved on my grandmother was there. She was there for my small moments and she was there for my big moments.”
She took me to Ireland for my 8th grade graduation. She told me all about my great grandparents and as we sat on top of a windy mountain we laughed about the fact that her hair did not move (way to go Aqua Net). It was one of the best trips of my life and that was one of the first times I knew that I was living moments that were going to become forever memories.
After all of these moments I would kiss her and say goodbye. Not once was I afraid that it was going to be our last. I guess that was just naïve of me. Life is not a guarantee. I know that. The last month has brought my family on a journey that I can only describe as us, “letting go of the moments and holding onto the memories.” My grandmother is at the end of a long road. She is amazing in more ways than I can possibly write. She has taught me how to be a good mother. She has taught me how to be a strong person. She has taught me about unconditional love. Tonight as I kissed her goodbye I knew it might be the last time so I told her I loved her and she held my hand and said “you tell those boys how much I love them.”
“I will Grandma. You know they love you so very much.”
“Jen, don’t you cry when I go. You promise me you will dance and sing. You promise me those boys will dance and remember all the great times they had with Nana.”
As I held back tears to make her this promise I suddenly knew it was one I would be able to keep. After all she gave me years of moments that will turn into a lifetime of memories and one day I will sit on top of a mountain in Ireland with my boys. I will let the wind take my hair and I will laugh at the fact that she is looking down and yelling “You should have used hairspray you dummy!”
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at email@example.com.
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