Exactly one month to the day after Grandpa passed away, my Grandma joined him. July 3rd found me at a BBQ in California, hanging up the phone and slightly short of breath, swirls of laughter nearby. On August 3rd, I was in Alberta, Canada when the call came through. And so it goes.
Death has a way of calcifying those brief moments surrounding news of its arrival. There's an oversimplification of emotions, those ones not yet refracted through the prism of discourse (at least for a verbal processor like me). What do you feel when a loved one's essence has been robbed of them, stolen swiftly and mercilessly by the cold fingers of dementia? Do you allay your grief, drawing it behind its subject, long and thin like a late afternoon shadow? Or do you dispense of it prematurely, around the time her eyes are no longer lit by recollection?
Speaking of shadows, we entered the hospice center a few days prior, with the late afternoon sun tossing a slant on the hedges that buttressed the parking lot. She was lying on her side, recumbent with morphine and weariness. Not here, not for years, but still physically present, her skin having settled in the valleys of her cheekbones. There, in place of physical recognition, I filtered the contents of the room through a filmy muslin of memory. She took shape as a wraith, settled on her burnt orange love seat, but very much alive. Emotions are hardly simple then, in that moment, when you finally understand the purgatorial plaque that had accumulated over the last ten years. When your eyes look their last, a faint miasma of ammonia clinging to the drapes. When you choke on your own tears and you feel embarrassed. When you're face to face with The Final Moments and you chicken out. Things are not so simple then.
But they feel simple when the call comes through. When the news spills. When you finally exhale and the burden of sorting through those infinitesimal emotions is temporarily lifted.
Soon there will be more words, better ones, ones befitting the life my Grandma lived and the memory she leaves behind. Soon there will be a lighter spirit, a wry and brassy tribute. But for now, there's this. A muddy rumination on what it means to lose someone.