Saying goodbye

[I wrote this a couple of years ago, two or three after my grandmother passed away. Reading it now, I realize how cathartic it was for me to write it. It allowed me to say my final goodbyes to her. I feel like I can share this now, five years after the event.]

“Your grandmother's in the hospital.”

My aunt called on a Thusday but I couldn't leave town before Saturday morning. In any case, I didn't want to believe it was urgent, even when I myself had told my mom grandma was letting herself die. She had had hip surgery about a month before and was actually starting to walk again, but she ate little, refused to be read to or watch TV, even rejected company.

When I finally arrived at the hospital, it was worse than I had let myself imagine. My grandma wasn't healing and my aunt scolded me for taking so long. I had to act strong when I went into her room, which she shared with three other patients, and talked to her a long time about my work, my trip to Cuernavaca, my friends. She didn't say much but she listened and smiled. And she held my hand.

After a while I went downstairs to the waiting room, where my uncle found me and suddenly I couldn't hold myself together any longer. I broke down. I told him all about the past few months, the surgery, my aunt's attitude. The burden had been too heavy for my 25 year-old shoulders, but I bore it, mostly alone, until that moment. It was relief to talk about all this with someone and he was patient. I understood then why Catholics love confession: we all need someone to listen to us, to tell us everything's going to be fine. Eventually, I went back upstairs to tell grandma I was leaving for a little while, as I needed a shower and food.

I promised I would come back and spend the night with her, but she insisted I slept at home. “I love you,” I said and kissed her forehead. She smiled weakly and said she loved me too.

When I came back an hour later she seemed asleep. The nurse who sat with her grew worried and began to pummel her chest,calling for help. I couldn't understad what has happening; I kept thinking, “Leave her alone, she needs rest.” But they wouldn't leave her alone. Not when they worried she was leaving forever.

My uncles took out their phones and called everybody in the family, in case they wanted to say goodbye. My grandmother's only living sister came down the next morning, held her hand and talked to her. I thought it was useless, but she believed. As did my grandfather, uncles and aunt when her signs went down.

We gathered around her bed and they all talked to her while she was still here. Except she wasn't. She couldn't hear anymore, no matter how much they whispered in her ear. I realized I had been the last to talk to her and there was some comfort in the fact that those had been words of love. Tears running down my face, I held her hand, willing her to stay a little longer. My aunt had to hold me tight before I could let go, finally surrendering.

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