My grandmother is ICU again, fighting the battle of her life. Perhaps she is fighting off the sepsis that has invaded her bloodstream and further weakened her already fragile 85 year-old body. Or, perhaps she is fighting to get to a place where there is no more fighting, the place where she can see my granddad again and paint kitchen walls with the greatest of ease and putter in her garden long past when her knees would have given out. No one is sure which of those fights she is waging at this point, perhaps not even Grandma. And so we wait.
Yesterday, as the family gathered in the ICU (honestly, more like took it over as Johnsons usually do), my grandmother’s lifelong best friend arrived to say goodbye. The two had shared so much over the years, more than just neighborly dinners and Easter celebrations with the kids and grandkids. They had shared hopes and dreams and adventures. I’m quite sure they shared secrets and disappointments and wounds too. The two of them sat together holding hands for quite a while. And, although I knew it was a private moment, I lingered for a bit – perhaps hoping for a glimpse into my grandmother’s life to which I had never before been privy.
My grandmother opened her eyes when Audrey took her hand. She smiled slightly and said she was glad Audrey had made it. I knew Grandma had been keeping track of who had come to say goodbye, and she was pleased she was able to see her best friend once more. And, then, cutting through the trite expressions or abundance of platitudes used so often during these times, my grandmother simply said, “We always said we would take another cruise together and we never did it. I guess we just ran out of time.”
Something changed in me when I witnessed that simple exchange between two lifelong friends, now at the end of their life path together. I realized I was seeing firsthand what we all post online, sing about and write on bumper stickers. “Dance like no one’s watching…sing like no one’s listening…love without fear of being hurt.” Maybe you can say you already live this way, but frankly, despite my penchant for bumper stickers, I haven’t been. Not fully anyway. I was reciting those things in my head but I didn’t comprehend the meaning. It isn’t about making grand overtures or taking extraordinary trips or having unparalleled adventures. It is about living every day as its own small miracle, no matter what the day may hold for you.
Of course a 10-hour work day with a two-hour commute and all the usual chores and responsibilities of life may not sound like a miracle. I am certainly guilty of bemoaning many a day. But, I realized yesterday – felt it to my core – that we really ARE all on a very short miracle ride on this earth that could end at any moment. No questions asked, no last hurrah, no preparation. Poof. Gone. And, what would you have to show for it?
I’ve heard people say, “Don’t save your good china for a special day – TODAY is special.” That’s an easy fix, I thought, so I started using my pretty dishes regularly. But, what I was missing is that in the end, when there is really nothing left but to say goodbye to this world, not a single person is going to be standing bedside whispering about your weight, or clothing style or what you drove thirty years ago. Hell, no one will care about your pretty china either. I was taking everything too literally (not shocking for those of you who know me well.)
I spend way too much time fixated on what size I am, what clothing trends I’m missing, what car I’m not driving. I think “when I lose twenty pounds, when I have kids, when I get a promotion.” Listening to my grandmother and Audrey yesterday, wishing they had taken one more cruise together, I finally realized THIS IS IT. THIS is my life. Size 6, Size 12, bangs, no bangs, fourteen year old Honda, brand-new SUV. It simply is what it is. And, bless anyone who already figured this out but it took me just shy of thirty-five years to actually put the pieces together.
We all “know” tomorrow is an unknown and definitely not guaranteed. But, yesterday is GONE and you can’t get it back. Do you want to think back on your yesterdays and wish you had cherished them a little more? I don’t! I do not. I will not. I want to look back on my yesterdays and feel confident that I hugged my loved ones as much as I could, that I appreciated the sunlight through my windows, that I squeezed as much joy as possible out of every moment, even the sad ones. Especially the sad ones.
Before I left the hospital yesterday afternoon, I went and said goodbye to my grandmother. Of course, we had no idea if we would see each other again in this life. But, I stood there and told her I loved her and that I hoped she could rest. Do you know her response? She said, “Go out and enjoy the sunshine.”
You know what? I’m going to.