I am in the air, headed to another conference, headed away from home for the next three days. As home fades to a pinprick, my husband’s grandmother lies in hospice, surrounded by family, finishing her journey through life. The guilt weighs heavily on me, they know I would be there if I could, but still….
Our kids are trying to process what it means to die. Our four-year-old son cries at bedtime telling me, “I will miss her so much, Mom.” Our eight-year-old asks me why people have to die and how is that fair. Our three-year-old asks us when Old Grandma will go home, not sure why she isn’t answering when she asks her questions. My husband, stoic as always, keeps his emotions close to his chest, he never was one for public displays. We are all processing in our own ways, trying to bumble our way through something we know is inevitable, yet always comes as a surprise. As each child asks their questions, we try to navigate as best as we can, offering up shallow answers and lots of hugs.
As our children process, I try to think of what they will remember. The stories Anita leaves us with. The little things that stand out to us, to me, as she welcomed me into this family. As I recognize that without her, my husband would never even exist. The little gestures that mattered the most, such as how she brought pickled cucumbers to every gathering because she knew they reminded me of my grandfather. How she met Brandon’s grandfather and the trouble they got in together as they married young, knowing they were meant to be together. How when Augustine came ten weeks early, she crocheted two blankets the size of doll bedding to keep in her incubator and tiny hats to keep her warm, saying they would be better than the ones the hospital had – and they were. How she slipped her false teeth out of her mouth just to scare my kids and they didn’t even notice.
Her stories become our stories, but only the ones we know. There are so many we don’t know. Death is never easy. Neither is grief. The thought of all of the missed opportunities. The missed moments where we could have asked for more stories, more of her. The times we were too busy. The times we didn’t ask more questions.
And that’s it, isn’t it?
Stories are all we are.
All we leave behind are the stories that when read from start to finish make the book of our life.
We take life for granted so often, We live as if our time will never run out. We get too busy to stop and listen to each other.
So as I think of the year ahead in our classrooms, I think of all of the stories we are waiting to begin. The stories awaiting us. How it feels as if we don’t have the time to know the kids we teach because we have so much curriculum to cover. And yet, either way, our story will continue. The story we will create together will be written into existence whether we give it our time or not. And we can hope that this coming year is one of the good chapters, the one where there is more good than bad, more happy than not.
As Anita slowly passes, our own mortality is remembered. We tell her thank you, we love her, and hope that it is enough. That we were enough. And I hope that one day, my own family will gather around me as I get ready to leave this Earth and will share their stories. Will have enough to remember me by, not as someone who was there once in a while, when work didn’t call, but who was there for the small moments, where there are more stories than time to share them.
We can’t just wait for it to happen. We write the story of our year, of our lives. We are the authors of what awaits. So make it matter. Make it one that will be shared for years to come.
We have no more grandparents left after this. The generation that gave birth to our parents has vanished into memories, ready to be overtaken by the next one. Ready to have the next chapter written. As we grieve and process, we are thankful and grateful. At least we got to be a part of this one story. This one life. May we all be so lucky.