Today, my aunt packed up and headed back to Ohio at some ungodly hour of the morning, and after she left, my Grandmother knocked on the den door, came in and sat beside me on the bed. "I just said good-bye to Mac", she said, her voice low and thin.
I put my head on her shoulder, she put her head on mine. A few minutes later, she whispered "I just don't know if I'm ever going to see her again."
She was crying as she said it, and her tears made me want to flinch they were so heavy.
Then her hearing aid whistled at us, and she collected herself, pulled herself back in, saying that she shouldn't be leaning on my shoulder, because it hurts me.
As if I care.
But she bustled out, and I knew she needed to be alone for a few minutes: Because sometimes you just can't cry in front of other people; because sometimes you're afraid you might not be able to stop.
I sat on the bed, in the dark early morning, with the stupid birds chirping away outside the window, and the light trying to creep in through the cracks of the shades, and I thought about what it must be like to have to say goodbye to your child, never knowing if you'll see them again.
Of course none of us ever knows, but we each have our own false comforts of being young, or healthy, or knowing that you only have to wait till tomorrow, or that you're right down the street, or that you've had all your shots.
I thought about how scary it must be to have lived long enough to know that it doesn't matter how safe you are, how old you are, how prepared you are: no matter what, life and death happen. You can't control them.
To have lost everyone who came before you, to know there's nobody left between you and what comes next ? How frightening it must be to be 92 and to know that whatever time you have left, it's not going to be enough.
It's scary for me to think about that, to try to imagine my world without her, but I've scraped together the remnants of my own naive beliefs, and I wrap them around me like a cocoon of denial... it hurts too much to go there.
I can't imagine what it must be like for her, without the comforts -however false - to protect her heart.
After a while, I went out to the couch where she was laying down and I just sat and held her hand. The tears slid from her eyes, backwards toward the pillow, slowly now, but I could tell she'd been crying harder, by the dampness on her pillow.
She apologized for getting me up (again: as if I care).
"I love to see them come," she said, "but I hate to see them go."
And we were both silent for a while, and I can't be sure what she was thinking, but I know that I was thinking about all the people who've gone and never made it back: Three of her children, my father included, 10 years ago this week. Her husband. Her mother, her grandmother, all of her siblings. Nana. Uncles and aunts, cousins and friends.
People you said goodbye to like it was any other day, only it turned out not to be. People you clung to as you said goodbye, knowing there'd be no tomorrows. People you waved away, absentmindedly, only to regret it forever.
People who just... left.
And I thought about how brave you have to be to let the people you love out of your sight, even for a moment. Why can't we all just sit around holding hands all day, every day? (Yes, I realize that we'd all go crazy within 10 minutes, but still...)
She lost her mother when she was six years old, and she's managed to make it through everyday of the next 86 years, knowing how fragile life is, but not being able to do anything about it besides live. I know it's all we can do, but sometimes it seems like SO MUCH, like TOO MUCH. 86 years and counting of risking, and loving, and wishing and lasting, and trying, and fighting and fearing, and hoping, and just ... being.
And surviving - sometimes curled up in a ball, and other times with arms open wide - but always surviving.