Through our lives, we all will experience the death of a loved one. Death can be so different for each person as they lose someone they love, and for each person who slips away. I have lost many friends and loved ones through the years. There are those who have passed I still mourn like Robin Williams, and Leonard Nemoy; men who had a profound effect on my life. There are, however, two deaths that I remember and that still affect me in a deep and profound way; these are the passing of my father, and my “grandmother-in-love,” Annie (or Anne) Taylor.
It was a warm day that December as I trudged home from school. I was walking home from second grade; a journey I took daily. As I rounded the corner onto my street, I looked up at the magnificent dwelling I called home. Being six-years old, I really didn’t appreciate the majesty of where we lived, the elegance that greeted my eye. The house was a three story adobe mansion near the top of the hill. In fact, there was only one house higher up on that hill than ours. I gazed up at the 10-foot retaining wall surrounding the down-hill side of our home, I breathed a sigh of relief in anticipation of the fact that I’d be home, soon. I looked past the bushes and trees along the corners and up at the ivory towers, with black rod iron porches jutting from it; this was home. I looked toward my room; it was the highest point in the house, with double French doors that opened out onto the flat roof/porch outside my room. It meant nothing to me then, but I could see the Rio Grande River and the city of Juarez, Mexico from my spacious porch. Just a few weeks before, we had visited that city and purchased “touristy items.” I thought about the serape and bamboo snake that I had gotten there. It was almost time for winter break, and I’d have time to play with my toys, rather than going to the school I hated. I thought about this, as I climbed the winding snake-like path that the steps took as I ascended to the front door of the house. I opened the large, wooden door to enter my home, totally unaware of the fact that all I held dear was about to come crashing down.
I stepped into the large, regal, plush room that was the den. The burgundy velvet curtains that framed the front windows seemed heavier, bloodier than normal. The large fireplace that engulfed the south wall seemed to be frozen in a silent, screaming, gape instead of breathing warm life into the room. The grand chandelier that normally twinkled like stars in the sky, seemed to be a cold, frozen spider web that hovered in space. The opening to the dining room seemed to expand in front of me like a dark cavern, rather than the shining cornucopia of abundance that it normally was. On a couch in the corner sat my Aunt Faye and Uncle Jim, “What are they doing here?” I soon had my answer; my mother came in and whisked me like a gale-force wind to my parents’ bedroom. If I thought things were cold before, I was about to find that they could become much colder.
“Your father was in a car accident on the way back from a job. He’ll be OK, but he’s got a broken arm and legs, and he’s got some broken ribs. He’s going to be OK, but it’s gonna take time for him to get better and we’ll just have to be patient.” Looking back, I think she was trying to assure herself more than me or my siblings. “Aunt Faye and Uncle Jim are going to stay with you kids, and I’m going to go see your father, tonight. I’ll see you, tomorrow.” With that, she left. The rest of the day was a blur. Even the next morning is much a blur. What was happening to my life? How can a six-year old child understand the complexities of what was happening? Ready or not, I was about to find out. If that day had been a sudden onset of winter, the next day would become a dark, deep-freeze.
I awoke the next morning, and came down stairs to find my mother home; more somber, but less frenzied than the day before. Again, she whisked me away to the bedroom my parents had shared. We sat on the end of their bed, and her disembodied voice assaulted my ears with the cold, quiet words, “Your father has gone home to be with Jesus.” I didn’t know what to feel or what to say, my mother thought she did, though, “You’re the man of the house, now.” None of those words meant anything to me. Didn’t want Jesus or God or anyone else to have my dad. I didn’t want to be, or even know how to be, “the man of the house.” I just wanted my daddy. Forty years later, I still cry and weep. I still miss my daddy. I imagine that he sees me and is pleased with me, though I hold no real hope of ever seeing him. Maybe mom found comfort in thinking daddy lived with Jesus, but I can’t. Is dad in some heavenly place? I don’t know.
I think that if anyone might be, however, it may be my “grandmother-in-love,” Anne Taylor. Anne was the grandmother of an ex-spouse of mine. Anne adored me and vice versa. In a matter of speaking, she adopted me; I was the grandson she had always wanted but never had. As things happened, I also was her primary medical care provider before she died. Her passing still touches me.
I sat in the surprisingly comforting convalescent home room. My hand held the soft, warm hand of Grandma Anne; Her eyes were closed and her breathing was slow, shallow, and rhythmic. Anne had just turned 98 a month before. She had been social, and active all of the six months she had been in the residential care facility, until two days ago. My wife and I had gotten a call that she was listless and quiet. The next day we got a call that she was not waking up and we, “may want to get down here quickly if you want to say goodbye,” the nurse had said. Anne had an order that we were not to take steps to keep her alive in the event of her death. I was the executor of her medical power of attorney and now I sat, waiting to fulfill her wishes.
Her face was peaceful as she lay in the white bed sheets. My wife sat beside me gushing about how much she’d miss her grandma if she dies, but also saying how she’d be OK because she had me. After 20 minutes of listening to my wife talking, I drew Anne’s hand to my lips and kissed it. It was warm and soft beneath my lips. I leaned forward and kissed her forehead; it felt soft, and normal….not cold, not feverish…normal. I whispered to her, “It’s OK, Grandma Anne. You can go.” It seems that her hand gave me a slight squeeze, as if to say, “Thank you for everything.” I could be mistaken, but it seemed that a slight smile crossed her lips. She drew in a final breath, and let it out as I watched. I felt for a moment that I was looking at a photograph; everything stopped. The room slowed, I stared, transfixed and cold, still holding Anne’s hand. Over the next few moments, it seemed that there was an exchange that happened; I warmed, Anne’s hand grew cold, and the room sped up. Did her spirit give me a hug as she left? The nurse behind called out a time for the record, but I did not hear; I just sat in silence.
I often sit and reflect back on these experiences. Both events happened in December, shortly before Christmas. Both were major confrontations with death. Yet, they were so different, and have affected me so differently. Dad’s passing left chaos and pain. Annie’s passing left behind a sense of peace, wholeness, and completion, as odd as that may sound. When I pass, I can only hope it as peacefully as Anne did. I hope that I will leave a legacy of change and wholeness, and that others will think back on me with fond memories.