Life is full of moments. A million moments a day, strung together on the clothesline of time. Most of them are forgettable and so are quickly forgotten, but some moments, and we are not given the luxury of choosing which ones, lodge themselves instantly and forever in our minds.
One such moment in my life occurred in a conversation with my Mom a few weeks before she passed away. We were sitting together and talking, which is something we got to do a fair amount in the weeks and months before her death. Those conversations were both a blessing and a challenge. I was so thankful to have the opportunity to say everything that needed to be said, but it was also difficult to know what to talk about. Difficult to have a normal conversation about normal things amidst such abnormal circumstances. How empty and flimsy did my life’s little troubles seem as the gate of death loomed larger and larger in her path. How utterly mundane and inconsequential did the content of my usual conversations feel. Nevertheless she was always interested (or pretended to be, who knows) in whatever I had to say, and I know she really cared.
Anyways, as we sat and talked that day, I said to her how thankful I was that she had gotten to meet and spend nearly 9 months with her two grandchildren. She nodded joylessly and said “Yes, but I wish I could have seen them grow up.” Now when you’re talking to someone dealing with such terrible and heavy things, you always want to somehow make things a little bit better for them. Maybe that’s why when talking to the afflicted we avoid talking about the affliction, for fear that being reminded of their troubles will sink them even deeper. So when you say something that is meant to be encouraging, but turns out to be another sorrow – the sorrow upon the sorrow – well that is a very rotten feeling. In reality I doubt that our words have that much power over the suffering person. Their pain has deeper roots than most of our words can go. And in those situations it seems like words are always a gamble anyways. Good intentions have little bearing on the actual effect of our words, as my experience illustrates. The gift of presence – simply being there – is usually a better way to go.
Not knowing what to say, I just said “I wish that too.” She looked at me with a serious look – not a sombre look, but an expectant, hopeful look.
“You’re going to have to tell them what I was like.”
“I will – I promise.”
Of course. They need to know what kind of grandmother you would have been. My Mom was not a demanding person, she did not saddle me with all kinds of wishes and requests, neither in life nor in death. She was not a burdensome person at all, actually. You were almost always certain to leave her presence with your burdens lightened.
But this one thing she did ask of me, this one last promise, and somehow or other I will keep it. Of course I grieve that my son and niece’s lives will be the poorer for not having gotten to know and love Grandma, but hopefully a small measure of that blessing can be imparted vicariously through us as we teach them what Grandma was like, how she loved them with all her heart, and how she wished so much she could have been there with them through life’s ups and downs.
I could end here and leave it on this quasi-hopeful note, but truth be told, this is a rather sad thing. My son and niece will never meet their Grandma. Try as we might, their concept of her will be flat and lifeless, eclipsed by the brightness and vitality of so many other wonderful relationships. Death is death, and there is no way to escape its consequences, not in this life.