I was speeding by cars on the freeway driving like a maniac; my mom needed me at the hospital. My grandma had just been admitted, maybe had a heart attack – no one knew – but my mom had simply texted “come” and so I was.
I’m still not sure exactly where I was on the 405 when I got a text message that at a glance looked like an update on grandma’s situation. I asked Siri to read the message to me since I was driving. She read the words, “… Grandma died a little while ago …” without emotion or a sense that she should’ve stayed quiet. A cold computer voice told me that my grandma had died. I know some people might think “messages like these shouldn’t be sent in a text” but I had family who could not make calls due to work restrictions and this was the only way to notify them.
I yelled and burst. The shock of the message accelerated my need to JUST GET THERE and be with my dear mom.
With mascara smudged around my eyes I was escorted through the crowds of other sick and hurting people piled into emergency. A curtain in the corner was pulled back to reveal this scene: my mom, her hair covered in glitter, was leaning over her mom, looking at her, crying and holding her hand. I put my hand on her shoulder and she turned around and fell into my hug. We cried and grabbed hands and felt the significance of the moment and every bit of whatever feelings came our way.
We began to gather details of what had happened to my grandma in the hours leading up to this point. We began constructing her death story, needing to know who saw what and who was with her and what she said. Working where I do I’m familiar with the importance of a death story.
Telling a life’s story is a process. Many families begin with the death story, almost as if it was a gateway to the rest of the story, the code by which they can unlock all of the other stories of their life. We have a need to tell it because it becomes enfolded into our story.
While details were being gathered I noticed again that my mom’s hair was absolutely covered in glitter.
“Mom, what happened? What is all of this?” I asked, pulling a huge gold piece out of her blond hair.
“Oh, I got teacher of the month this morning and they glitter bombed me. Is there really still glitter in my hair?”
“Yes! A lot.”
We all started laughing in the emergency room. Grandma would’ve loved that.
That’s one of the crazy things about death, sometimes laughter comes just as quickly as the tears. We can flip-flop in an instant and we need to. We need to balance out our extreme sorrow with the joy that life and our memories continue to sustain us with. There shouldn’t be guilt in that; we are only sad because the person brought so much to our lives that when we remember them we smile and so through tears AND laughter their legacy is made known.
Standing around my grandma we recounted what her last moments had been like. My mom was there when they were applying CPR and the doctor said, “Talk to her Karen, she can hear you,” and so my mom talked. One of my grandma’s favorite stories to tell me was about my mom doing exactly that; talking. She would tell me how neighbors would come over “just to hear Karen talk” when she was a little girl. A precious memory that she treasured and I always loved hearing. I don’t know what my mom told her mom in those final moments but we all felt certain that grandma heard her talk one last time.
That day, February 27, 2015 will forever be one of the strangest days of my life; the day a robot voice on my phone told me my grandma had died, and the day my mom, covered in glitter, said goodbye to her mom.