What She Left Behind
On the last day of January, I show up at my grandmother’s house and find her sprawled out on her kitchen floor with a freshly broken hip.
I startle my uncle when I enter the house. “Mama,” he leans over my grandmother as the paramedics shift her from the floor to a body board. “Amy’s come to see you.”
Her blue eyes find me, their color made all the more intense by the whiteness of her hair and translucent skin. “What are you doing here?” Her voice is as soft as a baby’s sigh.
“I came to surprise you.”
“Well, I surprised you!” The comeback is a whisper, but Uncle Joe, the paramedics and I chuckle.
I stay at the emergency room with relatives until doctors decide to transfer my grandmother to another hospital. I see her again three days later. She is propped up in a hospital bed, unconscious and struggling for each breath. The doctors have no explanation why she won’t wake up.
I slip my fingers under the blanket and take her hand. It is soft and plump, and the warmth of her hand overwhelms me. Pressing my palm to hers, I imprint its warmth onto my visceral memory.
Mom calls me two days later to tell me my grandmother has died. I don’t cry. I simply walk into my husband’s office and say, “She’s gone.” He reaches out to comfort me, but I tell him I am all right.
I go to our bedroom and open the closet. At the front of the rack hangs a tiny, blue coat my grandmother had made me when I was a baby. Taking it off the hanger, I let my fingertips run over the corduroy fabric. Then I examine the buttons and see that she had taken the time to cover each one by hand. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? I touch the buttons where my grandmother’s hands have been.
Until my grandmother died, I hadn’t allowed myself to have a good, hard cry in more than five years. Fighting three bouts of clinical depression in adulthood had drained my emotional reserves and eroded my ability to empathize with another’s pain. Never did I feel this emptiness more than during a class I was taking for my graduate studies about writing and healing, where each assignment was a retelling of someone else’s trauma.
However, the night my grandmother dies, my husband finds me in the closet clutching the coat and having a good, hard cry. I surrender to the grace of grief.
Now I read each class assignment in the hereafter of my grandmother’s death. I write a brutally honest narrative about how my depression hurt my husband. I write that piece with newfound sensitivity and vulnerability and, without them, the narrative would have been, at best, insincere and, at worst, damaging to my marriage.
I believe my grandmother gave me one last gift the night she died. I believe she gave me back my humanity.
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