So Young This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 13, 2012
I had read plenty about death. It used to depress me, but I learned its ins and outs, or at least how the books told it. For a story to be good, someone had to die. I even got sick of knowing that someone who would have made everything all right was bound to die. I was 12 when the first person I knew died.

My great-grandmother lay with her eyes closed, breath strained, mouth open on what any book would have called her deathbed. I felt terribly guilty that I wasn’t crying, or sniffling, or even sorry that she was going to die. I had never known her. My family had gone to visit her once in awhile out of duty; I remember how happy we made her just by showing up, although I was never happy to see her. I hardly ever understood what she was saying under her thick Hungarian accent, and after her stroke, the only thing I could always understand was the way her eyes lit up behind her bulky glasses when we saw her.

When I saw her gasping for air in her sleep, her veins sticking out like thick wires hidden under rugs, I was afraid to touch her hand. But I did, remembering how much she had loved to see me. I was shocked to feel her tight grip despite her weakness. I was sure she knew someone young, someone she loved, was holding her hand. When we had all paid our respects to the moaning body enveloped in covers and heat, my father, her grandson with whom she had lived for many of his early years, left the room. I heard a slight sniffle and was shocked to realize I had seen him cry. That was just the way it was in books.

We all knew she would die. I felt ashamed that when we found out she was dying, we rushed to her bedside in hopes of seeing her before she died, instead of being there all along to comfort her.

My great-grandmother had a peaceful death. She just slept, opening her eyes less and less until she withered away. In these last days, we waited to hear from her daughter. My grandmother had started planning her mother’s funeral while she still lay breathing in the dark room on the second floor of the nursing home. I also felt guilty about this; I knew that if my great-grandmother could see we were making the soup for her funeral reception before she died, she would be upset. But no one was planning on, or even hoping for, a miracle. We were certain she would die. It was as if she were already gone.

I knew Oma was a strong person. She had been in two concentration camps during the Holocaust and survived, with only her daughter and sister. Everyone else, she lost. She fought the world constantly until she was 96. Even when she couldn’t swallow, she stayed alive for days. Although I had only known her as demanding, I heard of her triumphs, her beauty, her wit and her courage. These were the things that kept her alive, not the medicine or the liquids shoved down her throat.

Somehow, I know I helped my great-grandmother. I had been a mere bystander to her, my face blacked out by failed memory, but some force greater than memory had made Oma aware of my presence. And I know that the force was love.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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