Where She Wants to Be

April 5, 2012
“She’s sick. Grandma has cancer,” were the words that came out of my mom’s mouth and sent a chill down my spine. The living room that held my devastated family grew quiet. It was so quiet, a pin dropping on our new wood floor would've seemed loud. My mother’s words sounded like she wanted to get them over with, so they tumbled out softly. But for me, well, I imagined them as a heavy weight dropping on all of our light hearts. When the news processed, my throat locked up. This kept me from both talking and crying. My stomach felt as if a million butterflies couldn’t find a place to land and my eyes started to tear up automatically. I stared off into the distance as the faint voices of my family babbled on about the details. I didn’t know what to think. Wandering thoughts began to become clear. “She’ll get better. I have little to worry about,” was my first thought that actually made sense. Being nine years old, that was very easy to believe.

As time went on, I kept hearing hopeless remarks from the family, such as, “Pray for her. She really needs it,” or “She’s not doing well. I don’t think she has much time.” I felt so useless because being so little, everything around me seemed to be happening above my level. I’d watch my family make phone calls, pray, and talk about it but not one of them bothered to tell me anything. Being the youngest, I was used to watching everything around me happen in slow motion; as if my world was conquering things without me. But It didn't bother me that I was never updated or told more bad news about my grandma. I didn't want to hear it and in the end, I was glad to be below all the chaos.

After a month or so, Grandma’s cancer became worse. My mom explained to me that the cancer was spreading and the doctors ran out of ways to stop it. “Won't they keep trying, though? They can't just let her die, can they?” I asked her. My mom said, “They will keep trying but she doesn't have a very good chance, honey.” I felt my chest tighten up. I knew this wasn't new for anyone else. For me, being the last person to know everything was normal, but hearing those words being spoken hurt more than anything. I immediately went to my bed and curled up under my squishy comforter to cry myself to sleep. My comforter shielded me from the world. It was a way to block out the noise for once in my life. I knew it was going to happen, but then, it really became real.

Images and past memories started to appear. Memories that have already made their home in a far safe corner in my mind, and nothing could take them away. First, I saw her bright-eyed and laughing while wearing her sweater with the frogs on it. We were playing a card game and I secretly knew she was letting me win. I remember wondering how she could enjoy playing with someone who couldn’t beat her but then I came to the conclusion that she loved to spend time with me no matter what. Then another flashback raced through my mind. She was filling up the kitty pool in her backyard for me and my cousins to swim in. It was the first time we ever used it and my excitement was high. I could almost feel her tender gaze and the hot summer sun beating on my shoulders.

Then the harsh reality hit me once again and the pleading question repeated in my head; why her? It was a humid, summer night and I was sticky from sweating, but at that moment, it seemed right to cry. It felt good. With my face wet with tears, I folded my sweaty palms and prayed to God that everything would just at least turn out all right.

Grandma had been sick for more than half of the summer but it was getting to her last few weeks. She was very close to me. I'd see her at least once a week and got to tell her everything. There's not a day that went by where we didn't laugh together. Her laugh is like a plastered memory in my mind that will never fade away, and for this I am glad. There was never a time where I remember hearing her yell as a kid, only if you count the time she yelled for us to come in after spending a long day playing outside in her adventure-filled backyard. The memories I have with her are something that I can never forget. My mom said Grandma's biggest fear was that everyone would miss her and it would cause us pain. Well, she was right. I missed her already.

A few days later, my family had planned for us to go visit her to say one last goodbye. She was moved into her own house and I assumed it was because the doctors couldn’t do anything else for her at the hospital.

I stepped out of our van and shuffled my pink flip flops along her driveway as I heard the crunch of the gravel under my feet. There was a gorgeous, blue sky and the breeze had the fresh scent of awakening plants and new life; coming alive among the summer air. Her house was always peaceful no matter what. White shutters, red brick, and lace curtains slightly blowing out of the open windows. There were always birds chirping around her bird feeders, due to her love of them. It was never really known as a second home to me. It was so much more than that. It was a part of me. The people in that house helped shape who I am.

My grandpa was waiting at the door and let us in. He led me to the entrance of her room. The idea of telling her goodbye because she was going to die soon worried me. I didn't want to say anything but I went in anyway with my sister and my four-year-old cousin, Grace. Seeing her didn't help. She was lying on her back on a special bed that wasn’t hers and had a small tube in her wrist, attached to a tall machine on the other end of the tube. Her eyes had deep, dark bags under them and her skin looked like a pale yellow. She lost a lot of weight from when I last seen her. I was scared to see her that way. My mouth became dry so I didn't want to say anything. It felt as if I couldn't because she looked like a stranger to me. “This isn’t my grandma,” I thought.

We just sat in there for a few slow minutes and watched her lay there while I prayed. I remember thinking, “How do you say goodbye to someone you love so much?” She wasn't asleep but her eyes were closed. Grace hopped on her bed and said, “I'm tired, too.” She lied there next to her with her thumb in her mouth and said in her innocent voice, “We love you, Nanny.” She replied with a tired, meaningful voice, “I love you too, sweetie. I love each and every one of you with all my heart.”

Two days later, my dad and my sisters were called by my mom to come to Grandma's house. “It's not going well. You better get down here.” she said through tears. We immediately drove down there in silence, wondering what was next for our grandma, who we loved so much, and if we were going to get there in time. We went inside to see my aunt at the door waiting for us. “She's gone.” she said and hugged my dad. I will never forget walking passed the hallway where her room was. I glanced back there to find that the door was slightly opened. The only thing I could see was a white, thin hand hanging off the bedside. “She's free.” I thought, and went downstairs to escape the cries and tears of the family.

The day my grandma left us was filled with sadness and broken hearts but it was a beautiful one. The bright sky contained the sun's rays shining through the fluffy, white clouds, the birds sang their songs gracefully and everything seemed to be at peace. Occasionally, after her death, my grandpa, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, would ask, “Where is she?” “She’s gone, Richard,” my aunt would reply. He’d burst into tears once again and go back in his room to cry for quite some time. This made my heart hurt. It caused the whole family pain, but we all knew where she was; she was free and happy.
After her death, I felt a strong reassurance that my grandma went home to God. It was a feeling that came naturally: my worries turned to hope, the little sensation in the tips of my fingers brought a warm, whole feeling to my heart, and the heavy weight of sadness lifted off of me ever so slightly to bring me relief. I knew there was still so much to worry about, but I didn't have a care in the world. I was happy for her. My grandma deserved to let go of the pain. She was free; free as the birds she loved with outstretched wings against the deep, blue summer sky. Her cancer brought her home. Even though she had to plow through all the difficult pain and suffering, the hopeless tears and worries, and the unfortunate disappointments in life, I know, in the deepest part of my heart, that my grandma is truly where she wants to be.

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