The cool winds hit my face as I escaped the sobs and sad whispers that filled the house through the heavy sliding door. I made my way towards the tall tree whose leaves hovered over the rusty swing set with a small yellow slide, and leaned against its trunk. I wrapped my arms around my knees as a pitiful attempt to keep warm. My conscience was heavy with guilt and regret and I couldn't stand having anyone else tell me how sorry they were for me. I didn't deserve the pity, and I surely didn't deserve to be comforted so I decided to sit out in the cold hoping that my parents wouldn’t come looking for me. I fidgeted with the golden ring on my finger, set with a small rosy colored stone in the shape of a heart. I had been waiting for years, ever since she gave it to me, for its band to finally fit, and even though it could still slip off of my finger I decided to wear it. Maybe I had hoped it would forget that she was gone, but it was foolish to think I could shut out my remorse. The red crystal reminded me of the pigmentation of the angel pin that rested on the dashboard of her car. The silver car which I refused to call silver because I was convinced it was a shiny white. She would pick me up from kindergarten everyday, and I sat in the parked white car, and my legs dangled off the seat swinging side to side. I looked over at my grandmother who sat in the front, reading an old romance novel whose pages clung to its musty scent. Her circular glasses with a golden frame that has chipped away revealing browning metal sat on the bridge of her nose. I watched as she contently read, her blue eyes darting to each new word. The small clock on her dashboard read 1:50. We still had another twenty minutes before my cousin Jessie’s class would end, so I sat and tried to entertain myself by searching for the outline of abstract animals in the clouds. We had arrived 40 minutes early, like we had done everyday, and sat in the parking lot until 2:10. My grandmother feared being late, and couldn't stand the thought of leaving her grandkids to wait outside without her there. She always put her family's needs above her own, and did everything she could to help. When my mother’s maternity leave ended, she readily volunteered to watch me while my parents were at work. When I started school, she would arrive 40 minutes early to pick me up and take care of me the rest of the day. She dedicated her weekdays to ensure I was happy and healthy. I understood from a young age how much she did for me, so I didn't mind sitting in the car and waiting. This was our routine everyday, until the middle of first grade when she suffered from a heart attack, which caused her to fall and shatter multiple bones. Now, instead of going to grandma’s house, I rode a bus overflowing with chattering elementary kids and an odd unknown smell that we could not determine. For the next few years she was transferred to multiple hospitals and was always attached to beeping machines and IVs. Her fall led to a series of new issues, which required even more surgery. The first time I visited after her first procedure, my parents tried to prepare me for my Grandmother’s appearance.
My father kneeled down to my height and calmly explained “Honey, Grandma has a mask on to help her breathe, I know it may look scary, but try to remember that it is helping her”. I nodded.
He added, “It also makes a funny sound” and covered his mouth with his hands and breathed in and out to demonstrate the noise. I giggled because he sounded like Darth Vader. I took my dad's hand and walked into the room, but I wasn't worried, how could something that sounded so silly scare me. But I was wrong, the mask covered the majority of her face, but it was unable to conceal the deep purple bruising and stitches that covered parts of her head. Her bouncy curls were matted, and her circular glasses were nowhere to be found. I tightened my grip on my father's hand, forced a smile to greet my grandmother. She shakily tried to take off the mask to say something, but my father stopped her and gently placed it back over her mouth.
“Just rest up Mom, we aren't going anywhere.” he said. We continued to visit her at least twice a week, trying to distract her from everything she was going through. And we never had to worry about leaving because we knew she would have no shortage of visitors the rest of the week. Everyone in the family took turns keeping her company, and brought her new books and photos from home. But even with our support and encouragement years of being in a hospitals and care facilities took its toll mentally and physically. And we knew that she needed to be brought home. My father and his sisters hired an at home nurse to care for her during the day, set up her oxygen tanks and medicine schedules. My Aunt Diane lived in the apartment above, and was available to check on her and make sure she was doing okay. My father stopped by the after work most nights, and I often joined him. She would be sitting in her chair watching Law and Order and I would run to her and sit on the arm of the recliner and steal pieces of whichever snack she was eating. Before we left, my father would help her into bed, double check her oxygen tank, and kiss her cheek goodnight.
I climbed into her bed and hugged her and she would whisper, “Goodnight love bug”. Calling me by nickname she had used for me since I was baby. I pulled back smiling, and walked out the front door with my dad. One night shortly after I had turned 10, I was playing with the Ipod I had received for my birthday, when my dad came home.
“Want to visit grandma tonight?” he asked. I thought about it, but then shook my head, I didn't want to put down my gift. And so he visited my grandmother that night, while I stayed home playing dumb games. I missed my chance to say goodbye. My grandmother passed away that night in her sleep. Her death was peaceful they told me, she didn't feel anymore pain. But I was overwhelmed with my own pain and guilt. I selfishly chose to spend my night at home, instead of with her. She dedicated years of her life to taking care of me, making sure I was okay, and I couldn’t take an hour out of my day to do the same. The funeral was depressing, everyone wore black, sad music played throughout the hall, and people kept trying to hug you and apologize for your loss. When we went back to my grandmother’s house after the service I took the first opportunity to be alone. I sat at the base of the old tree and fidgeted with the golden ring that didn't fit on any finger. I felt a cold drop hit my nose. Then another on my back. I looked up and several snowflakes landed on the smudged lenses of my glasses. It was mid October, and it was snowing. White, light, flurries of snow began to swirl from the sky and I was amazed. A wave of emotions spread over me, and for the thousandth time that day I began to cry. But this time it wasn't out of pain or guilt, it was out of relief. Some may call me crazy, but I believed this was a sign from my grandmother. She was sending me a message, letting me know she was okay, and I sprinted inside and dragged the household to the backyard to witness the accumulating snow. I smiled up at the sky, to let her know that her message was received.