Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Long Goodbye


We were creatures of habit. Our lives were marked by ritual. Our days followed the same comfortable patterns, from hello to goodbye. It was our way.

Thursday was our day. Every Thursday I would make the trip to my grandmother's to do the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning. Perhaps I would bring her to one or another of her many appointments. It was routine but never boring. It was a ritual. It was our way.

Appointment days were always a little risky. They were unpredictable. There was always the chance of confusion or delay. The shopping, cooking and cleaning remained to be done after. Nerves could become frayed.

One day, I brought Nana to the opthalmologist. Her pupils were dilated for the exam. She left the office wearing the oversize sunglasses provided, feeling surly. I helped her to the car. We began the drive home in silence.

Why have we stopped? she snapped peevishly.

I began to laugh. Her irritation was palpable.


I stopped because there's a huge yellow dump truck right in front of us. You really can't see it?

She paused, then laughed herself, about as hard as ever I heard her laugh.


My twenty-ninth birthday fell on a Thursday. No matter. I made the trip to my grandmother's. We kept our rituals: the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning. We kept our comfortable patterns. It was our way.

When it was time for me to go, she remarked casually that she had something for me. It was part of the ritual: as if it had almost slipped her mind. She rummaged through her papers and handed me a card. I received substantially the same card every year, inscribed with her good wishes and love. It was a ritual. This year, however, would be different.

I'm sure she watched my brow furrow as I slipped the card from its envelope. It was not a birthday card. It was a thank you card. With trepidation, I opened it and read:

Dear Christopher,

I am thankful that you are my grandson. You have been the joy since the day you were born. I wish you Life's choicest blessings. You deserve the best.

Thank you, Christopher, for all the happiness you have given Grampa and me all the years of your life. Happy Birthday and Many Happy Returns of the Day.

Who loves you?

Your Nana (that's who)

I looked up. Her eyes searched mine for what felt like a very long time. Finally, I managed a small nod. She looked away, satisfied. There was nothing to be said.


Our days followed the same comfortable patterns. From hello to goodbye, we kept our rituals. It was our way. The only difference was one of awareness. Thursdays came and went. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year's. Thursday.



Your birthday's coming up.


Let's have a party.

A party? Where?

Right here.

No, no... we couldn't.

Why not?

She had no answer.

The family was invited. Our daily telephone call became twice daily as we planned the menu again and again: a vast antipasto, meatballs, sausage. Bread would need to be baked. Sauce made. We debated the merits and defects of every imaginable shape of pasta. Of course, there must be plenty of wine, and only the best coffee. Cake and pastry were ordered. Ingredients were purchased.

I arrived early on the day. It took two trips to bring it all in. We set to work and finished with a little time to spare for a celebratory glass of wine. We sat and enjoyed the fragrant kitchen.

The family arrived. The wine and conversation flowed. Dishes were passed up and down the table. Plates filled and refilled. Nana encouraged us all to eat far more than was good for us, playing gracious hostess one more time. The table was cleared, the coffee brewed. She was duly serenaded and opened her gifts as I served dessert.

I had given her my gift when I arrived: an African violet. It was another ritual. She would accept nothing else from me. Don't put flowers on my grave. Give them to me now. African violets. And so I did. It was our way.

I cleared the remains of the party to the indistinct murmur of something classical from the radio. It was late. She was visibly tired. She caught my eye and held it for what felt like a very long time. Then, she smiled and gave me a small nod. There was nothing to be said.


Thursdays came and went. Valentine's. St. Patrick's. Easter. Thursday.


She had her first heart attack just before my thirtieth birthday. There would be two more. Eventually, she was moved to a cardiac ICU in Boston, very nearby. I went to see her.

Hi, Nana. How are you feeling?

She thought for what felt like a very long time. She finally spoke.

It's not easy, dear.

I managed a small nod. I sat down. We kept our rituals as best we could, even there. We were creatures of habit. It was our way. I'm sure we talked about something. A nurse came in.

You need to go, dear?

It was not really a question. I kissed her goodbye and turned to leave. At the door, she called me back.



Who loves you?

I love you too, Nana.

There was nothing more to be said.


My telephone rang that night much too late for good news. It was my mother.

Christopher, I just wanted you to know that Nana's organs are failing.

Is she going to die tonight?

Um... well..

Never mind. I'm leaving now.

It was the same room, yet it seemed strangely different. Dials and displays provided the light. An oxygen machine hissed softly. My grandmother lay sleeping, still and silent, almost as pale as her bedsheets. She did not stir. A nurse touched my shoulder.

We have her sedated. She should be comfortable.

How long?

I don't know. Maybe an hour? I think she can probably hear you.

I nodded. She left.

Hi Nana. It's me.

She did not stir. I stood for a minute, fingering absently my grandfather's rosary in my pocket. Her hair was out of place. I smoothed it with my hand. The oxygen machine hissed softly. I watched her final heartbeats being traced in green light.

Somehow, I had thought it might come to this: just the two of us, standing at the gates of eternity. Perhaps she could hear me, but she didn't need my words. There was nothing to be said. I pulled a chair to the side of the bed and took her hand. She had loved me as I entered the world. I would love her as she left it. The time for words had passed. Love was all we had left.

Perhaps it was ten minutes. Perhaps fifteen. A monitor sounded a soft alarm. The nurse returned.

She's gone.

I nodded.

Things began to happen very fast. Bright lights were switched on. Staff moved briskly in and out. Is more family coming? Yes. Then we'll leave her here for now. Can you take this? Yes. I was handed a small envelope with my grandmother's ring. Would you like us to remove the machines? Yes... yes, she wouldn't want them. I stood to the side as the room bustled with activity, then grew quiet. The lights were dimmed.Once more we were alone.

I stood for a minute, fingering absently my grandfather's rosary. Her hair was out of place, Once more, I smoothed it with my hand. Then, as you might kiss a sleeping infant, I leaned over and kissed her forehead.

Goodbye, Grandmother.

There was nothing left to be said. She had no more need of me. I left to wait for others who might.


At her funeral, the priest directed a question to the grandchildren. If you could describe your grandmother in one word, what would it be? There was an awkward silence. He had no idea what a difficult question he had asked. I could feel many eyes on me. You're supposed to be so bright... answer that one. But I had no answer, and I refused to desecrate the moment with a lie.

The priest finally broke the silence. Well, I would say that your grandmother was a woman of faith.... It was a stock answer, I suppose, and it served his purpose. Yet it was inadequate. As he continued on, all I could think was Yes, but....

The question haunted me for several days. If I could describe my grandmother in one word, what would it be? Many words came to mind, yet every one was Yes, but.... I did, however, finally manage to answer the question, at least for myself. My grandmother was complex. That is the only word that does her any justice. No other word will do.


When we cleaned out her apartment, I was given my choice of her possessions. I have the following:

A pair of eyeglasses
A wooden cane
A costume jewelry bracelet
A battered aluminum pot
Three pairs of scissors
Two wire whisks
Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle-Stop Cafe, in paperback.

These would all be quite worthless to anyone else, I'm sure, but she would have understood their significance. Except for the glasses, all these items are still in regular use. I think she would have approved of my choices.


Did my grandmother want it that way? Did she wait for me before she left? Did she choose to share her final moments with me alone? I do not know. Knowing her, maybe.


My grandmother did not leave me money or property but, as she left this world, she gave me a final gift, wrapped in a lesson. Her gift to me was a life lived completely, from beginning to end. She was complex, and loving her was no less complicated. Quite likely, I am the only person who can say about her that, when we parted, there was nothing left to be said. That is enough.

And there lies the lesson. It is not easy. It is not easy living; it is not easy dying. The best we can do is try to live our lives completely, from beginning to end: to love one another, and to live in such a way that, when we part from those we love, we can know one thing in our hearts.

There was nothing left to be said.

Respectfully Yours,



Linda said...

Oh, that was nice.

Anonymous said...

wonderfully written. it sounds like you both have a very close bond.

Suldog said...

You are a writer of great worth, my swell pal. I can count on the fingers of one hand the bloggers who have pulled tears from me. You are one of them. It's a good thing, when done with sincerity of purpose, and this is a mighty example of that.

Thank you.

Jeni said...

One word here about this piece -Beautiful!

Bossy Betty said...

Such a beautiful, beautiful post. You have captured so much here. Grandma would be proud. You just gave us all flowers.

lime said...

i am wiping my face. so much of this speaks to my heart, to early memories and lifelong rituals that soothed and reassured. what others viewed as rigidity i took as the gentle comfort of the rising and setting sun. thank you for taking me back there. complex or not, you and your nana shared a gift. thank you for giving us a poignant glimpse of it.

CiCi said...

Well, gosh darn it, I have a giant lump in my throat now. This was beautiful and loving and yet makes me sad for not ever knowing my grandparents like this. Barely knowing them at all. You told this very well, this is one of my favorites posts.

Jayne said...

I am happily here via Suldog. And to my surprise, you are a fellow Rhode Islander! (There aren't many in the blogosphere, you know. Of course, there aren't many Rhode Islanders to begin with.) ;)
What a gorgeous, moving piece. I loved the pacing, and the repetitive moments/phrasing throughout. It is raw, and sweet and thoughtful and definitely pulls tears. How you must miss the rituals you shared with your grandmother, but what beautiful memories she's left to you.

Craig said...

Very nice. You capture something very human, here. . .


Hilary said...

I'm sobbing through this beautiful tribute to your Grandmother. I so totally agree with Suldog. You're one amazing writer and a beautiful and loving soul. I'm proud to "know" you.

"She had loved me as I entered the world. I would love her as she left it." <--- Beautiful.

ds said...

Weeping. There is nothing [more] to be said.

Thank you.

Deb said...

Very well written. I too, am with Sully. You made the tears well. I wish I had known my Grandparents as well as you did.

Chris said...

Hey Cricket.

I'm working on a collaborative idea that I'd love for you to be a part of. Don't want to give it away here, so if you could shoot me an e-mail at, I'll fill you in on the details.


Kittie Howard said...

What a beautiful tribute! What a beautiful relationship you and your grandmother had...actually, I should use the present tense for she will always be with you.

Thank you for sharing. I'll always remember this post. (And you are a fabulous writer.)

LegalMist said...

That was beautiful.

Linda at To Behold The Beauty said...

Beautifully written and very deserving of Hilary's Post of the Week.

Sueann said...

"Nothing left to be said"...this honors her and her life. Well said!!
You shared a life, full, rich and satisfying. Wonderful
And congrats on the POTW

Friko said...

How very, very fortunate you are to have left nothing unsaid.
There is nothing worse than losing someone and knowing that you can now never say the words you needed to say.

This is a lovely post, most certainly the post of the week for me.

Sandra said...

So beautiful. Thank you for sharing such a touching story.

MaggieGem said...

Oh such a touching story, thanks for sharing your tender memories!

Congrats on POTW

Out on the prairie said...

A very nice passage, I sat with very slow breathes and reflected your thoughts.

ellen abbott said...

a very moving piece filled with the love you felt for each other. both of you blessed.

Anonymous said...

Oh my - I have tears in my eyes.. but tears of happiness for the love and joy and the life lived of you and your grandmother.

What a wondrous post!

Mage said...

Dear Cricket....thank you. My grandmother's word was "love." and my word for her in my life is gratitude. This lovely essay is multifold gratitude.

ds said...

Congratulations to you, my friend, for the POTW and for what I now realize was a prick of inspiration.
This is even more beautiful the second time around...

ds said...

P.S. And you got to say goodbye...

Frank Baron said...

Nicely written. You and Nana were fortunate to have each other.

Dave said...

Very nice Cricket. Lovely thoughts. Well done to get Hilary's POTW this week - Dave

Unknown said...

Beautifully written Cricket and congrats on POTW.

Not many posts have I read that literally brought tears to my eyes, but this tribute to your Nana did just. Thank you for sharing those beautiful moments with us.

Ananda girl said...

I have so enjoyed your Nana tales! None have touched me so deeply as this one.
God bless you Cricket.

Dianne said...

how sweet and touching
and wonderful
what a story
I could hear Nana's voice, see her eyes

congrats on POTW
and thanks for visiting my post where I am the Nana


Jephy's Mom said...

Found you through the Post of the Week on Smitten Image. So touching. You made me cry.

Anonymous said...

Here belatedly because life has been filled lately with many responsibilities -- but I treasure Hilary's POTW choices. As I prepare to say goodbye to my mother, these words of yours challenge me:
"She had loved me as I entered the world. I would love her as she left it."

Thank you for sharing your beautiful post.

gizzylaw said...

My grandmother was called Nana as well.
Thank you.

imbeingheldhostage said...

Gorgeous. What a great thing to be able to say that that was no more to said!