Call this a Tuesdays with Ana post on Thursday, if you will. Or my need to write.
I was able to visit “Sara” yesterday and today. Her family was more than gracious in allowing me time at her bedside, even letting me speak with her alone. I was touched, embarrassed, and apologetic. Who was I, a random stranger, to intrude on their private vigil of grief? To make it worse, I could not stop crying no matter how hard I bit on my tongue and the inside of my cheek. How ridiculous is that…stoically mourning the imminent loss of your mother while someone you don’t even know sheds tears?
I am grateful and honored to have been entrusted with the time holding Sara’s hand.
I am upset I could not have more.
I thought (her daughter offered, asked) I would hold vigil for two and a half hours today while the family took care of obligations and had a gap in their coverage. I was not entitled to it, but I was offered that chance. Then their plans changed, and instead of a vigil I was given twenty minutes (a generous gift, let me make clear)…except the nurses came in and needed me to leave so they could shift her position. I didn’t even get to sit down again at her bedside before my time was up. The nurse took Sara’s hand and placed it in mine (when I rested my hand on top of her bedsheet, hesitant to cause her discomfort and make her cold by moving the sheet). “It’s okay,” she said as she lifted Sara’s arm and moved it next to mine.
“I don’t want to hurt her, or for her to be cold,” I said, stroking the soft skin and tracing the rounded edge of her thumbnail.
“Don’t worry,” the nurse said. “She’s not at all cold.”
“There’s no change,” her daughter had told me before taking my food package and going to the kitchen area to eat the meal I’d brought. “But she can hear.”
I’d spent my scant ten minutes holding a conversation inside my head because I’d said so much yesterday, enough to embarrass me. After the nurse let me back in, I sat down on the chair and held her hand that the nurse gave me.
And then it was over.
Before I got a chance, my time was up and family needed their time with their mother, grandmother, aunt, and mother-in-law.
If her daughter yesterday had accepted the gifts and politely allowed me a quick hand-holding before asking me to leave, I would have gone away glad for a precious moment. Because she gave me more (nearly an hour), I wanted more. And because she offered more today, I’d allowed myself to hope (how can I say “allowed” when hearts never ask permission?) for the two and a half hours…a third visit…
Funny thing, human nature. The more we get, the more we demand. Instead of appreciating the time I’d gotten with Sara today (and the honor of her daughter accepting the meal, eating some, and praising it), I was mad. Upset. Storming (inside) that it wasn’t fair, I didn’t get the two and a half hours, I didn’t even get the half hour, why couldn’t the nurse have waited until I’d had my turn…
And then I walked out to my car, sobbing because it was over. I’d realized yesterday that Sara (the real Sara, the one who teased me last week and waved from the entryway) was already gone. I knew I’d never get that Sara back, but I thought I’d have just a little longer to hold her hand. I barely said a word today, but we talked inside my head. I watched her struggle for breath, and I closed my eyes to feel her presence with me. I wondered how crazy she thought I was to sit and stare at her, and I apologized whenever I needed another tissue. I told her thank you, in so many ways and for so many reasons. Her daughter had told me Sara could still hear, but it felt as if she heard my heart more clearly than my vocal chords. Or at least it felt like I could say things to her more clearly without the unreliable mechanics of producing sound. Her body worked so hard to take in each breath. I’ve been told it’s impossible, but it felt like pain. Pain each time for each effort.
Her daughter had been amazingly kind and generous to me, but it was time. I hadn’t (I think) overstayed my welcome, but I couldn’t presume to anything more.
“I’ll see you soon,” Sara’s daughter said to me as I left, and I recognized the signal from childhood training in social cues. “I won’t see you again except perhaps at the funeral, but in order not to seem rude I will offer the empty promise as a way to let you down easily and offer what I can…as long as you don’t try to take me up on it.”
The generosity is real. But so is the limit.
I sobbed, angry at the unfairness. Knowing I was expecting something that could never happen.
Had things been different for my second grandmother, I would have been the granddaughter when she died. Or at least one of the many granddaughters, but a granddaughter who had a special connection with her whether anyone recognized it or not.
I thanked Sara for letting me feel as if I had a grandmother again, but she wasn’t mine. Her family let me borrow her for a little while, and it was time to return her.
I drove away, not even wanting to take up a parking space in a lot for family coming to see family, and I wished I could have mourned at the bedside of my grandmother in the nursing home.
Then I went to church and polished the brass chalices and paten as if my life depended on it.
Now the problem is that there’s no more brass to polish.