Do you remember where you were a year ago today? Maybe you do, maybe not. Sometimes we plan the days of great significance in our lives, like wedding dates and even planned c-sections. Other times, life rolls out a surprise and you mark down something on the calendar inside your head because you know you’ll remember it forever. You mentally record all the details as it unfolds in the hopes that someday you’ll appreciate all of it, learn from it, and share the story.
Last year, on this day, was one such day for me. And it has taken an entire year to be able to write about it here.
It started a few days before on a Friday. I was in the final stages of wedding preparations, making wedding favors at the kitchen counter. Jim had just left to pick up dinner. The phone rang and I picked it up only because it was my Mom. Anyone else would have had to wait. Before I even heard her voice, I knew something was wrong. When she started talking, I could tell she had been crying. She apologized for the “worst phone call with the worst timing ever” and told me that my beloved Grandma had collapsed hours before and had been taken to the hospital and then transferred to another, bigger one. I didn’t quite understand how bad things really were until she told me, “Honey, she is fighting for her life.”
Grandma was on life support and in a coma. All we could do is wait and see.
A rushing sound filled my ears, the walls closed in, and I fought to breathe. In that moment, I had the crystal-clear realization that she was already gone. She wasn’t coming back. What did she have to fight for? Her health was declining, she was the last of her siblings living, and she was exhausted every time I saw her. I could usually cheer her up in the past but it had gotten harder and harder. A thousand memories rushed by, along with all my hopes of what was still to be. I wanted her to be a great-grandmother. I wanted to visit her again and bring her photos of my honeymoon. I wanted her to frame a photo of me in my long, lace gown and tell me how happy she was at my wedding.
Jim came home shortly thereafter to find his devastated almost-wife. He promptly dropped the bags on the counter and cried with me. We bemoaned the cruel Universe and its terrible timing. Jim promised to drive me to her bedside to see her before the wedding. We hoped that she’d wake up before the wedding but in my heart of hearts I knew what would happen.
Eventually, I had to get up and keep working. Those wedding favors weren’t going to make themselves and it was the perfect mindless task to sink into and cry my way through. I muddled through the weekend, including a video shoot on the beach in Michigan, and even went to work. On Monday, I spent all day at the printer getting escort cards and programs ready. I looked like a zombie and I felt worse. I was grateful for big, dark sunglasses.
A year ago today, Tuesday morning dawned and as promised, Jim drove the 3 hours while I assembled programs on my lap. The whole family ended up coming down that day, and the only thing harder than my own grief was to see the pain etched in the faces of those I love most. I brought with me the embroidered handkerchief that was to be her wedding present from me and wept like a child. Grandma was confirmed brain dead by the neurologist just as we arrived and the crushing blow of that news reverberated through the room. The decision to remove life support was quickly and unanimously agreed upon and we all held hands and waited.
Grandma’s body had strength and fight left, though I believe her spirit had long departed. She continued breathing on her own, surprising all of us, until everyone had gone home. Eventually, she went home, too.
I still wish she had been able to come to the wedding. It has taken most of this past year to accept it and learn from it, even though the initial anger faded.
Some would point to this event as proof that timing is merely arbitrary and cruel, God doesn’t exist or at best is a mean old man, and there’s no reason to believe in anything beyond us.
I have taken quite the opposite approach. If you’re willing to learn, even from the seemingly cruel and awful things that happen in your life, you will be richer for it. I choose to take the long view and keep an optimistic perspective. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
- If Grandma’s health was failing and she expressed desire to “go home,” how blessed and lucky am I that that timing was before my wedding and not in the midst of it? As hard as it was, I cannot imagine recovering from her collapsing during the celebrations.
- In some sense, she was there all along and I felt her with me stronger than ever. After we came home Tuesday night, I stayed up until almost 4 a.m. working on wedding preparations. At some point, I felt her nudge me and tell me to go to bed, which turned out was just around the same time her body finally stopped fighting and let go. I had a terrible time sleeping in the nights to come and begged for a good night’s sleep so I could physically survive the wedding. I felt her sit next to me on the bed, the way she did when I was small, and I slept soundly.
- Her death actually served to make the entire weekend more meaningful than I could have ever imagined. The ceremony was so special and deep that people still comment on it regularly. The speeches were incredible. Everyone bonded much closer together and rallied to make my day special. I learned just who really has my back when I need them and I won’t forget it. I am still so grateful and forever indebted to certain people.
- The gratitude I feel on an everyday basis is much higher than it was before. Every single day is a gift.
- I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was marrying the right person for the right reasons. It was a powerful reminder that I don’t take for granted. It is also incredible motivation to appreciate what we have every day and love each other better than before.
- Finally, I had focused entirely on manifesting the wedding of my dreams and I got it, down to the bagpipes and bridesmaids in green, wildflowers, and my long, lace gown. It was featured on Style Me Pretty, just as I had hoped. I got everything I asked for and beyond.
A year ago today, I knew I was about to learn something powerful. Grandma taught me a great many things, but none so great as this.