Joy comes in the mourning.
Wednesday. I knew he was near his end. My grandfather, my first giant, my favorite man, my first memory of deep and healing laughter lay panting in a hospice house bed. He wore a beanie, a thermal shirt, a diaper, and enough blankets to conceal the way he’d become more bone than flesh. His mouth opened and closed repeatedly, as he struggled to breathe, his lips dry, face sinking like a car in quicksand. When he could open his eyes, he looked faded. There was no light left. I had to say my goodbyes. I kissed his forehead, told him I loved him, and ran off before he could see or hear my crying.
Thursday. I saw him again. He had an oxygen mask on, couldn’t open his eyes, and was being fed liquefied pain meds from an eye dropper. He’d stopped eating that Monday. The man whose caregivers knew him as the lover of Popeye’s wings and honey buns couldn’t even take water without choking or suffering excruciating pain. He had already faded. I watched his baby sister as she stroked his forehead, removed his hat gently, and touched his wispy gray hairs. I listened as she recited The Lord’s Prayer and asked God to receive and care for him. I felt my throat close. He was slipping away, like the shoreline during a nor’easter.
Friday. I called my boss to tell her I would need to return to hospice one more time, so he wasn’t alone as he journeyed. Not even thirty minutes later, my mom told me he’d already gone. Something inside me stopped moving. If there had been a pendulum in my heart, to keep its beat, it had hit a wall and shattered into a million pieces. It would seem that I had not known grief until this grief. He was gone, and I would not be able to see him anymore. I would not hear his laugh or fuss at him about taking care of himself. I decided to spend my weekend in bed, trying to feel whatever I was feeling.
One week passed. I took all three of my bereavement days from work, though I didn’t feel anything after a while. It seemed useless; I knew he was sick, I had done so much crying and grieving before, everyone dies and we can’t do shit about it … Then, I saw the funeral program. I felt like there was an anvil on my chest. I would be going to this funeral, marching into a sanctuary, and viewing his remains. I had always hated that word when it came to deceased humans, but I didn’t know a better one. I’m his remains. I hate the language of “survived by.” We didn’t survive him. We aren’t surviving him. We’re not charred ashes or a few bones. He is my uncle’s nose, he is my curved Jupiter finger. Something is so inadequate about that word, but what else is there?
Two weeks passed. My 36th birthday. Grief sat heavy on me, I tried to drink it away, and failed. No amount of raucous laughter or fancy chocolate could break this. I decided to rest in it, to lean into and against the feeling of shattering. I’m not fighting it anymore. Sometimes, I’m just worn out from answering, “how are you?” I’m not in a rush to get through or to the bottom of it. And I feel lighter already. Joy comes in the mourning.