Get A Grip: Last rites for 91-year-old grandmother

Dear Dorty, I promised you that I would not wear black.

I did not wear black.

You also asked me to promise not to cry.

I did not promise.

I cried.

My tears were not for you.

You had to go, I know.

You were ready.

When you were you asked me to help write your obituary.

You wanted to be ready.

You didn't want any of us - your grandchildren, or our parents, your children - to have to worry about the details of your passing.

You spelled it all out in advance.

Your spot next to Johnnie was ready and I know you ached to see your sweetheart again.

You picked the music and the prayers.

You wanted it simple.

No fuss.

So I helped you write your obituary.

No maudlin exercise; we were quite business-like.

We sat down and listed the basics of your life.

Listed the names of all the people who form the tight circle of our family.

We wrote about your marriage to your college beau.

When we were done, I could not help thinking that the dates and lists of your obituary defined you not at all.

The words on the paper did nothing to reveal your love and passion for life.

We did not say that everyone sought you out when they needed a lift.

That you would always make us smile and lift us through a difficult day.

Your life, in these last years, was not easy, but you would not complain.

Where others would find despair, you searched for hope and always found a reason to be thankful.

But that we did not say.

And when I looked at that obituary, I could not imagine the world without your cheery presence.

Somehow I thought you would outlive us all.

At 91 you were more alive than many people ever are.

This is why your leaving is so hard to understand.

I am grateful that you were not ill.

The day before you left you had, as usual, walked a mile, chatted on the phone with family and friends; you even went to a Halloween party.

When we talked on the phone that night, you did not tell me you were leaving.

I would not have hung up the phone.

I think back and, using the ill logic of grief, imagine that if I had maintained that connection, you would not have died.

This grief-logic led me to anger; why didn't you tell me you were going? My mind knows that you had nothing to tell, but my heart is broken and so I ask the meaningless question.


I suppose these are questions people have always asked.

And then we try to find ways we could have prevented the inevitable.

If only I hadn't hung up the phone.

Absurd, but there it is.

I hung up the phone.

You hung up the phone.

You put on your pajamas, set out your clothes for the next day, and went to sleep.

They called the next day to tell us that you would not wake up.

They took you to the hospital and you kindly waited until your daughter and son could come and say goodbye.

And then you were gone.

And then I cried.

I couldn't help it.

I will miss you.

I miss you already.

Matt said you were the sun we all revolved around.

It seems dark now.

But for you, I will try to stop weeping.

You would have little patience for such sadness.

You, who always had a smile and a cheery word.

I think you would have been pleased with your funeral.

It was a perfect fall day.

The earth was fresh after a cool rain.

The trees glowed with autumn colors, bright leaves fluttered to the ground.

Bagpipe music swelled into the air.

As you wanted, I didn't wear black and your oldest grandson was resplendent in his kilt.

We all tried not to cry and we all failed.

But like you, I will try to find happiness in despair.

I will tell your redheaded namesake your stories and teach her to scan the skies for a cheery bluebird.

But I do not promise not to cry, just a little bit more.