Only months after my life-partner Kate died, a friend called me in need of support. As I listened, she matter-of-factly said that I wouldn’t understand how much she missed her ex-boyfriend. “What do you mean?” I asked her. “Well,” she said, “you don’t miss Kate.”
Photo credit: Michelle Asch (Jen & Kate at South Fork River, 2011)
What?! My beloved recently died and she thought I didn’t miss her?
What are you talking about? I thought. I think about her all the time. Of course I wish I could look into her eyes, hold her hand, hear her laugh. Doesn’t that mean I miss her?
“Of course I miss her,” I said out loud.
At first, I was caught off guard by my friend’s comment. After our conversation, I reflected on what she had said. I wondered what gave her this skewed impression of my experience.
And then I realized – to my friend’s credit – she was absolutely right. I didn’t miss Kate. At least not according to the common connotation of what it means to “miss” someone we love . . .
As my grandma sits in her wheelchair, I lean in to say goodbye before I return home – 3,000 miles away from room #39 at Oak Hill Manor. We touch our foreheads together and I look into her eyes over the top of my glasses. Only inches away, she looks into mine.
“You are my perfect pigeon,” she says.
I laugh to myself because “pigeon” isn’t a pet name Grandma Gene has called me before, and certainly is not the choice bird for a compliment. I’m not sure what word she meant to say. But at her current stage of life, any connection is welcomed by me. I kiss her cheek softly for what may be the last time.
This moment and many others that could be sad or melancholy have actually been endearing. As my grandma’s physical and mental capacities shift, I’m reminded of both my mom and my partner Kate’s final journeys, when they seemed to age many decades in mere weeks due to cancer. The difference is that my grandmother really is in her 90s. And that she has Alzheimer’s. But otherwise, the signposts that she’s nearing the finish line in this body actually resemble theirs.
Perhaps most people resemble each other as this cycle of life is winding down. The way they move, speak, and blink more slowly – seemingly with little self-consciousness. I imagine it’s just what happens as the body and mind do what they do. And while witnessing this stage is often bittersweet, it is the sweetness that stays with me and makes my heart smile.