Three years ago I dropped Kate off kicking and screaming for her first day of preschool, anxiety clearly evident. Her delayed echolalia, a mantra, "You are a brave girl. It's okay to cry." Over and over.
Today marked Kate's last day of preschool. She bounced into the classroom and announced, "I'm here! I have presents for all of my teachers!" We handed out the gifts, exchanged hugs and tears, reminisced about those early days, and marveled at the progress she has made.
"I kept hoping this day would never come," I confessed to the owner of the preschool. "I don't want to say goodbye. I wish Kate could stay here forever."
"No," she gently corrected me. "This is the day you have been waiting for. Look how far she's come. Typical kindergarten next year. She is ready. She will be more than fine."
An ending. A beginning.
The phone rang late yesterday afternoon. My brother. "Grandmom's not looking good," he told me. "You might want to get over there."
"I will go tomorrow," I promised. How many times had I uttered those words and not followed through? I always had an excuse for not going to visit her in the assisted living facility she now called home. The kids were sick...we had plans...there was a school event...I was just too busy.
My grandmother was a woman of few words. As a child I often did not know what to say to her. Our conversations were always brief. Awkward. In her later years our conversations focused on my career. She would ask me if I liked teaching. I would respond in the affirmative and say that it was fun but a lot of hard work. We would then have the same conversation a few minutes later.
The curtains were drawn, darkening her room. The drone of her roommate's TV, the hiss of the oxygen, the hum of the air conditioning threatened to drown out my voice as I greeted my grandmother. I wish I could say that she didn't respond because she didn't hear me, however that was not the case. Hospice had been called in the day before for the sole purpose of keeping her comfortable in her final days. She was much smaller than I remember her. Frail. Propped up on pillows, the bed seemed to swallow her.
My brother and I took our places at her side. He did the talking. I just sat in silence, old memories swirling around my head, regret planted firmly in my heart.
We sat this way for close to a half hour, until he needed to leave. I knew I needed to stay, to speak what was on my mind. Silent no more, I knew what I needed to say.
I told her I was sorry. I was sorry that I didn't visit her. That I didn't bring my kids to come see her. That this was a nice place, and we should have been there for her. I told her I was sorry I didn't talk to her more. That I didn't know her like the people at the home knew her. That I didn't take the time. That I was sorry.
I sat and watched her. She moved not a muscle, except for the rapid rise and fall of her chest. An infomercial squawked from the roommate's TV. Residents passed by the door. Some hobbled, others glided by in wheelchairs. A single picture stood on her nightstand. She and I on my wedding day.
I sat. Glued to the chair. Unable to move. An overwhelming desire to read the bible flooded me. My search through the nightstand drawers yielded nothing as my grandmother was not a religious woman. Not one to quote scripture, I recited the only verse I know.
"God so loved the world he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
Those were the last words I spoke to my grandmother. Moments later her breathing slowed, became deeper. A deep breath in. Pause. Exhale. I glanced around the room, wondering if my grandfather was here, waiting for her. Did he recognize me? Did he know I have 3 kids now? That I'm all grown up? I thought about the music store they owned and about Sunday dinners at their house. Always roast beef, always good.
I sat there until her chest rose and fell one final time.
Inside my heart, joy.
An ending. A beginning.