I’m in a season of loss right now.
Nothing really prepares you for loss: Not knowing it’s an eventuality. Not knowing that treatments aren’t working and hospice care has begun. Not hearing that the doctor has said it will only be a matter of weeks, if not days. There’s a persistent belief, born of lazy, foolish routine, that forestalls any notion of loss by telling us, “There will always be tomorrow.”
Because there always has been a tomorrow.
Until there just isn’t another tomorrow.
My dear Grams was 88, and she’d been fighting cancer for awhile. I knew she wasn’t going to live forever. Still, she left us faster than I thought she would. She didn’t seem 88. She seemed 50, tops.
Sometimes she seemed 25.
She wore animal print and flashy jewelry. She watched South Park. She had a Facebook account and a smartphone that she actually knew how to use. Her sense of humor was quick and sharp. Few could match wits with her. She always knew a good joke, and she was quick to laugh. I remember going over to her house once and seeing a cheesy penis straw sitting in the pencil cup on her table. When I asked her about it, she chuckled and told me she’d gotten it at the bar in town from a bachelorette party who was there.
And oh, she was smart.
Her brilliance was quiet, though; void of all arrogance and pretension. There was nothing showy about it; she had no degree to validate her intelligence. (She went to country school, and I am not sure that her formal education went much beyond the eighth grade.) She knew practical things. She knew about farm living and homemaking. She knew the rules (and strategies) for hundreds of card games. She absorbed everything that happened around her. She was a walking, accurate history of the region where we grew up. She had a memory that was nearly photographic, and it stayed sharp until the very end.
But she only offered information from the vast stores within her mind when it was asked of her. She never showed off her knowledge. I often found myself staggered by the detail and accuracy of her accounts, yet taken with her humble and simple delivery.
It was not her way to draw attention to herself.
She never complained about her cancer. Instead, she usually just made jokes about it. At her 85th birthday party, she told us, “I have Percocet in my purse in case this party gets boring.” So I don’t think any of us knew how sick she actually was. She didn’t want us to worry.
She just wanted to make us laugh.
I was fortunate enough to see her in her final days, to speak with her in her moments of clarity between morphine injections; to tell her that I loved her and to hear that she loved me, too; to hear her recount familiar stories about my dad’s ingenuity and creativity as a child (he built a functioning pinball machine out of rubber bands and scraps of wood when he was about 10).
Then she told my dad (who had a nasty chest cold) to go to the doctor, with an admonishment not to put those sorts of things off until it’s too late. (Grams’s philosophy about her health was always, stubbornly this: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Grandpa subscribed to the same one. Needless to say, they did not go to the doctor often…)
She took both of my hands in hers, looked into my eyes, and told me that I had married well, that my husband was a good man, and she stressed the importance and urgency of telling him this often. “Don’t put it off,” she said. “Tell him, Kirsey. Tell him every day how good he is.”
My husband was standing behind me at the time, and his cheeks went fuchsia with embarrassed pleasure. (It was no secret that Grams adored him.)
It was clear to her, between the addling morphine shots, that her tomorrows were limited, that she would not have much more time to tell us these things: Go to the doctor. Take care of yourself. Tell people how much you love them, and do it often.
Grams taught me lots of things: games, recipes, histories, jokes, patience, good humor, humility, forbearance. She taught me how to age without growing old. But I think in the end, she wanted us to know this: tomorrow is never a guarantee, and it can’t be treated like one.
Never put off tomorrow what you should and can do today.