Grandma lay on the bed propped up by a mountain of pillows looking through her photo album.
“Grandma that tattered old thing is falling apart.” I teased. “Maybe
I’ll buy you a new one for your birthday.”
“Won’t be here on my birthday, dear.” She said while flipping through the pages of her album. “Besides, you’ll inherit this when I’m gone, then you’ll appreciate my attachment to the old thing.”
I spun around toward her. “Grandma, please quit talking such nonsense.”
She stared up at me, smiling. “It’s not nonsense. I’m going away from this old world, and soon.” She stared at a page in her album. Her wrinkled fingers followed images as she admired the page. “Grandpa,” she sighed, “he’s waiting for me you know.”
“I’m sure he’d love to see you, but he’s patient, he can wait till it’s time.” I walked over to shut the window. A chill blew about the room as the clouds created a gray veil in the sky. “Looks like a storm's coming.” I reached over and covered Grandma’s feeble legs with a blanket. “You’ll get a chill, and those legs will throb all night.”
“Thank you, dear.” She closed her album and slid it under her mattress. “I’m ready for a nap, I suppose.” She yawned and closed her eyes.
I sat at the edge of Grandma’s bed watching the clouds drift across the sky. “I wonder what it’s like to be dead?” I asked.
“It’s like going on vacation,” Grandma mumbled.
I laughed. “Vacation? I always envisioned a place with small houses, a clear blue sky, green sweet-smelling grass…you know, like living in a commune or something.”
“I’m going to Hawaii and live in a grass hut, catch fresh fish, eat fruits of the land.” Grandma’s silky fingers rubbed my hand. “That’s where Grandpa is.” She yawned again.
“I’ll let you get some sleep.” I stood by the bed for a moment staring out at flashes of light flickering in the murky sky. The treetops circled. I stretched my sweater tighter around my body—just watching the wind gust gave me chills.
Grandma stirred a bit. “That wind is vicious, isn’t it?”
I rubbed her hand. “It’s okay, Grandma. I’ll keep an eye on it.” “Don’t matter much to me. Just a few more days, and I’m going.”
She struggled to reach the glass on her nightstand.
“I got it. Sit back.” I held the glass to her parched lips as she sipped through the straw. She stopped drinking and lay back, breathing heavily, as if it took all her strength.
I set the glass on the table and sat down beside her again. Her words were an oxymoron. Talking about death, but speaking of it as if it were a vacation—something planned, something to look forward to. “Grandma..?” I asked.
“Most people are sad when they’re…well, you know…” “Kicking the bucket?” She chuckled.
“Yeah, but it could be said a bit nicer.” I leaned back and lay my head beside hers on the pillow. “Why aren’t you afraid? How can you be sure it’s not a scary place, or maybe a void?”
She turned her head and kissed my cheek. “I keep in touch with those who’ve passed, and they all go on to beautiful places.”
The room was silent except for the howl of the wind and the beating of rain against the windowpanes. As I lay there, I decided I shouldn’t entertain her delusional thoughts. I mean, after all, I don’t believe my Grandma seriously talks to the dead. I’m not sure I believe anyone can for that matter. I wondered, if people don’t go on to another place, then death was scary. I imagined it an abyss. At death, you step in and just fall slowly through the darkness for eternity. I shuddered. Grandma squirmed and coughed. I held her hand and closed my eyes.
* * *
I sat upright at the sound of Grandma coughing. It was a congested, rattling cough. She couldn’t breathe. Her face was red. I offered her a sip of water, and she took a few sips.
“I’ll call for help.”
She waved her hands. “No need, I’m okay.”
“Your cough is worse. I’m going to call Dr. Meeks.”
“No need, dear.” She insisted. “There’s not a thing he can do for me. It’s almost time for me to go.” She patted the bed. “Come on over and sit next to me.”
I did as she asked and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Grandma, I wish you wouldn’t talk about dying like it is something to look forward to. We’ll all miss you, you know, whenever you do pass.”
“Oh, I know, but I’ll keep in touch with you. You’ll see.” She yawned and closed her eyes.
I decided to be quiet and let her sleep and thought about what it must be like to get old. You lose hair color, skin tone and eventually your mind. Maybe that’s why Grandma wanted to believe death was a vacation. She needed good thoughts to help her in these final days. I slid off the bed and kissed Grandma on her wrinkled cheek. The storm died down, Mom and Dad would be out late, so I decided to go to my own room and get some sleep.
Grandma’s persistent coughing woke me early the next morning. I
ran to her aid and found Mom caring for her.
“Good mornin’, sleepy head.” Mom smiled. “There are pancakes and sausages in the kitchen.” She helped Grandma sip some water.
I stood in the doorway, watching the two. They were so different, Mom and Grandma. Mom thought in tangible ideas; she had to see it or be aware of something’s existence to accept it, but not Grandma, her thoughts were abstract. Grandma based her ideas on theories and perceptions; she was oblivious to scientific evidence or concrete proof. She believed with her heart, not her mind. I picked at my breakfast.
An empty stomach roared for me to eat, but my grief trumped my hunger. I went to my room and lay on my bed. I thought about Grandma’s tattered old scrapbook. Numerous times, I remembered walking in on her staring at that thing and talking as if the keepsakes inside heard her and understood. Mom took her to the doctor, but he said she was fine, maybe just a bit lonely. That’s when she moved in with us. I heard Grandma coughing again. I felt it, deep within my soul, she was right. She’d be going soon. I went to her room to spend as much time with her as possible before she left us. Mom propped her up in a semi- sitting position with her back resting against pillows.
“Hi sweetie, come on have seat.” She patted the bed.
“How much time do you think you have?” I tried to avoid it, but my voice cracked.
She rubbed my arm. “Oh, don’t you go crying for me, now. I’m going to a good place. And to answer your question, I think today is my last.”
“I can’t stop the tears. I’ll miss you so much no matter where you are.” I scooted over and leaned back next to her.
“You are a lot like your old Grandma.” She sighed. “Your heart leads you. That’s why I’m leaving you my old scrapbook. I know you’ll appreciate it, just as I have.”
“Are you sure? What about Mom and Aunt Leslie…?”
Grandma put her arm around me. “You’re the one, dear.” She kissed the top of my head. “My aunt gifted it to me when she left this world. She chose me for the same reasons I chose you. You’re open to all ideas and you’ll get the most joy from it, I suppose.”
“I will take good care of it. I promise.”
“Promise me as soon as I’m gone you’ll look through it.” I looked up at her. “Why?”
She smiled. “Just promise.” “Okay, I promise.”
Grandma yawned. “I believe it’s time for a nap.”
“I’ll go and let you sleep.” I slid off the bed and started back to my room.
I met Mom in the hallway on my way. “How’s Grandma?” She asked.
“Okay, I guess. She says she’ll be gone by tomorrow.” I went to my room and stretched out on my bed.
Mom knocked. “You okay?” She came in and sat on the edge of my bed.
I sat up. “Do you think she’s right? She’ll be gone tomorrow?”
“Your Grandma has always had strange beliefs. Like that worn out scrapbook for instance. She treats that thing like gold and thinks it
Somehow connects her to those who have passed.” “She’s leaving it to me.”
“Well, I peeked inside it once and it’s just a bunch of old postcards.” She shook her head. “But, I’m sure you’ll treasure it anyway.” She stood up and began tidying my room.
“Mom, I can do that myself, you know.”
“I know, but I just need something to keep me busy.” She gathered my dirty clothes in a pile. “I’ll take these to the laundry room.”
I lay back down and stared out the window wondering what was beyond the cloudy sky. Life surely didn’t just end without a continuation somewhere else in this vast universe. What would be the purpose of life if this were all there was? I must have drifted off because the next thing I remember, Mom shook me and whispered my name. “Cheryl. Wake up.”
I opened my eyes. “Mom…?” “Honey, it's Grandma, she’s gone.”
I sprang up and ran to her room. Grandma looked like a person sleeping, not dead. She looked at peace.
Mom stood in the doorway. “Did you notice, she’s wearing her good pantsuit and her hair is done?” She let out a small chuckle between sniffles. “She was ready.”
Remembering what I promised, I pulled the scrapbook from under the mattress and went to my room. I shut the door and sat on my bed with the book in front of me. I opened the cover. On the first page was a postcard from Grandma to me. She stood in front of a grass hut wearing her good pantsuit holding hands with Grandpa. I picked it up and read the back.
I miss you already. Grandpa says hi. P.S. Write back soon.
This album allowed Grandma to stay in touch with those who were gone. She had told me the truth. I understood now why she loved it so much. I flipped through the pages and each postcard was a message from a loved one who’d passed on. All of them ended up at different destinations. I guess this was their heaven, where they wanted to be for eternity.
Mom knocked lightly and peeked into my room. “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“Yeah, I’m okay. I’m looking through the scrapbook.”
“I see. You must be very special to Grandma because that old thing was her prize possession. I never did understand what made it so special.”
“It is special, very special to me.” I smiled.