First, feel guilty.
Your mother will have hounded you, in her sweet little way, saying—without saying—you may not have much time left. You'll have felt weird going to seniors' homes, and even more weird going to hospitals or nursing homes or anywhere that your grandmother lived in the last few years. You'll have had a thousand half-formed reasons for not going which you'll have been unable to explain to your mother, but which will have been more than enough to keep you from visiting. You'll have Kept promising that you would visit, sometime, because you will have thought you were going to.
When she calls—your mother—to say you better get up to see Grandma, she may not make it through the night, you'll be shocked. You'll have a thousand different things flying through your head. You never visited. Oh my God, you never visited even once. You thought she'd pull through. She always pulls through. She's going to pull through. You'll think she can't die. What is Mom going to do? Is she ready? Is Mom ready? She's probably ready. She's had a long life. Grandma. You'll wonder what she will look like. You'll wish you had visited more. So feel guilty.
"I'll be right up," say. "In five minutes."
Park as close as you can to the hospital and forget about plugging the meter. The ten dollar ticket, if you get one, will make you feel good when you pay it. You'll feel like you deserve a ten dollar ticket, you didn't visit earlier. Walk fast. Don't run, but walk as fast as is comfortable past the gift shop. You'll think about getting some flowers, or a balloon, but your grandmother will not care at all, and your mom will think you're crazy. Your dad would smile and set it on the windowsill. He'd pat you on the head, or rub your back, and say,
"Thanks," and you'd feel silly for buying it, if you bought it. Just leave it. You being there will be enough.
When you get to her room, you'll feel strange, as if you're not feeling properly. Before, when you were young and death was a distant haze way in the future, you'll have thought an experience like this would be really heavy. You'll have had a picture of yourself at your grandmother's bed, maybe. Your mother's is more likely. You'll have been crying, weeping, unable to control yourself. Now, as you're walking into the room where your grandmother will die, you'll feel numb. You'll feel bad for your mom, your dad, but you'll be surprised at how you're not at all about to start blubbering all over.
Standing in the door, looking at your grandmother's roommate–tubes in her nose, coming out of her neck, needles in both of her wrists her daughter, or at least some woman your mother's age, dabbing at her cheeks with a handkerchief—you'll wish you could leave. You could easily turn around and hope, pray that she'll make it through the night, make it to breakfast at Denny's on Saturday morning.
Don't leave. She's not going to make it.
Nod at the roommate's daughter as you walk past. When you get around the corner, you'll see your mom, sitting on a little stool beside the bed, holding your grandma's hand. You'll see your dad, sitting on the other side of the bed, sipping on a coffee, reading a Reader's Digest. He'll see you first and toss his magazine on the table and say, "Well, here he is," in a voice you'll find way too excited for the situation. Your mom will stand up and hug you. Just let her hug you, for as long as she wants. She might cry, a little.
She'll tell you to sit in the stool beside the bed. "She loves to hold hands," she'll say.
Hold your grandmother's hand.
"Why don't you say something to her?" your mom will say. "They say she can still hear us."
Look at your grandmother. She'll be curled up on the bed, under her covers. She'll look so small. You'll think to yourself she's so small you could pick her up and hold her in your arms like a bundle of clothes; you could slip her into a suitcase, if you had one, and cart her down the hall. You'll feel stupid for thinking these things. Her hair will be up in the same curly permanent it has always been in, though you'll think it looks a bit thinner than usual. Her eyes will be closed, but her mouth slightly open, her grey teeth showing through. Her temples will be sunken. They'll remind you of the birdbath in her back yard that was nearly always empty. A vein in her neck will be pulsating, faster than you would have imagined, if you had imagined it. Her hand, when you take it, will squeeze yours lightly. So lightly you'll wonder if it was even a squeeze. She'll be terrifying, yet stunningly beautiful.
Try to think of something to say. You could say I love you. It wouldn't hurt, of course, but you'll search through everything in your brain, trying to think of something meaningful. Think about your fondest memories with her. Think about the flowers in her backyard that made it seem as if you were entering another world the second you step through the back door, about the smell of them. Think about the stories she'd tell you, stories of the good days, when she'd pay a nickel for a candy bar, when she'd play tennis with her sister and how the men would watch them. They were always watching but would never go talk to them. How she had dated a professional baseball player. How she could remember her late husband's—your grandfather's—thick black hair and deep blue eyes. Think about how she loved to watch baseball, how she'd sit and watch any game, no matter who was playing, and she'd smile and say, "Can you believe they throw it so fast?" and she'd cringe when they'd get hit with a pitch, and she'd say, "How could they stand it?" You might cry. You might not. You will start to feel comfortable, holding her hand.
You won't think of anything to say.
Your mom will be up and down. She'll be too happy, telling jokes about morgues, or stories about people coming back to life, after death. Then all at once, She'll be crying. You'll wish you could fix everything. For a while, the three of you will sit, watching your grandmother. She'll take deep breaths, and hold it for unnatural amounts of time. It's normal, they'll say, for someone in her situation. It won't be long now. You'll be certain she's going to pass as your sitting there, staring, counting the seconds between breaths.
Out of the blue, your mom will say, "I'm glad she's not so hot today. Yesterday she tasted like peanuts."
Look at your mom. Just watch her. Your dad will say, very quietly, "You... you tasted her?" and your mom will laugh, and your dad will laugh, and you'll look at your grandmother and imagine what it might be like to taste her salty forehead. Look back at your mom and laugh. The three of you will laugh so hard, you'll start to worry the roommate's daughter will get up and storm out of the room. You'll laugh and laugh until you're crying, tears streaming down.
Then your mom will be crying, for real, unable to stop. She'll put her face her in hand and rub her eyebrows with her pointer and her thumb. She'll get kleenex and try to stop the tears with them.
"I kissed her," she'll say. "I kissed her and she tasted like peanuts."
You'll see your mother as someone young, a child who already misses her mommy.
Bring your grandma's hand to your mouth and kiss it.
"Last week," your dad will say, and you'll think he's trying to change the subject. "Last week, I was visiting her. Just watching baseball and she asked me if I felt like having ice cream." He chuckled a little. "I thought she was just trying to say she wanted ice cream," he'll say, which is what you would have thought. For a long time, you will have thought that elderly people turn into little kids once they get to a certain age. They start to think about themselves in that way a 5 year old thinks of themselves. Everything is about making them happy, or at least comfortable. "So I told her I could get ice cream if she wanted. She pulled out her purse and gave me ten bucks and said, 'You get yourself a treat on the way home.'"
Look at your grandma then. You'll see her in a way you've never seen her before. You'll feel as if she's a song, one you've loved and have listened to a million times before, but this time, as you listen, you hear a different bit of harmony that makes the song something completely new. You'll think she's lived her life, every day, the same as you have. She wondered about what she'll be doing next year, what she'll be having for supper, what her kids will become. She wanted to be happy, to do things she loved, to care for her loved ones. She worried about her kids, her grandkids, her hair. She had her own thoughts and dreams and favorite things.
"Grandma," say. "It's me.... Uh... I was watching the Bluejays play." You'll be embarrassed. You'll feel your face burning red as your mom and dad look at you, hopeful. You'll feel stupid for talking about baseball, but you'll feel, somehow, that it's important. "Vernon Wells. Uh... He got traded, but he came back to Toronto for the first time with his new team... When he came out to bat, the whole stadium gave him a standing ovation." You'll start crying. You won't understand it at all, and you'll wish your mom would stop staring at you. She'll start crying soon enough, and she won't be able to see you. "They still love him there," say. "And then... the first pitch they threw him... He hit a homerun. It was pretty awesome."
You'll be hoping for a squeeze from her hand. You'll have all these ideas from romantic movies where your little speech about baseball will wake her up and the Bluejays will win the world series. They won't. And she won't squeeze your hand. She won't wake up.
Sit for a little bit longer, until you think you can get control of yourself. When your ready, stand up. Take one last look at her. You'll be surprised at how you find her more beautiful in this very instant than you have ever found her before. You'll wonder how you could have ever missed it. You'll wish you had known her longer, better.
Bend over to kiss her. As you bend, you'll notice the vein in her neck has nearly stopped pulsing. You'll notice her eyes, under her eyelids, are moving ever so slightly. You'll see a tear drop from your face and land on her forehead and slide down into her sunken temple, filling the birdbath. Her hair will feel funny on your cheek as you kiss her.
Say, "Goodbye." Whisper it if you want to.