Death knocked at 5am, September 17th. It was not unexpected. It had been hovering for weeks, waiting for the quiet time, just before the dawn to slip in and steal her last breath away.
It came for three others that morning at the hospice. My youngest daughter will laugh nervously when she tells me this. “I told Grammy it was okay to let go. Perhaps I whispered too loud,” she adds.
I do not know the ages of the other 3 who slipped across the threshold from life to death. I do not know if they were alone, or surrounded by family, or if they cried out in regret or clung to the final threads of a breath filling their body in the hopes of one more.
Jill was 94. Her son, (my daughters’ father) and his wife, their aunt and her husband along with my youngest daughter, were by her side the night before she passed away. She didn’t want a fuss. She didn’t want a lot of hoopla as she called it. She was uncomfortable with tears and any sign of emotion. “Stop your blubbering,” she would say at the first sign of waterworks flowing from the eyes of anyone present. And the blubberer would obey.
She was not eager to stay longer she told me one Saturday morning when I went to visit her at the hospice and asked if she was afraid of death’s impending arrival. She was still coherent then. Lucid, even though the cancer had already prevented her from eating for weeks. “Why should I be?” she answered in her practical way. “It’s time. I’ve lived long enough.”
Long enough. To know love. To know the loss of love, the fearful scrambling for more and to know the sometimes painful truth of thinking love is limited to only those we think of as deserving.
It is not love that is limited. It is our capacity to let it in, to see and know and feel its boundless joy. To see and know and feel its infinite wisdom.
I first met Jill, my daughters’ paternal grandmother, when her son and I began dating in 1979. Never one to gush or fuss, she told me on the day her son and I announced our engagement a year after our first meeting that marriage was a trap, an institution that served only to strangle a woman’s voice.
I laughed and reassured her marriage would not do that to me and she said, “We’ll see.”
She was filled with contradictions. A woman who was once a Vogue model, who earned significant monies in the stock market, who fiercely held onto her independence while also believing it was her responsibility to cook and clean and keep house for her husband, she could not understand how I could make her son vacuum . “That’s women’s work,” she told me one day when she discovered the errors of my way. I laughed and told her that it was necessary work that didn’t have a gender. She harrumphed in response and I never again let her know if her son was engaged in ‘women’s work’.
Sometimes, it was easier with Jill to just not let her know. I also think she just liked to test people to see if she could get a reaction.
When my daughters were born, it was Jill I counted on to be there, to support me, guide me and to love our little girls like no other. And she did.
The very first night I got home from the hospital with my eldest, it was Jill I trusted to be with her while her son and went to the theatre to see Evita. I knew she was in good hands. I knew she was with a loving heart.
She was always there. Supporting. Loving. Guiding. Caring.
For all her acerbic and sometimes gruff ways, she loved her granddaughters completely, always, passionately.
She was a constant role model for them, showing them what it meant to age with dignity, and pizzazz! She danced with them. Laughed with them. Cried with them. Took them to the beach, searched for pieces of blue glass (you have enough green, she told them), overturning rocks to watch crabs scurry away, sitting for hours watching the girls play along the water’s edge below the cliff of her beautiful home that she loved so much. She taught them the wonders of watching an eagle soar above, the beauty of sitting still and doing little other than to watch a feather float upon the water’s surface or a deer traipse through the forest. She taught them what it means to be human in every way.
In the final years of her life, family matters got in the way of Jill and I having much contact. There are so many things I never told her about how much I valued her presence in our lives. So many words of gratitude that went unexpressed.
In her passing, the words remain unspoken, yet, I know that in her passing, there is no need for words. In the space that was once filled with her life, there is only one thing that remains. That very same thing that carried her into this world and carried her out. The thing she struggled most to express. Love.
And it is Love I pick up today and wrap around her memory in a warm, soft blanket of gratitude. Thank you Jill. You touched my heart and my life. Safe journey.