On Death and Healing

As I wake up each morning, I don’t check my phone or reach for the TV remote. The first thing I do is notice how bright the rays of sunshine are as they creep in through the slats of the blinds. I notice the small piece of blue tape on one wall that indicates how far the bathroom door will slide. I notice how large the suite is, the brightness of the white walls, and the clarity of the mirrored closet doors. I notice all of this first because, you see, this room was not designed for me. I did not pick out the carpet color, the tiles in the shower, or the light fixtures, nor were these decisions made on my behalf when the designs were finalized. This suite was mapped out, constructed, and designed from bottom to top for my grandmother, my Nana.

My parents have owned this place I call home for over 20 years. It is the same home where I learned how to sing karaoke and the dance moves to NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye.” It is the same home where I learned that I could shut out my younger sister just by closing the door in between our rooms, but was still able to talk to her since the wall did not go all the way to the ceiling. It is the same home where I lived in every single bedroom (except the master bedroom) as I moved in and out of the house several times over the years.

I moved back home a few months ago in hopes of saving a little money after making the decision to transition into a new career. At that time, Nana was living in a suite, built for her, in my parents’ home. It took a little while for me to adjust from living alone to having three roommates. On some days the adjustment was more difficult, but only because I was used to having time to decompress… alone. As time went on, I came to love the “welcome home,” the unsolicited advice, and the stories told, all by Nana. Not that I had not enjoyed these things with her before; it was just… different… living under the same roof.

I shared my hopes for my future, and she was very supportive in all that I wished to accomplish. She gave me advice to “project your voice and enunciate,” and she cheered me on by punching the air with her fist.

I remember the day she went into the hospital, and the final words we exchanged as she was leaving the house.

“Bye Nana, I hope you feel better!”

“Bye bye, Honey.”

I can still hear her voice say these words today.

She only spent a few days in the hospital before her heart stopped beating. I was with her that day. I had only been there a few minutes, but a few minutes was all that was needed. I walked in and immediately said “Hi Nana.” She was heavily sedated and so I didn’t expect to hear a greeting in return, but I could hear her voice in my heart. As a nurse was checking on her, I sat on my phone, setting a few reminders and creating a checklist for what I planned on doing later in the day. After the nurse left, I looked up, smiled at her, and said (not out loud but inside my heart): “I got my first check for that article I sold, Nana!” And right as that moment passed, her heart stopped beating, the room rushed with nurses, and my world became a blur.

My life had changed forever, as what death does to most people. The house became flooded with family and friends as stories, laughter and tears were shared. But also, a sudden growing interest of what I was planning on doing with my life had appeared. I had trouble formulating words to my hopes and dreams, and I had nothing concrete to share. As the weeks of transition and adjustment to a life without Nana followed, the words just stopped flowing, my fingers stopped typing, and the overwhelming sense of failure clouded my mind.

I knew I was having trouble coping with her death, but I didn’t know how to move in the right direction. That is until after I moved into my Nana’s suite. I initially thought it was going to be difficult, knowing that that was her space; it was built for her. But I soon realized that it wasn’t a depressing reminder; it was a beautiful one. I had turned her space into my space without replacing her memory. The physical move into her room was actually an emotional healing experience for me. Of course, the healing did not take place overnight. But I could sense that with every night’s sleep, every morning was a little easier, a little brighter, a little sweeter.

As I wake up each morning in (what is now) my room, I notice these little reminders of her, and I imagine my wonderful Nana cheering me on by punching the air with her fist.

I finally found my words again.

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Sláinte! (with water, of course)

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