A cold February morning in 2011 I had an experience unlike any other. I had been through a lot in losing my sister, my grandfather, and my aunt, up until that point; I guess that's why I initially treated that morning like it was any other. But, it wasn't like any other. As I made my way to the nursing home, I was naïve to the moment I was about to experience. As I arrived, I prepared to say goodbye, but didn't know it yet.
My grandmother, or "Nana," as I knew her, was a quintessential member of "The Greatest Generation," who had seen a lot in her 86 years on earth. Growing up in working-class conditions, with a father who was coal miner, in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania's northeastern region, Nana would become living history as she and the "light of her life," my Grandpa Ed, would become part of a nationwide movement to gain a full accounting of America's heroes who were missing or taken prisoner during the Vietnam War. This became the cause of my grandparents' years of life which are typically called "the golden years." Instead, my grandparents sought to find out what happened to their first-born son, and the sons of so many other parents, during these years.
However, on this morning, I did not think much about my grandparents' storied lives. I had grown up hearing my family's story frequently. I still wear my uncle's name on a bracelet to this day. No, that morning I was thinking about trivial things, about what awaited me at work after I made the two-hour trek back to college. Little did I know I would reflect more on quantifying life that day than I had since my sister passed away seven years earlier. Ironically, as I left my house that morning, in the pre-dawn hours, my mother encouraged me to simply drive straight back to college. However, my sixth sense over-powered me to go that morning to see my Nana first.
As I stepped off the elevator I saw Nana sitting upright in a chair by the nurse's station, dressed for the day ahead and very alert. She was overjoyed to see me. Having spent the past couple years living at our house, with my parents, she was not used to living in the nursing home, nor were we used to having her there. She was only meant to be there temporarily, after a hospital stay. However, God had other plans.
I wheeled Nana into the day room as breakfast came. The aides offered to help her cut her breakfast. I said that I would do it. I pulled up a chair next to Nana, Good Morning America played on the television in the background. We had a great conversation about various things, what was going on at college, how my foot was, which I had broken eight months before, all the nodding and niceties one would expect during the course of conversation with one's grandmother. As the rising sun reached across the adjacent Delaware River touching into the room which surrounded us, I was struck with the deep shades of orange and yellow that permeated my eyes.
I know that this moment, this singular moment, was my time to say goodbye. As I said goodbye for the day, I fought back the tears of realization that this was my permanent goodbye. I did my best to hide my tears, to not let my Nana sense that I knew God was calling her home. There was no medical indication of that. No nurse had said that. No doctor had said that. I didn't need to hear it from them. I knew in that moment, that God was readying Nana. Maybe Nana did too. As I clutched her, saying, "I love you," for the second time, the aides in the day room smiled, and complemented me to my grandmother. I barely heard them; I was consumed with the memories of so many moments of childhood, of a loving, giving, caring, grandmother, who asked for nothing in return but the love of her family.
I left that morning, got into my car, and drove back into the world, into my life which I had seemingly left in the moments which had immediately preceded. I was an outright emotional mess for the entire two-hour ride back to college. My grandmother would slip into a sleeping-like state later that day. I was the last person to see her in a way which memory had always served. Nana would be called home a week or two later on February 11, 2011 to be reunited with the love of her life, her "Eddie," as well as her son "Jack" whom she never stopped believing would come home one day, her only daughter Linda, her granddaughter Stacey and so many others; and of course, her Lord and Savior whom she never lost faith in, despite so many hardships.