What do you do the morning after you lose someone you love? Even if that death was for the best, following months (years) of illness, suffering, and grief? We lost Grandma Schwind last night: the last remaining grandparent in my family, the matriarch. She left us at 7 PM. She navigated her way past the pain, the hospital bed, and all the other old, sick, and suffering at her nursing home to see Heaven and Papa and her beloved son, lost much too soon, Barney. Last night, Grandma went home.
It’s a relief really. Ten minutes prior to The Call from Ohio, I was having trouble eating. I was telling my husband how the wait was killing me. My chest ached with tears that would not fall, not until I felt Grandma’s absence. I’d been holding onto phantom pain for two days, ever since Grandma’s breathing changed, ever since she stopped eating. I hadn’t cried. The tears wouldn’t come. The saltwater simmered in my chest but would not boil, not until my mom called sobbing at 7 PM to say, “She’s gone.”
With those two words, tears came in earnest—sobs that shook my body as Jake held me until even the dogs came and wrapped us in their tail-wagging embrace. Jake said, “Some dogs can smell cancer. What makes you think they can’t smell when you’re upset?”
Leonilda Schwind was once a Macy’s sales clerk in New York City. Of Italian descent, she had that wicked foreign appeal; plus, she was gorgeous. I think my grandfather fell for her immediately when they met at that picnic in Central Park. They were married for sixty-six years before Papa died last October. They had four children, three grandchildren, and lots of great-grand dogs.
By the time Papa passed, he was one of the last of his friends still standing. Same with Grandma, and if the clouds rumble today, it’s because there is a huge party happening right now, above our heads. You might hear Frank Sinatra on a chilly breeze or maybe smell gin.
I don’t feel sad this morning. I’m sure, over the course of the day, there will be bouts of stark reality—the reality of death. It’s difficult, living so far away, when someone you love dies. It’s easy to pretend it isn’t real. A few months ago, even, there was a moment when I was on the phone with my mother, and I almost asked her to put Papa on the phone. I didn’t say the words, thank God; I hung up and stood there, shaking. And even years after my Uncle Barney’s death, I still have those moments when I think, “Oh, my GOD, he has to hear this …”
I know death is real. I know Grandma has gone home to her Lord, her family, her friends. I mourn the loss of the stubborn, funny, beautiful woman she was, not the bedridden sick person she became. There are so many memories, so many stories (too many to tell here). It’s a relief to know Grandma isn’t sick anymore. She’s probably in Heaven, her twenty-five-year-old New York self, glitzed up in the latest fashion (I picture a big hat) with her curly, black hair; big, shining eyes; and a smile that could light up all of Times Square. Papa is there, too, in his sailor uniform, his ears a little too big for his head. And Barney: thin and smoking cigarettes and laughing, laughing …
The older we get, the more people we know on the other side. Grandma might have had us here on Earth, but she had a crowd of revelers waiting for her arrival last night in Heaven. And of course, a kiss from Papa, and perhaps a quick, “What took you so long, Lee? I missed you.”