Waves of Regret

21 May

My grandmother died angry.  Not just regretful, but pissed off at the circumstances of her life.  My mother would pat her hand and chalk it up to her impending demise, but in that room where I sat with her, really listening, I could hear her rage.  She had been married, had six children and lost my grandfather suddenly.  She was a widow for four years when she received her brain cancer diagnosis and I had called her, trying to fight back the tears, and her first words on the subject were, “It fucking figures.”

I flew in to see her, to hopefully say all the things you’re supposed to say before loved ones die.  She didn’t want me to talk, instead she handed me an envelope, something I had written her in my early twenties.    I had adopted my daughter and she and my grandfather had been taking care of her while I worked full-time.  They loved her as if she were their own flesh and blood, and I wanted to tell my grandmother how I admired her.  She had been a nurse and raised six kids and on days when I felt overwhelmed I thought of her strength and kept pushing forward.

I looked at the envelope and it said in her pretty cursive, “The sweetest gift ever given to me.”  I opened the letter and read it.  I told her I admired her strength, her determination and the way she had loved me.  I know I was her favorite grandchild, the blond angel in a family of dark haired children, and I adored her in return.  She taught me to put on lipstick, drive a car and would watch horror movies with me.  She encouraged me to write and hated my boyfriends.  She told me I deserved better and she was probably right.  I had said all those things you should say years before and she had kept that letter.

I sat next to her and there was a commercial on that had the ocean in it.  I made the remark I loved the ocean and she shook her head and said she had never been.  She had never visited me in any of the various places I lived, except a trip to Arizona when I was a child.  She had stayed home, took care of others, and ticked down the days like a prison sentence.  I must have looked like I felt incredibly sorry for her, and she made a face at me, “I have so many things I didn’t do.  I could have had love, and I didn’t.”

I had known for a long time she didn’t love my grandfather.  He had been handsome and a bad boy, and that had attracted her, so she walked away from a man who had adored her and ran off with the man who was all wrong for her.  She said there had been a man when she was a nurse.  A doctor she had loved.  I didn’t ask if they had been intimate, it wasn’t important.  The fact is, she had loved him.  He had loved her.  Yet, she stayed with my grandfather and had lived in misery.

That day she had poured her heart out.  She was angry.  She had wasted her life, she thought.  I pointed out her children, her grandchildren, and she said yes, but that’s not the same kind of love.  She had longed for and missed out on that romantic love we can all just hope happens more than once in our lifetime.  She had looked at me, and I could see such lucidity, and she had said, “Don’t forget to love.”

By the next day she no longer knew who I was.  I knew instantly what she meant when she said those words, some of the last she would ever utter.  Don’t forget in the many lists we carry in our pockets to love.  And not just a casual love either.  Love with everything, your heart, body and soul and don’t take a moment for granted.  That kind of love, the comfortable, yet consuming love, is rare.  She meant, don’t forget to recognize it, don’t forget to make time for it, don’t forget to grab onto it.

I’d like to think her idea of heaven isn’t spending eternity with my grandfather, but one of those men she had felt those things with.  If there is such a thing as heaven, I hope she’s finally getting the love she had died feeling she squandered.  It really was so simple and the only thing she wanted.  Too bad she didn’t get it in life.

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