Learning To Love You More




Assignment #31
Spend time with a dying person.

Meredith Johnson
San Francisco, California USA



Not long ago my grandmother was dying. She knew she was sick and had started to have a settled urgency about moving on. She didn t have a close relationship with most her family, she left her parents farm as a teenager to move to the city alone. As a young woman, she worked in an ammunitions factory during WWII and then became a nurse. She married my grandfather - a young and charismatic playboy -had two children, then went on to raise my father and uncle as a single mother after divorcing her husband in the early 1950s.
My brother and I were her only grandchildren. I often thought she didn t like me. She had a stern way about her that was both intimidating and tragic. She didn t get along with her mother (a notoriously harsh woman), disliked her daughter-in-laws, and seemed to have high expectations of the women in her life. Boys, however, she adored. She called her sons the boys even when they were in their 50s. She would say things like boys will be boys with a laugh whenever my brother misbehaved as a child while I would get a disapproving headshake.
When I was older, I moved to the east coast and was able to see my grandmother more often. As an adult, the woman I was always strained to impress as a girl was a different person to my 20 something eyes. Not having too many close women in her life, my relationship my grandmother became one of surprising friendship. She wasn t motherly to me, but instead would tell me of her concerns, her problems, and her history. Not wanting to disrupt her sons with sad news she would tell me about her regrets as a young woman and her fears as an old woman, she would tell me that she knew she was getting sicker and sicker.
She was in the hospital for about a month before she died. I would drive from DC to Baltimore on the weekends to spend afternoons with her. Her tough personality began to soften. She started telling me about going to nursing school and about weekends in Atlantic City with my grandfather before the alcohol changed him, She would proudly boast of my father s young mastery of math and my uncle s early abilities as a painter. She told stories of her sisters and brothers, of friends from the old neighborhood. She liked trinkets, so one morning I walked downstairs to the hospital shop and got her a little glass fish she named it after a man she once knew and set it on the shelf next to an AM radio that provided constant background noise. It was a sterile enough pet for a hospital.
She told me one afternoon she regretted being mean to my mother, that it gave her comfort to know that her son had a wife that made him happy and that she had been a wonderful parent to my brother and I. My mother doesn t believe me when I tell her this, but it is true. A few days before she died I told her I was going to move to California. She smiled and said she proud of me and that I should always seize opportunities in life. She told me to never allow anyone to cause me unnecessary pain and to be strong and bold in all of my actions. I realized that strong and bold was what she had been. She was not the hard, tough woman I remembered as a child. Instead she was a thoughtfully resilient woman that weathered many storms. The last day I saw her she was tired and calm. She looked at me, smiled, and told me to watch over her boys.