It was late November, and winter had come early. I had spent the first part of the day on the ski-slopes with my brothers, because it was the first day of the ski season, and also our first day of Thanksgiving break. We had gone to visit my grandparents, and I was weary and sore. I strained to listen to my grandma’s feeble voice as my cousins raucously played in the basement. I struggled to remain alert as her speech was hardly audible, and I was drowsy. She had been in a wheelchair for years, and was always shaking with Parkinson’s. Her mind was still there, but it took an eternity for her to express anything. Between sentences she would occasionally pause to gently slurp Ensure-her primary form of sustenance-through a straw. The liquid was dried in yellowish beads on her cracked lips and I couldn’t keep my mind on what she was muttering. So I excused myself quickly, assuming she would be in better shape the next time I saw her, and I could talk to her then.
The day after Thanksgiving my Grandma had a stroke. At 11, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but it sounded bad. I tried to brush off the thoughts that started coming to my mind. I hadn’t ever known anyone that had died, so that was just a morbid thought to have, right? The next day we got a phone call, and my Mom answered the phone. When I saw the look on her face I knew something was wrong. I rushed to the caller ID and discovered that it was my Grandpa Nielson. When my Mom hung up she turned and started speaking. As the words spilled from her mouth I felt empty inside. The words blurred in my ears, and try as I might to unhear them I knew their meaning instantly. But it wasn’t until I reflected on the last time I had spent with my Grandma that the full wave of emotion hit me. I was filled to the brim with regret. I surely should have shared more than a few cursory seconds with her a few days previously, but how could I have known? The only solace I found was in my belief that I could meet her again after this life, and over the years, I let it go.
Recently (now that more than a decade has passed) my wife and I were driving with my Grandpa to visit my parents. My niece, Julia, had just been born, and was named after my Grandmother. Consequently, we began to talk about her. My Grandpa stammered off intermittently while we talked to him, his once sharp mind clouded with cobwebs. Yet he recalled with precision the last days of his beloved wife’s life, though it has now been many years. His eyes looked wistfully through mine, into a seemingly not-so distant past, and I could feel that his life had passed away as if it were a dream.
He spoke of the last night they had spent together. It was uneventful, and they were watching the news. She told him she wanted to go to bed, but he wanted to stay up to see the score from a basketball game. So he carried her to the bedroom and went back to watching the news. That was the last time he heard her voice. The next morning she was lethargic and comatose, and my Grandpa called the ambulance.
They had a family dinner planned the next day with my aunt, and my Grandpa was back and forth between the hospital and helping set up for my aunt’s dinner. Then around four in the afternoon my Grandpa got a call from my uncle who was at the hospital, and he merely said “come quickly.” Before my Grandpa could arrive she had already slipped beyond his reach. As my Grandpa reflected on it, he groaned, feeling that he should have known to cancel the dinner so he could have been there in his wife’s passing moments.
My Grandpa started his next sentence, “Julia always…” and then stuttered off. I had barely noticed, but he hadn’t struggled for words at all as he reflected on his beloved companion. We drove on, and soon the topic had passed, but his difficulty expressing himself brought back the memories of my Grandmother so many years earlier. The importance of each moment was deeply impressed on me, and I resolved to make the moments that I had with my family count. But as I pondered further, I realized that even my Grandfather, one of my greatest role models, had been unable to give a final farewell as he wished. Although it is our accumulation of many moments with family and friends that matter, for some reason the final moments-no matter how trivial- always weigh the heaviest on our minds.
Perhaps that reason is that we remain uncertain of our ability to resolve the meaninglessness of those parting moments. As much as my Grandfather believes (and I believe) the words of the Book of Mormon prophet Alma that ‘there is a time appointed that all shall come forth from the dead’ and Paul’s that ‘as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive’, these words provide only hope and not complete assurance. In this life we still walk by faith, not by sight, as faith has never been a perfect knowledge. And so, part of our human experience is being separated from those we love, looking forward with hope to our reunification, with an incomplete yet resolute faith.