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One evening in late January of this year, my grandma talked with a good friend from the neighborhood where she and my grandpa had lived for decades in San Antonio, Texas.
My grandparents had recently moved into an assisted-living facility. They’d moved into separate wings of the facility because my grandpa needed specialized care along his journey into Alzheimer’s Disease. My grandma visited him every day.
And as was her way, she kept her friends close, whether they hailed from the old neighborhood or from her and my grandpa’s long-time church.
That night, reflecting on how my grandpa seemed more settled in his new environs, my grandma told her friend that she was “ready to go,” at peace if death should come.
The next morning, I received an urgent voicemail from my mom that I should call her back. I was sitting on the toilet at the time, but I feared that something might have happened to my dad, so I figured this was no time for jealous discretion. My then-almost-10-month-old daughter sat securely in her rocking chair across from me.
My mom answered the phone and told me that my grandma — her mother — had died in her sleep overnight.
We’d not expected this. My grandma had recently recovered from her own medical saga: a frightening swirl of debilitating back pain, surgeries, complications, and narcotics for pain.
We’d feared that we would lose her then. My brother had flown with his pregnant wife from Colorado to sit by our grandma’s bedside. And my family — then only 3 weeks away from welcoming our daughter into the world — had video-conferenced into the room via Google Hangout.
But Grandma had recovered, as she always did, and was again her formidable, sociable self. She’d recently informed the chef at the assisted living facility that the arrangement of tables in the dining room was inefficient. She’d proposed improvements — and the chef had implemented them because my grandma’s analysis had been spot on.
Perhaps this, too, was among the loving interventions she’d checked off her list.
As my mother spoke through sniffles from Texas, my daughter here in California made a point of smiling at me and being as charming as she could be — which is very, very charming.
My mouth danced between speaking comfortingly to my mother and participating silently in my daughter’s effervescent gestural play.
I sat between generations.
Three states away: a flare of being was extinguished, having already become; soon-to-be ashes for interment.
In front of me: being burned brightly, becoming in joy.
And I couldn’t help but think about how, just like my daughter, my grandma had once been a 10-month-old little girl smiling at her loved ones, at the outset of her 84-year journey as friend, wife, mother, teacher, family genealogist, and community and church member.
That thought gave me calm for my grandma and hope for my daughter, even as I told my little girl that she would never get to meet her great-grandma.
NOTE: I originally delivered a different version of this reflection at Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto on March 20, 2016.