I knew she was gone the moment I laid eyes on her. The hands she had once so meticulously maintained were graying from the steady drip of medicine designed to shunt blood only to the most vital organs of her body. A tube the size of a giant Pixy Stix straw jutted from her mouth, connected to a machine that rhythmically breathed for her. Her glazed eyes stared fixedly at nothing. I searched frantically for the vibrant woman who had previously occupied the shell lying in front of me. She didn't live here anymore.
I thought of the grandmother I knew, the queen of coffee and conversation, the creator of the perfect chocolate cake. She had been my confidante, my closest friend. We'd laughed over shared private jokes. She'd given me advice on matters of the heart that I only half heeded, much to my detriment. She was funny. She was smart. She was outspoken and blunt. She was my role model. Now, the woman whose fingers had sported bold rings with sparkling, bulky stones, and whose figure had always been immaculately turned out in the perfect outfit, lay lifeless before me, entreating me, it seemed. Tears stung behind my eyes, threatening to fall. I willed my knees not to buckle.
As the day wore on and, with it, any hope of recovery, her children met with her physician to discuss code status. They decided to wean the drip. She would receive no chest compressions when the time came. We all camped out in the waiting room that night, and I passed into a fitful sleep.
Around 5 a.m.,, I woke to a chill in the air. No one else stirred. I tiptoed down the stairwell to the empty chapel. I knelt and prayed for a different kind of miracle. I whispered it aloud, aware that I was crying. This quiet prayer was all I could do, a prayer for her release from pain. When I stood up to go back to the waiting room, I felt a sense of peace, as if everything was as it should be.
When I reached the waiting room, everyone was awake. My uncle saw me. "We've been looking for you," he said. "Her heart rate is dropping. They're calling for us." I walked into her room, rested my head on the side of her bed, and took her cool hand, my breath falling into rhythm with the hum of the ventilator. I waited with her, until the heart monitor registered a flat line. She had said goodbye. I was thankful to be there for her exit.
Love is an unforgiving emotion. It gives and takes in equal measure. It keeps us up at night, exhilarated, regretting something we said or did, wondering what we could have done differently. It gives us the will to hold on to someone or something. We make sacrifices we would never dream of making in its name.
Some people talk about "good love" and "bad love," as if there is a distinction. To me, love simply is what it is. It is breathtakingly beautiful. It is monstrously ugly. Often, love isn't about us. Sometimes, it's about making an excruciating choice between our own relief and someone else's. Love sometimes forces us to loosen our grip and let go. We love. We grieve. We let go. Then, we allow love to make a space in our hearts for the memories to reside. We can always hold on to those, when all else is gone.