In February 2015, my beloved Oma passed to the other side at the age of 87. Quietly in the comfort of a private room in a home, without fanfare. There was no frantic running about to prepare, it all happened so peacefully.
We only had two weeks to process. One week she's in a nursing home, the next she has stage four cancer, and the next we had lost her.
A week before all that?
My wife and I were her constant companions in her home over the holidays. A few months before? I had the joy of spending my summer with her-just the two of us. In her lake house on the coast of Lake Michigan.
And while her death brings me great sadness, it also brings with it so much gratitude.
In January 2014 my grandmother was checked into the hospital for multiple organ failure. The minute I heard the news, I was on a plane to her bedside.
The morning she saw me she struggled against her intubation tube. I can only imagine how she felt. If I was at her bedside the only logical explanation was that her death was imminent.
She had wild eyes, sick with fever and fear. I held her hand tightly and made her a promise...
"Get through this and I promise to spend the entire summer with you."
Her eyes softened, she nodded solemnly.
A week later she checked out of the hospital, weak as a kitten. She spent the spring fighting to get her strength back, to take me up on my offer of the summer. And take me up on it she did.
Summer came and went. We sucked Michigan peach juice from flesh, dripping long lines of sticky sweet to our elbows. I sipped Chardonnay and watched sunsets from our dining room table. We cooked for each other, nourishing our bodies and our souls. We spent hours deep in conversation, me explaining exactly what I did with my life ('coach' does not register to an 87 year old easily). We ate extravagant dinners at cozy farm to table restaurants. We listened to the quiet wisdom in the woods.
It is those moments. The moments of utter presence we spent together. It is those moments I am grateful for, and her death? I am grateful too.
The truth is? We all must die. It is a cycle that teaches us to be present, to hold gratitude deep in our hearts, and to be thankful when they pass so that they may suffer so more.
And in all this tumult, this grief, I find deep solace in the gratitude.
I am grateful that her death was quick, relatively painless, and was surrounded by the warmth of family.
I am grateful that I spent the summer with her, instead of any other place I could have have been.
I am grateful I committed to spend the month with her over the holidays.
I am grateful that our holidays were untarnished by the knowledge that tumors were rapidly filling her lungs.
I am grateful that I have this hole in my heart where she once was, for in the hole I remember that she had a profound impact on my life.
I am grateful for my grief, because it will be a constant reminder of the love we shared.
The one thing I am thankful for? My grandmother. Her death, her life, her legacy. I'm grateful for it all. But it is her death that fills the gratitude well of the others, so it is her death that I breathe into. For she is still with me, and always will be.