Music blared from the car’s speakers as I watched the road slip steadily by. We were over half way there. Only four hours left.
Please, God, let me make it in time. Dear God, please let me make it.
I thought back to my last conversation with my grandmother and decided to change tactics.
Dear God, please wait to take her. Please ask Great-Grandma to wait to take her. Please wait. Please bless me with just a little more time. Help me to make it there in time, to see her in this life one more time. Please ask Great-Grandma to wait. Please wait.
This was my fervent and repeated prayer as the wheels turned, as my children chattered quietly in the backseat, as my husband drove on, his hand slung comfortingly across my thigh. This was my pleading mantra as the scenery slipped by and the music played on and on.
My Grandmother loved music. She sang almost constantly as a member of the Sweet Adelines, her quartet and church choir. She would sing at the drop of a hat, whenever a particular word or phrase would remind her of a song. Her whole life was melody.
In addition to the piano, my grandma could play a fiddle like nobody’s business. She loved bluegrass and played publicly and privately in several groups throughout the years. I never appreciated her music enough as a child. It was country, like my home state of Montana that I couldn’t wait to grow up and escape. I was too close to appreciate any of it. But as an adult, I’d found myself gravitating toward anything with a bluegrass line. It was home. It was Grandma.
The last time we’d visited, my grandma’s own bluegrass band had come to play at the nursing home. These were people I’d known since childhood, some of which I’d forgotten completely until the moment they stepped through the nursing home door, carting their assorted instruments. I’d seen the group play in nursing homes before, but this time was different. This time was special. This time they were playing for one of their own. They were playing for Grandma.
Two of the women had tears slipping down their cheeks from bloodshot eyes as they played. From start to finish, I couldn’t stop crying. I’d never produced so much saltwater and snot in my life. It came in buckets, in torrents, in deep unending waves.
They played all the songs I grew up watching my grandma play. Then they played my favorite, Chinese Breakdown. Suddenly I was five again, watching my grandma play with the bluegrass band on a wooden stage at the Creamery picnic. But my grandma wasn’t playing. She was dying. I was holding her hand, watching this last tribute from the group that loved her, tears soaking the front of my shirt as I silently and uncontrollably wept.
They asked Grandma what song she wanted to hear and with some encouragement she hoarsely whispered, “Kentucky Waltz.” As they played, Grandma leaned into my ear and whispered that it was weird to be on the applause side instead of the performing side. It made sense. After all, she’d spent most of her life performing, bringing beauty into the world.
Afterward, as the rest of the nursing home residents left, the band gathered a circle of chairs around Grandma and I and sat down to talk. Her dear friend laid her fiddle in Grandma’s lap. “Here,” she said, “I want you to hold this and maybe play it a little if you want.” Grandma didn’t even lift the instrument. I don’t know if she couldn’t or if she didn’t want to hear the substandard sound her weakened arms might produce. Still, it was so wonderful to see a violin in her hands again. My tears which had dried up with the end of the concert sprang forth all over again.
Grandma couldn’t really talk with her paralyzed vocal chords but as her friends sat around her, chatting and catching up, she kept throwing in little hoarsely whispered jokes and teasing them. The laughter that broke through the group with each one was cleansing and fortifying. It felt good. My grandmother always had a great sense of humor. This love of humor was something we shared in common, another string that tied us together. Here, at the end of her life, she used what little breath she had left for punch lines. In the end, that’s what mattered to her. She wanted to make people laugh.
Thinking back on it now, as we drove toward her, my eyes welled with tears and a smile crossed my face. Less than four hours to go.
Please, God. Please bless me to make it in time. Please wait to take her. Please ask Great-Grandma to wait to take her. Just a little longer. Please let me make it in time.
I remembered the last time I’d said goodbye to my grandma. I’d never forget how warm and incredibly soft she was, even in her illness. She has always had the softest cheeks. I told her I loved her so much and she replied in rhyme, “I love you so much too. I don’t know why, but I do.”
I laughed out loud. “I don’t know why either,” I said, “but I’m so grateful that you do.” Then I started bawling.
She took me by the shoulders and looked straight into my eyes. “I’m not crying,” she said. “I’m not crying.”
She was ready to go.
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.