Thursday, March 1, 2007

Final Good-night

Today, I'm writing about when Grampa said goodnight to Gramma for the last time... and I'm writing about their last kiss... and the last time he saw her.

The morning of January 31st, she stayed in bed while he showered and shaved. He came in to get her up, and kissed her on the forehead. I've seen these moments in years past, when I would pretend to be asleep between them. He'd bend down, stroke her hair so softly... then he'd kiss her forehead and whisper, "Mornin', ma..." and then go downstairs to eat. This morning wasn't any different. Except it was their last kiss.

They left my house at about 12:45, maybe 1:00... they went to wendy's to eat, and decided they would skip going to Penny's to buy t-shirts for grampa. A couple weeks before, I had taken pictures of the bald eagles down on the river. Gramma wanted to see it for herself, so Grampa took her down to the park before leaving for home. They watched, and she counted 31 of them. They left town...

About 2 miles out, the road begins to wind. Around the first left hand turn, and you pass a greenhouse on the right. At that point, Grampa looked over at Gramma in the passenger seat. The van they were in was the first brand new vehicle they'd ever purchased. Grampa insisted they pay the extra money to literally surround the passenger (normally Gramma) in airbags, to keep the love of his life safe. When he looked over at her, she had her head back on the headrest, and her eyes closed. He says her face looked so peaceful, and she seemed to be sleeping soundly. He glanced only briefly, but it was the last time he saw her alive. The picture will be burned forever into his memory, I'm sure. The next turn, combined with snow, rain, ice, wind, and a milk truck took her from us.

Because of the fact that Grampa was in the hospital for several days, her visitation didn't happen until February 6th. It wasn't as bad as I'd expected... I mostly got to sit with my knee propped up, and my best friend from school was there - she got there early, and left late. What a wonderful friend she is... I wouldn't have handled it very well without her.

After everyone left, we ("The Family") had some time alone with her. Grampa wanted us to have pictures with her - And, not because we wanted to, but because we love him, we did as he asked. Last of all, he wanted a final picture of the two of them. I took it, and then he turned to tell her goodnight. That final picture, the one he doesn't know I took - I hope it turns out. The expression on his face, the tenderness in his stance, all of it was there.

First he looked at her for a while, and whispered... I'm pretty sure the words were "I love you... I'm so sorry." All of me wanted to go to him, comfort him, but I knew that what he needed was to have these last few moments alone with her.

Finally, he reached for her hand, but seemed to pull back at the last instant, and settle for simply caressing her skin. It was covered in makeup to hide the bruises, but he didn't see that - he saw the hand he'd been holding for over 50 years. He stared into her face. I'm sure they did the best they could, but the morticians didn't have her looking anything like herself. It was like she'd had a really bad facelift. The makeup to hide the bruises was so thick, it looked like she had tiny pieces of tissue paper glued to her face. Her eyes looked like they'd been stretched all out of shape, and were slanted up... in short, it looked NOTHING like her. But I guess kindness, love, compassion - those things can't be seen on a dead face. After staring a few moments, he turned to me and said "She looks just like she's asleep... so peaceful." Then he turned back to her. Stroking her hair, like he'd done so many mornings, he bent and kissed her forehead. He cupped her face, and whispered, "Goodnight, Ma. I love you. I'm so sorry... so sorry. You're so beautiful... I miss you." Tears were flowing down more than just his cheeks. He kissed her again, and said "Goodnight." That, more than anything I've witnessed myself, spoke of what love is supposed to be. To look at what was left of her, and say she was beautiful, and to bring himself to touch her, and even kiss her - the most moving, sweetest, saddest, best and worst moments of my life. And it made me realize that I've never seen, never heard, never read a sweeter love story.

The next day, we put her body into the ground. After everyone else had left, and my husband and I, the other grandkids, and their children were all that remained, grandpa stroked the casket as gently as though it were her face. He softly whispered "Goodbye." And walked away, alone. It was cold, below zero... snow was blowing in a clear sky.

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