We made our way through the hallways of the nursing home, entered a small room, and approached the hospital bed.
“Mama,” my aunt said, “David is here. He came to see you.”
“Hi David,” she said.
“Hi, Nana. How do you feel?”
She was ninety-three and had endured many bouts with death, but now her time was near.
She was a small feisty woman, sometimes clairvoyant, and always full of love, humor, nurture, and music. She had always been poor, yet she was generous. Affection flowed easily from her that could heal people, plants, and animals.
She was motionless, too tired to open her eyes, and her voice was weak. Dementia had set in; however, although she couldn’t remember where she was or who standing at her bedside, her affection still showed.
“Nana,” I brought my two children so they could meet you.”
I held them up one at a time. They were small, shy, and wordless, and she couldn’t see them anyway with her eyes closed.
“This is Jonathan.”
“Hi Jonathan,” she said.
“This is Joshua.”
“Hi Joshua,” she said.
“We won’t stay long, but I wanted to see you and tell you I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
I don’t know how long we stood there. I wanted to tell her over and over that I loved her. I wanted to say I was sorry for not having seen her enough. I wanted her to know my children. And I wanted to thank her….
“We should go now,” I said. “You need your rest. Bye, Nana.”
“Bye-bye,” she said, “It was nice to meet you.”
Was she addressing my children, or did she forget who we were, trying to bluff her way through the end of the conversation?
It was the last thing she said to me.
It was nice to meet you. What did that mean?
When I think of my relationships, it feels like our encounters are very brief, no matter how long we’ve known each other. We meet for a moment and then we move on. Friends move in and out of our lives, children grow up fast, and loved ones die too soon… always too soon.
“Wait… I’m not ready for you to go,” I want to say.
I try to hold onto the moment and make it count. But I can’t slow it down, and I’m always surprised when it’s gone. Grief piles up over the years and weighs me down. Is there a way to be grateful and happy to have had the moments and then move on without such crippling sadness?
Nana survived many hard things. She had nothing, including her memories when she died. And yet she loved until the end. Maybe that’s the secret.
And maybe another secret is accepting that life is full of fleeting moments, and even if we share many of them with someone we love, it’s still brief. In which case, it was good to meet them.