Yesterday’s post had an asterisk on “..a person they’d just seen.” I forgot, after adding that, to explain it. We took all three girls to visit Daddy Norm (Sean’s grandfather) at the nursing home. We had no idea how much time was left and it certainly wasn’t easy (a 6, 4 and 2 year old in a nursing home at the end of the day) but we did it.
They were gathered around his bed and spilling out of his room. We passed meal carts, laundry rollers and many, many strangers. The girls never blinked. They endured passing through the bracing wind into the suffocating, unfiltered heat and stale air of the building, to the oily air in the elevator all the while wearing their Adirondack bundles. They all but curtsied at the aides and nurses they were introduced to, never requiring us to cajole them. It became clear that they were as tuned in as we were that this trip needed to go smoothly, for someone.
We shuffled into the room, the dingy curtain marking the space between roommates hanging limply inches from him as he lay prone in bed, laboring. Finley went completely rigid, unwilling and unable to enter. “No, want to. No want to be in the room. Right now, no. Please no take me in the room. I want to stay now in the hall. Not. In. The. Room.” I honored her wish, but tried a few different ways of getting her in. Nothing doing.
Ave floated, content to perch at his feet and then flit to the hallway to talk to whoever might be out there, family or not. Finley ultimately assumed a position outside the room, gratefully entering the arms of whichever of us was standing outside. No one pushed, some universal trigger had been loosed and it was simply accepted that Fin was feeling what was happening in the room more keenly than any of the rest of us. I went to stand with Briar and found her completely independent. She stood at his bedside beaming. There was literally a light radiating from her.
“It’s ok. You are ok. We are here. We can stay. You are here and you are good, you are so good. And I can stay or I can come back, but right now we are together.” I stood rapt, her voice assuming a cadence beyond her years, the rhythm of her words soothing us all, while his one good eye watched her. I touched her shoulder, but she was undeterred. “Briar,” I whispered. She turned to me, her pale blue eyes meeting mine, and she smiled. “Are you ok, honey?” I asked. Her eyebrows furrowed as if she pitied me my confusion. “Yes, mama. I am just being with him,” and with that she turned back to him. “I am still here, right with you.”
I collapsed inside myself as I watched Briar draw from a well I never knew she had. She is so much more than sweet. Sitting at the bedside of a man her baby sister knew was dying, she offered everything inside herself and more. I came face to face with more emotional reserves in her than I have and I was not surprised, which shocked me. Right up until the moment we were zipping our coats, she stayed with him. Later, talking to her sister she said, “Ave, don’t worry, just let him be 63 in your mind forever.”
I think that on some level, Briar will forever be 6 in my mind, honoring the life of a 96 year old and accompanying him through one leg of his passing.
Grief shared is half grief; joy shared is double.