Even in the hospital, my grandmother’s hands are soft and elegant. Long, tapered strong fingernails painted red – and miraculously, the polish doesn’t chip in the least.
Her skin is almost translucent but her hands are still velvety soft. I sat on the bed and gazed at her sweet face, stroking the skin I’ve known for 41 years.
“I love you,” she said, in response to my leaning in and giving her a kiss and telling her I love her, too.
We have always been a family to profess our love – often, frequently, reverently. When I called my brother this evening, after leaving Grandma’s bedside, we talked for 20 minutes – he in Anchorage, Alaska, me in the car with children quiet and fearful of the silence in this gloaming of a life filled with love.
“I love you, Randy,” I said as I hung up.
“Love you too,” he said back.
For all of my 41 years, I’ve been telling people wholly that I love them and they’ve been saying it back. My sister. My parents. My grandparents. My aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings. Friends so dear you can’t imagine life without them.
There are people who don’t feel quite comfortable saying those three words. Whole movies are made on the trippings of people who wait too long to say it, of relationships gone awry because one person couldn’t muster the three all-important words.
When I was an adolescent, I wondered as critically as hormonally-charged youth do, if we said it too much. Did it mean anything, I wondered, if the words rolled off the tongue so freely?
My children peeled off their coats and leaned into Gigi for a kiss and an “I love you.” She lifted off the pillow, her mouth sliding into a grin and said, “I love you too.”
The words were whisper-soft, like her delicate, love-filled hands. But the words held so much meaning and earnestness. We all wear them like a hug.
I will forever wear the imprint of my grandmother’s soft hands and those of my late grandfather, too. His big pillowy hands were always soft and even as a young adult, I loved to sit beside him and hold them. He had the kind of voice that held laughter in it and supreme joy – he loved being a father and grandfather more than anything else. In fact, he held on until his first great-grandchild was born before letting go of this life.
It is so painful to watch a dear loved one decline. Especially someone as vibrant and active and strong and social and incredible as my grandmother.
For 89 years, she led us all with confidence and poise: she’d drop her friends at the door to the movie theater so they didn’t have to walk and park her car, walking herself across the lot into the theater to join them.
That was just a year ago. Tonight, she sleeps in labored breath in a hospital bed.
She is still there, fully, lovely, beautiful. My grandmother. My legacy. The genes that propel me toward strength and confidence and a life so worth living.
Next Friday, she’ll turn 91.