I walked into the kitchen on Monday and saw the strangest look on his face. My husband Matt was on the phone, and I immediately knew something was up. I gave him some space, hung out with the kids, and waited until he ended the call. We sat quietly on the couch together for a moment, and then Matt tearfully confirmed what I had feared. His grandmother Barbara, our Gigi, had died alone in her nursing home that morning.
We had a sinking feeling that this call was coming, as Matt’s grandma had been on her way out for a little while now. Due to our statewide social distancing order in New Hampshire, nobody has been allowed to visit Barbara this past month. When I heard the news, my eyes welled up with tears over so many things. But the most painful reason was because I ached for my mother-in-law Debbie. After years of caring for her mom, she didn’t get to look into her eyes on that final day and say goodbye to her.
I’ve witnessed firsthand how difficult it is to navigate the journey of an elderly parent in a nursing home, as Debbie has faithfully visited her mom on a regular basis. My mother-in-law was Barbara’s main advocate and loyal caretaker, and her dedication has been unmatched by anyone else. No matter how busy her schedule became or how many obligations piled onto her to-do list, Matt’s mom always made time to be with Barbara. And because of an already traumatic global pandemic, Debbie’s final moments with her mother were robbed from her.
I’ve been with Matt for about six years, and we are each other’s second marriage. Falling in love in our thirties meant that my husband had a whole other chapter of his life that contained a lot of moments I didn’t experience with him. Many of those special memories would have involved getting to know Barbara before she entered the nursing home. When we visited her, our time was often brief, with the exception of when she joined us at Debbie’s home for our wedding. I remember Matt’s grandmother beaming as she enjoyed the party we had after the vow exchange and how she chatted up my own grandma over dinner. Many of our meetings also involved bringing my kids to see her, and Barbara loved letting my four-year old daughter pick out a new stuffed animal friend from her massive Beanie Baby collection that sat on the wall in her room.
Today, a select few loved ones will drive their cars over to a local cemetery and stand at least six feet apart as they each say their goodbyes. Debbie will say a few words to celebrate her mother’s life, but she will make sure not to linger for too long. Then Barbara will be laid to rest, with the minimum amount of people helping to do the job. Masks will be worn. Physical affection will not be allowed. And everyone will part ways as quickly as they joined each other.
When Matt told me about his plans today to attend the small funeral, I immediately shuddered at the idea of him getting too close to anyone else. I envisioned him getting swept up in his emotions and accidentally hugging someone, and a wave of panic rolled over me. This should not have been the first thought to run through my mind after our Gigi’s death. But we are not living in a time where I can afford to get too sentimental. We are existing in a global crisis that requires a sanitized lid to be placed over our grief.
As my husband prepared to leave, I found myself emotional as I struggled with the decision to keep the kids at home with me so he could go. I wanted nothing more than to hold his hand as he said goodbye to his beloved grandmother. I would have loved to sit around my mother-in-law’s house as we ate comfort food and swapped stories about Barbara. It would have meant so much to me for my children to have been a part of this day, as I know how much their Gigi loved them. I know I shouldn’t be selfish when there are others in my family who didn’t get to have the funeral they wanted and needed. But I can’t help it. Coronavirus has stolen so much from those I love this week, and it’s hard to see the silver lining in any of it.
Between the constant stream of news coverage, the sad social media posts that suck to see, and being homebound for weeks on end, my heart has already felt pretty damn heavy. COVID-19 has bled into every single aspect of my family’s life. It has taken precious moments away from us all, as we separate from those we depend on and care for. It has also created a new level of anxiety that sits thickly on top of my mounting mental health struggles.
Rather than avoid my pain, I have decided to let it sit here with me today. It’s the only thing I can do that makes sense right now. I grieve for my husband’s family, and I grieve for the incredible woman who was not granted the privilege of being surrounded by her loved ones as she left this world. I grieve deeply and wholly for Barbara, because she deserved to see her daughter’s loving gaze before life left her body. I do take a little solace in knowing that Debbie’s steadfast presence in her mom’s world was more than enough for our Gigi. Honestly, I’ll take some hope whenever and however I can get it these days.
Matt told me that there are plans to honor Barbara with a bigger event later in the year, whenever the stay-at-home order is lifted. I wish I could say that a proper funeral can be organized sooner rather than later. But we don’t know what is yet to come, and that is a scary, heartbreaking place to be. Life is so bittersweet in this way, and it’s taken me years to be able to embrace both the dark and the light as I navigate my journey. We need to allow ourselves to grieve for anything and anyone we’ve lost this year as much as we need to make room for the bright spots in our day. Our complicated emotions are valid, and they can exist alongside everything else we experience.
As soon as he gets home, I will hold my husband until he lets go. I will let him weep in my arms if he needs to. I will crack jokes if he needs levity. And I will give him the necessary space to help him hold whatever he wasn’t given the chance to feel this morning. I will do what I can with what I have. And that will have to be good enough for now.
I’ll end with the short and amazing eulogy Debbie dedicated to her mom today. These words will stay close to my heart during this turbulent time, and I’ll be hugging my kids a little longer today because of them.
“I am blessed to be your daughter. I was given pieces of you as a child, and I am blessed because they are the most beautiful pieces a person could ask for. As Alzheimer’s took some of those pieces away from you, know that I will always have your pieces in me. Grace, love, comfort, loyalty, joy, and above all else, love of family. I will cherish all the pieces of you.”
Rest In Peace, Gigi.