Nearly two decades ago my grandfather was dying, and we all came to Grenada to say goodbye. He ended up living for two or three more years, but every visit felt final. It was about that time that I made a personal pledge to visit him and my grandmother every year for so long as they each should live. And so here I am again. I’ve travelled to the place my parents were born, and I’ve brought a keen awareness of death.
I am here to visit my paternal grandmother. A woman who, in my eyes, is the epitome of joy and love and loyalty. She is the woman who beams when she talks about the fifty-five years of loving marriage she and my grandfather shared until death did them part. She saw him become richer from poorer and pass into sickness from health. She loved him, supported him, and stood by him even in the wake of his past extramarital indiscretions.
This is the second time hello has hung heavy with goodbye. When I last saw my maternal grandmother, I was fairly certain she wouldn’t live another year of life. And while no one has said this is it, this trip to Grenada has a similar feel. Even on the first day of our visit, hello and goodbye felt linked. My grandmother shared many of the life lessons she usually reserves for our final day of visiting—thoughts on family and faith and marriage.
As though passing the baton of love, she asked me to look out for my father. She encouraged me to be kind and generous, giving to those in need whenever it is within my power. She urged me to maintain the connections in my family tree. She told me to save for the unknowns in the future, have a good marriage, and pray daily. She said the sorts of things a person says when they want to know you’ll be okay in the land of the living after they’ve passed away—to give, love, and save—and to do so liberally. She also made a point of telling me to keep my mother-in-law happy. And she insisted (repeatedly) that I buy a sewing machine.
My grandmother has lived through so much that now her death feels both imminent and impossible. She was born to a father who disowned her. She saw monarchy become democracy and both peace and war. She gave birth to two children, raised three, and supported many more. She was the most loving grandmother I could ask for. My life is full of happy memories that she helped to create—her cooking, her singing, her jokes, and our beach days. Most recently, she has survived a massive stroke and more than eight years affixed to her bed—living now much as she must have as an infant, relying on others to be cleaned, dressed, and fed.
However, despite being utterly dependent on others for her care, my grandmother continues to laugh. She is devoid of bitterness despite being bedridden and all that implies: She hasn’t stood in eight years. She hasn’t gone for a walk. Her only departures from her home have been emergency trips to the hospital. The sun hasn’t shone on her face. Rain hasn’t dampened her skin. She hasn’t attended church or visited friends.
Despite all this, she is still capable of caring for others. Despite all this she still wants her garden to be full of flowers. Despite all this, she still has faith and joy. Despite all this, she still regularly recites Psalm 23 and sings the following lines: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise him, all creatures here below. Praise him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
I do not know how much longer my grandmother will live—whether the measure will be in months, days, or hours. But I do know that Grenada will not be the same for me without her. She is part of the reason I love this place so much. She is half of the reason this island feels like home.
I don’t know how to pray for someone who is ready to die. I want her to be at peace, but I also want more time. I don’t know if this is just a dip in her health or her final decline. All I know is that now the two are linked—hello and goodbye.