Thursday, November 10, 2011

Saying goodbye and letting go

Sam has experienced loss before. For months after the loss of my mother, Sam approached her chair and questioned, "Nana?" But at 4½, it was impossible to explain that she had left us.

Three years ago when he lost his paternal grandfather, Sam was far more aware. We considered including him in the services, but for many reasons, the time wasn’t right.

Last month we were faced with another goodbye, this time to Sam's paternal grandmother, known to Sam as Granma.

Like most grandmothers, she loved Sam as he was, rarely raising an eyebrow at his occasional peculiar behavior. After she suffered a stroke and struggled to communicate, they seemed to connect perhaps more, sharing bright smiles at each visit. 

As she began to fail, Sam continued to visit. On the last visit, he seemed to understand the serious nature, sitting quietly and watching. As we left he smiled at her, kissed her cheek and said goodbye. 

A half hour after we left, Sam’s Granma was gone. 

As plans for the services were made we discussed Sam's participation. As her only grandchild, we struggled how to include him in a meaningful way. How much was enough? How much was too much?

Finally, we let Sam decide how much he could do. We didn't know what to expect and the fact is, he surprised us.

Sam intuitively knew just what to do at the wake. He stood for three hours with nary a break, solemnly shaking hands with each person paying their respects. Offered the chance to leave, he responded firmly, "No. Stay." 

The morning of the funeral, Tony selected pallbearers. Needing one more, he looked to Sam. "I think my mother would really like that. Do you think he can do it?" 

Somehow we both knew the answer: for Sam to say goodbye, we needed to let him go; to trust that he could do what was required of him without us at his side to guide him.  

We gave Sam some quick instructions and nervously left him in the hands of the other pallbearers. Sam stood patiently until it was time to help the other pallbearers. We watched his grave expression as he exerted the necessary effort to lift the heavy casket into the vehicle. 

At the church Sam walked, tall and handsome down the isle, escorting his grandmother one last time. He stood mostly quiet throughout the service; a very difficult task. At the end of the mass, he joined the pallbearers to carefully lift his grandmother for a final drive. At the cemetery, he guided his grandmother to her place by his grandfather, placing single rose on her casket. Quietly he said, "Goodbye, Granma."

Later Sam summed up the events in his unique way:

Go to hospital. Granma she went to heaven. 
Go to the house. White house. See bricks. Say goodbye Granma. Go to church. Sing the songs. Be very quiet. Amen. Carry the big, heavy basket. Go to the country. Carry the big heavy basket. Flower. Say goodbye, Granma.

I hope his Granma was watching; I hope he made her proud.

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  1. I had to come to the library today to get out of my house b/c of the construction, and here I am weeping! I hope no one asks me if I'm okay...

    That's so beautiful. Really lovely. Thanks for sharing that, Janet. He's so succinct and I can imagine she wouldn't be proud.

  2. Beautiful post. My condolesceces on your loss.