Despite what their names suggest, beginnings and endings are fluid. Nothing ever really begins…or ends.
Today has been a bit of a landmine of emotion. My grandma turns 87, just two days after being put on hospice. The symbols of her beginning and end being so close to one another is not lost on me.
Similarly this afternoon, my husband and I had a chance to take the kids back to our first home, almost 12 years to the day we moved in, and 8 years to the day we moved out. Again, the timing was not lost on me. It was the place where my daughter Grace spent the first two years of her life, and a house my son Michael never knew. Much of it was exactly as we had left it, down to the paint on the walls. It made me homesick, wanting to go back to those moments in my life that had passed. How easily I could put myself right back there…remembering how the boxwoods smelled as we worked in the yard…reading the Sunday paper while having breakfast in the tiny dining room…putting groceries away in the cramped, galley kitchen…seeing a toddler-sized, fluffy-haired Grace sitting on the floor of the living room watching Sesame Street with toys strewn around her…
Then I turned around and saw the reality of now: this beautiful young woman with feet bigger than mine, who had no real memories at all of the house, despite the fact that I could picture her in every single corner of it. And next to her was this 6-year-old boy with kangaroo legs, sliding around on hardwood floors his chubby little baby knees never crawled on. We moved out of that house so we would have more room to bring Michael into our lives. How odd to be standing in this place with him where he never existed, if only in our dreams for the future.
It almost took my breath away how quickly life had changed in a matter of 8 years…how, standing within those walls of our first home, it felt like the beginnings of our marriage and parenthood seemed like yesterday. Yet a second later, it felt like a lifetime ago as I gazed upon my kids, who didn’t fit in this house at all: one because she was just too grown up to match the memory, the other because he was simply in existence. All the longing to be back in those days for even a moment vanished, for I realized my story couldn’t have gone the way it was supposed to if we hadn’t left that house. And leaving wasn’t really an end, but a beginning of something new, something better. Moreover, I discovered how easily I could make what was over seem like it wasn’t.
I hope that is what is happening for my grandma right now. It is as if her dementia has her in a state a bit like the one I was in as I walked through the rooms of my old house. She is living in moments of her life that are over, moments where sometimes her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren don’t even exist. Then every now and again, she is jarred into the present. Despite her failing condition, I would like to think she has points of clarity when she knows we are all here, that the way her life played out was good. Very good. And just as my husband and I will one day have to leave the house we live in now, the one that will always be known as the place where we raised our family, my grandma is facing another move…her final move.
I believe within the deepest chambers of my heart she will be moving on to a place where she doesn’t ever have to nostalgically wish to live in a moment that has passed, or feel as if life is being lived too quickly. She can be cognizant of every person she has loved. She can walk the rooms of any house she ever adored, sit in the desks of any school she ever attended, eat at any restaurant she ever held special, and sit on any Irish hill she ever dreamed of…all at the same moment. She won’t have to experience life in one-second increments. She can be in all the moments, all the time. Her end here with us will be the beginning of hopefully everything for her.
In a word, it will be fluid.