We had been losing her for years, a piece at a time.
One Christmas morning we woke to the sun piercing the clouds, igniting the ice and snow. We hurried down the stairs, natural light pouring through every window, reciting the routine our family had established for years: stockings, presents, breakfast, relax.
It all starts with our grandparents arriving, thankfully a few miles down the road. The wait was never long, and their presence always helped set the tone for the day.
However, our dad was on the phone. Worried, almost grim. On Christmas?
Macular degeneration, he said. The small issue she had with her eyes had fully manifested today, of all days, and when she woke up, she couldn’t see a thing. She would never again see her family smile over our Christmas routine.
Years later, the doctor gave her a diagnosis that shook her and her husband to their cores: dementia would be setting in soon. Her mind, dagger-sharp with immaculate recall, would soon fade away. It wasn’t until after she passed our dad told us the story of how, once the news was heaped upon them, my grandma turned to my grandpa and said, “I’ve taken care of you for 60 years. Now it’s your turn.”
One day, not shortly after she learned that her incredible mind would start to blunt, she sat down with a pen and paper and wrote her entire history. From birth to now, all jotted down with her tight, elegant handwriting. She was unpacking the ship before it began to sink.
Yet the cruelest bit of fate occurred when some of her last pieces were stripped away.
A lifelong smoker, she had contracted lung cancer in her 80s. It was terminal, they said. I doubt she could hold on to their words, wafting away like so many cigarettes worth of smoke.
We saw her break bones towards the end, nearly blind and with crumbling faculties, but cancer truly caught us off guard. We watched her bedridden, slowly fading before our eyes.
One night we were visiting, and I was told this would most likely be her final days on Earth. I told her of the dream I had, of the boat and her daughter that passed from the same disease that was now taking her, and I wept and I don’t know if she heard but I spoke with such clarity and conviction that I believe deep down that a part of her listened.
What was left of her passed the next morning.
We still use her words most days, and the mannerisms she left behind.
The only pieces left.