My grandma was my person. She was not an overly affectionate person. She was regularly exasperated with my lack of polish. She told it like it was. She wore the same perfume for every year I knew her. She was “mama” because she was “too young to be a grandma.” She never came down the stairs without her “face” on. She was beautiful and strong and to me, she hung the moon.
A few weeks before Henry was due to arrive, I opened an email from my grandfather, expecting a photo critique or updates on his tennis game and instead it was a few sentences that changed everything: Your mama has cancer. She is being moved to hospice tomorrow. She asked that we not tell you until the baby was here, but we are running out of time. The doctors say three months.
I was completely crushed. I called immediately the number given to me. I couldn’t even speak around the lump in my throat. I tried to tell her all the things that one says to the person they adore most in the world when they know they will never get to say them again, and I just… could not. HOW do you find the words to tell someone that they are you, that you are you because of them? Even now… I cannot find the words. In typical Peggy fashion, she wanted no part of it. “Stephie, don’t be dramatic. We have months. Just get that baby here safely. I cannot leave without seeing my Henry.”
I think I croaked out a goodbye and I spent the next two days processing, begging God to give her more time, willing my baby to arrive early so I could be with her.
I called as soon as the tears stopped, two days later. The hospice nurses told me she was asleep. The story was the same when I called later that day, and again the next morning. When I was finally able to get through, she was unable to form any words. The only distinguishable piece was “Henry?” and I had to tell her not yet, mama. He’s still inside.
It would be the very last time I heard her voice.
Welcoming your baby when you are losing your matriarch is rough. I poured through the albums of photos she had sent me shortly before, stories behind the pictures written in her script. A life well lived, a woman so well loved. I would cry over them until I couldn’t open my eyes. I just wasn’t ready.
When Henry arrived, I knew it was an exchange. I knew she was waiting for him. I knew they would cross paths. I knew that she would see him safely here, as she lingered in the space between life and eternity. Hours later, the phone rang and I said “She is gone.”
And she was.
And I have missed her every single day of Henry’s life, but I see her in him every day, too. The woman who poured herself into me and shaped me and encouraged me and taught me and loved me so well had given me one final gift when she waited to leave until my heart had the balm of my newest son. I still think of calling her, updating her, hearing her tell me what I am doing wrong (ha) but instead, I am growing into my new role as full fledged grown up. Henry’s is helping me, with a supernatural touch of his mama’s spirit.
Miss you, Peggy.