We thought we were prepared. My Grandmother was a victim of Alzheimer’s for five long years. She’d been moved from assisted living to the nursing home after it was decided she needed additional care. Now the time had come for us to say our final goodbyes. The family visited the night before she passed; sitting around telling stories to the empty shell of a woman we loved.
We hated the disease, hated that it had taken everything away from her. The laugh, the importance of family, the strange dance she did when you left her house, and the wonderful food she prepared.
Her own home had been sold years earlier to pay for the needed move to the assisted living facility. The precious keepsakes she’d collected over the years found homes with various members of the family. Antiques were divided up and what was left over went to auction. She had enough to live the rest of her days with the best possible care.
On the day she died, my mother was tending to the necessary tasks associated with the death of a loved one. I offered to go to the nursing home and collect Gram’s belongings, hoping to ease her burden.
As I entered the building, several of the aides came up to talk to me about my Grandmother. They’d known her since she first came to the facility and couldn’t help but share stories about her wonderful spirit. One laughed, mentioning that on Wednesday mornings Grams was the first in line for her weekly hair appointment and perm. She was always a strong woman with strong opinions, but even that was something the nurses would smile at and gently shake their heads.
I walked into her empty room. The bedclothes had been washed and placed in a large black trash bag. Her clothes and toiletries were carefully tucked into her battered light blue suitcase. I looked around the room. This was all that was left.
A lifetime put into a trash bag and a suitcase.
Tears stung my eyes as I lifted the containers to leave. An aide stepped in to see if she could help. I held up the luggage and said, “No, I’ve got it. This is all that’s left.”
“And her spirit.”
“Her spirit?” I asked.
“These are just things,” she said, pointing to the bags. “Her spirit, your memories. Those are the important things that will be with you for a lifetime.”
The bags felt lighter as I left. The woman was right, these were just things. What my Grandmother had left us was worth more than anything one could buy, worth more than earthly goods.
When I got home I walked in and my family asked, “Is that all there is?”
And I answered, “No, not at all.”