Reflections on Grief, Death, and Life

18 Hours

The following is the beginning excerpt of a personal memoir text, written in March of 2019, two months after my grandmother's death.


That was the time on the tv clock. That was the only moment I looked up at the tv clock. Before and after that, time did not exist. There were moments, experiences, but all outside of time.

Really, that whole day was outside of time. A day that felt like a year. A day that vanished in an instant. A day that changed everything.


I was lying on the bed next to her. Holding her. Imagining her holding me. But she was asleep. And then she was gone. And I don’t know exactly when that happened.

I remember getting up several times to check the oxygen machine, then to check her breathing, then to check the machine again. Turning the dial up. Turning the dial down. Not knowing what was her breath and what was the machine.


The time was important. I was insistent on that. She died on January 5th. And the time was 11:44pm. Maybe it wasn’t. But that didn’t matter. It needed to be 11:44pm. Because that was the only time I knew. That was the only time I looked up at the clock.

The nurse came after 1am. To officially declare her. She was going to report the death as occurring on January 6. I was insistent. That was incorrect. It was wrong. She could not make that the official record. Because I was going to remember this date. I was going to honor this date. This date needed to be the real date. Officially. There could be no discrepancies. 11:44pm would be the time. She agreed.

I woke up that morning, having only slept a few hours. But I woke up with a bolt – wide awake. I picked up my phone and looked at it blankly. Two seconds later, a call was coming in, silently. “Your grandmother had a hard night,” she said. “I think it’s important for her to see someone familiar,” she said. “She kept talking about how scared she was.” “You should come in as soon as you can,” she said.

I was up like a bolt. Clothes were on in an instant. I appeared in my mother’s room. “We need to go.”

I was pacing in the kitchen. She was showering. Getting dressed. Doing her morning ablutions. “We need to go.” I said. I couldn’t stop pacing.

“I’ll just go ahead.” “No, wait for me. Let’s go together.”

I knew I needed to be there. I needed to be there now. No time to waste. No time for ablutions. No time to wash my face. I needed to be there now.

When we got there, she was sleeping. It was calm. The nurse was sitting in the corner, charting.

My mother suggested breakfast. I told the nurse to call me at the slightest change. We would be only 5 minutes away. My phone was on. “Ok.” She said.

I couldn’t find parking. I started panicking. “I can’t do it. I don’t need breakfast. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”

I circled. I panicked. I circled some more. I yelled at an innocent woman in a car. “My grandma is dying today! I can’t listen to you!”

The waitress was kind. It felt exceptionally kind. Love and warmth that I needed so badly. Maybe she was an ordinary waitress. Maybe I needed love so badly, I saw it in the ordinary gestures. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

I thanked her for being wonderful. I told her my grandma was dying.

I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t eat. It all felt surreal. I was antsy. I didn’t want to be at the diner. I wanted to be back at the house. I needed to be back at the house.

I knew. Some part of me knew. But how?

The nurse called me. I couldn’t even hear what she said. It didn’t matter. I just said “I’m on my way” and I bolted. My mother wrapped up the pancake for me and gave it to me as I rushed out of the diner.

When I got there, she was still sleeping. There was no emergency. The nurse just called me to say that they were changing the medication routine and she wanted to fill me in. Nothing urgent.

Didn’t matter. I was back at the house. Back in the room with her. I felt calm again.