Her Name Was Hazel
She never liked her name. I think that Hazel is just like any other name, made beautiful by the person to whom it belongs. My grandmother made it sound like a songbird. Grandmom claimed that she didn't have a creative bone in her body, yet she possessed a deep appreciation for artistic talent. She marveled at the beauty of flowers and birds, hung original paintings on her walls and was in awe when she heard someone singing. Prayer was Grandmom's second language. It flowed from her mouth as surely as her own breath. Grandmom even prayed for and forgave those who terribly wounded her. She was a brilliant light in the darkness and her love spread to everyone.
As my grandfather and I drove to see Grandmom in the hospital a few weeks ago, I held his hand and prayed for him like he and Grandmom had always done for me. He thanked me and told me how blessed he was to have grandchildren with a strong faith in God, adding that I really should keep both of my hands on the wheel while I'm driving. We thought that we might lose her that day, but Grandmom fought on. We visited almost daily together during the month of February. The was beautiful even laying there in her hospital bed. Her smile still lit up the room. I often fed Grandmom during those times and she seemed to eat well for me. I saw "The Circle of Life" spinning around and around so clearly as I spoon fed both my youngest niece and my grandmother in the same day. Grandmom was moved into a nursing home for hospice care after being released from the hospital for the second time that month. Grandpop moved in with her. He made sure to tell each hospice care staff member and anyone else he met these two things; that he is blessed (which often leads to him sharing his faith journey) and that he is only there for his wife. He told them that at 94 he is healthy, mobile and perfectly capable of living on his own. It's true. He is in good health. My grandmother on the other hand was fading.
This past weekend I had trouble sleeping because I wanted to be with her. It was more than just that. I had an overwhelming desire to photograph my grandmother and I was especially set on photographing my grandparents holding hands just as I had done on their 65th wedding anniversary six years ago. On Tuesday, I met my friend Meghann for lunch and brought my camera with plans to stop by Grandmom and Grandpop's place afterward. As we were finishing lunch, Mom called to tell me that Grandmom had passed away in her sleep. My one regret ate away at me. I didn't make it in time to photograph them. Meghann encouraged me to take my camera in with me anyway when I went to the nursing home, and told me that maybe it wasn't too late.
I walked into my grandmother's room to find her laying on her back with her hands crossed over her chest. She didn't look much different than she had the last time that I saw her. But, her wedding rings were missing. When I last visited, her frail fingers had grown too thin for her rings and her diamond dangled loosely under them. My mom was now wearing the rings for safe keeping. The curtains in grandmom's room were opened and revealed the row of cards that had been sent to her. A cup of red jello with the foil pealed back and thickened cranberry juice sat on the bedside table beside her, as if they were waiting there for her to wake up and take another taste. I tenderly pushed her pure white hair from her forehead as I did so many days before. This was usually followed by me saying, "Hi Grammy", and kissing her on the head. I think I may have mumbled it again this time too.
After a few minutes, I walked out into the living area to gather my camera and bring my grandfather back into her room with me. I told him that I needed to photograph the two of them but that if he didn't want me to that would understood. My grandfather sat down on the mattress beside his bride of 71 years and leaned delicately in toward her. He rested is right elbow on the pillow above her head and put his left hand on top of hers. His grip tightened. I took a few photographs.
As I did, I realized that I didn't need the actual photograph of my grandparents, hand in hand. I just needed to see her hand in his, to observe him holding onto her one last time, to burn that memory forever in my mind.
In the next room, where my grandfather slept, my mom and aunt were already making funeral arrangements. It's strange how things are "what they are" and "just the way they are". In this case I questioned why we have to move so quickly, why we don't allow ourselves the time to grieve. I tried to join in the conversation that they were having in Grandpop's room, but there was a peace in the room next door that was pulling me toward it like a powerful magnet. I could not separate myself from it or find the strength to pull away. I slipped back into Grandmom's room and let that quite peace embraced me. There was something very comforting and reassuring about standing by her. It was where I needed to be. I would have liked to pull up a chair and sit for hours at her side, just like I had done when she was still alive. If I was alone with her I think that's what I would have done.
Later, I stood leaning against the kitchen sink in the living area where I could see both bedrooms, Grandpop's room on the left and Grandmom's on the right. Grandpop was hunched over Grandmom's bed now, wiping his nose and the spots of food that were stuck to Grandmom's teal turtleneck with a crumbled tissue. He cared for her well. Somehow he looked smaller than he had a few days before, much older too. I couldn't take my eyes off of either of them. I watched, broken hearted, hoping to absorb even one tiny teardrop of Grandpop's grief to help lighten his burden.
I would absorb an ocean of tears for that man if I could.
The time came for her body to be taken from us as well. Our family there said our last "goodbyes" and began packing up Grandpop's suitcase with clothing and framed photographs for his extended stay with Mom and Dad. I walked him out to his car to gather anything that he would need from the passenger side glove compartment for the coming week. He didn't really need any of it. He just needed time. Grandpop was leaving his car at the nursing home and driving with me. I sat down in the driver's seat next to him, looked into his eyes and asked if he was ready to go. At least that's what I meant to ask. Instead, I believe that I said, "Are you ready for this." It was a heavy question that I didn't expect to come out of my mouth, let alone expect him to answer. I wrapped my arms around his waist, burying my head into his chest and breathed a prayer. He followed my lead and prayed after me. At "Amen", we pulled away and drove off. At that moment, life without our beloved Hazel Marie Troilo began.
Grandmom & Grandpop's 65th wedding anniversary