About 4 minutes after my Granny died, we ran out of things to talk about. It was an awkward situation. We were standing around in the den that she had inhabited for at least the Nightly News for at least the last 60 years. Now she was inhabiting her beloved den postmortem, on a hospital bed that took up the entire left side of the room. No more Brian Williams ever again. No more Granny…ever again.
My aunt and uncle were already in the next room making calls. The younger ones (me, my brother, my sister-in-law, my few dear cousins) were in shock and saddened and…couldn’t think of anything to say. She was still there. Her face and her arms and her chest that no longer made the underrated up and down motion. What would our first words be without her in our lives? What would be the first topic of conversation in this new post-Granny era? We held each other’s hands and looked into each other’s wet eyes for a few moments before looking back at Granny who was already gone…already so far away from us.
It was my brother who piped up first. Though for the life of me I can’t remember what he said. The next thing I know we were talking about hookers.
Okay, maybe we weren’t talking about hookers, but I remember making a joke about one-night stands where people get paid. I think my cousin, Zac, asked about my current boyfriend. And I might or might not have said “Well, he’s great. He’s tall, foreign and the check comes every Monday.” Not a great joke. Not memorable and certainly not appropriate. No one laughed but I remember a couple of pity chuckles when my Aunt Gail walked back in the room. She went over next to Granny and took her hand.
“Hi Mom! Everything is going fine. We’re calling all the people on your list. We love you and we miss you already.”
A bit strange, yes. But we all grieve in our own way. Some of us talk to the dead, some of us take jabs at prostitutes. My Aunt Gail was about to head off into the next room when she looked at me and said, “The hospice nurses have been telling me that hearing is the last to go. So keep talking to her. It takes about 12 minutes.”
Now, this raises several questions. I had always imagined that the whole point of being dead is that you’re dead. The brain stops working. It stops telling your lungs to fill up with air, it stops telling your blood to flow. It stops raising questions about your granddaughter’s choice in boyfriends. (Yes, the tall foreigner was at one time married. And no, he had never shown me the divorce papers; which my Granny requested several times to be notarized and faxed to her). Also, where was the proof for this argument? It’s not like you can interview dead people and ask them what’s the last thing they noticed about being dead. Point being, I couldn’t quite believe that the ears were last on the list to go. That being said, I unwittingly pictured Mr. Scott shutting down the various engines of the Enterprise.
Imagine it as I did. The ship is under attack. The red lights are blinking and women and children are making their way to the escape pods. It’s the Klingons of course. Greedy bastards, coming out of nowhere with their invisible ship. There are white shards of light flying everywhere. The camera shot is shaky and sometimes out of focus. Cut to Mr. Scott. Scotty is bracing himself against his little light board thing that gives him control of the entire ship’s engineering system.
“Aye Captn’. The bridge is down! We have lost control on the mainframe. She’s bleedin’ to death Kirk!! Our defenses are shot! Wait, wait…somethin’s comin’ over the audio frequency. Seems like…wait!!…this can’t be…seems like a bit of awkward banter…CONFIRMING the fact that the granddaughter does in fact know what sex is and…I can’t tell right now, sir, but it seems like she did in fact have it!! UNWED! And if I’m translating correctly…she was a prostitute!” One final blast throws Scotty to the ground and then an outside shot shows the Enterprise explode in a blaze of great light.
After my aunt left the room, we were all silent once again. I didn’t necessarily buy it, but…BUT…any words that might be spoken suddenly gained an extra half pound per syllable. What if the hospice nurses were right? What if, though dead, my Granny could in fact hear our conversations? And it was these last words that would send her into everlasting peace? My Granny was a good, Christian woman. She did not believe in cursing. She did not believe in drinking. She did not believe in smoking. She did not believe in sex before marriage. She barely believed in sex at all. It was a tricky audience for someone like me. A smoking, drinking, sex-having, unmarried non-Christian who had a bad sense of comic timing. Needless to say, I was the one to break the silence. I went to my Granny’s side.
“Hey Granny……..How’s it going? I’m good. It’s all good. You did good. Greg and Gail are making their calls. It really was a very elegant passing. I mean, you were there so…all news is good news.” I looked around wildly for a bit of back up. My brother was staring at me in a way that suggested I might be making an unforgettable mistake. I tried to recover. “I was joking about that whole hooker thing. I’m not a hooker. I’m gonna stop saying the word hooker. I don’t even know what a hooker is. I heard something about it once. I had to google it. I freaking LOVE church!”
I don’t know what my Granny heard last before her ears shut down. But here’s what I imagine. Though I don’t remember the exact joke, I imagine she heard it. And I imagine she laughed. I imagine that she understood that two women could adore Christ and previously married men with a comparable sense of humor. I imagine that she heard my voice. I imagine she heard my brother’s voice. I imagine she heard the joy we had left over, and it padded her brutal last moments.
But, the truth is I have no idea what it is like to die. I have no idea what it’s like to try to hear the last thing you will ever hear. But I know this. She knew me enough to laugh at my crappy joke. If not for her, for me. For the sake of the moment, she would have laughed.