My grandmother was raptured two years ago today, the day of the 2011 end times prediction. I wasn’t given much notice to her sudden passing but I managed to make the 700-mile drive to her side while she was still somewhat lucid. Her last moments of coherency occurred as I held her hand as she sat in her wheelchair, insisting on getting her hair styled one last time. During the salon session she slipped in and out of consciousness, nodding off, causing the nursing home hairdresser to take her hands away and ask me constantly if she should continue. It seemed frivolous, but if it’s a dying woman’s last wish to get her hair curled, how do you deny her?
Grandma opened her eyes in a sudden moment of clarity and turned to me. Her face held the expression of panic, terror. She said, I can see them. I asked, who? She said, her brother, her father. I said, they aren’t with us anymore, grandma. They aren’t here. Her eyes glazed over and she looked beyond me, fixating on the wandering souls of her long-dead family members that had apparently just joined our company.
She died a few nights later. We got the call unceremoniously, sitting at the kitchen table of my high school best friend’s parent’s house, picking raisins out of a bowl of luke-warm bread pudding. My parents were with me. It was my father’s mother, but my own mother answered in her best no-funny-business Doctor voice. The three of us left abruptly, mid-conversation, the bread pudding largely uneaten. I was spared the raisins. In the car I hoped my parents would take me home as they would have when I was younger, to perhaps also spare me the uncomfortable confrontation of my young and naive invincibility with sudden death. They didn’t.
The nursing home always smelled like a sickening mixture of artificial sweeteners and uncontained bodily fluids, like terrible Thomas Kincaid paintings and wallpaper plaster. The door to her room was opened and the lights were awkwardly dimmed to romantic-dinner setting levels. It was difficult to see anything which was probably for the best, but you could smell the release. My grandfather was holding her hand, crying. The first perverse thought to pass through my mind was we always thought he would go first. The second was interrupted by my mother, who said to me in an aside, don’t they look so waxy as soon as they’re dead? It’s true; perhaps it was the low-light ambiance in the suffocatingly tiny room, but there was nothing left of the person occupying the bed at that moment. Her mouth hung pulled open by gravity, her eyes gaping blankly at the checkered ceiling tiles. She appeared incredibly thin. It’s amazing what breathing does to give a person’s body volume, mass, weight. I lingered for a few minutes before leaving to sit underneath one of those nice Kincaid paintings and to get a heavy dose of wallpaper plaster scent to clear my mind.
I left at dawn. My aunts couldn’t decide on who was giving the eulogy and were busy having passive-agressive disagreements about other things that didn’t seem to matter as much as my grandmother being dead. I had promised my grandfather I’d play my violin at her funeral, and he said she would have appreciated that very much. Instead, I got into my car at four in the morning and attempted to drive back to Montana.
Wyoming was flooded, the interstate closed off thirty miles from my destination, and I was forced to take a 7-hour detour. My car nearly ran out of gas and I had to ask a skinhead in Lodge Grass how to get back to the highway, the entire time staring at a swastika tattooed on his bicep. I drove 14 hours through eastern Montana, urged on by nothing besides caffeine and an intermittent AM country radio station. When I finally made it to Miles City, I cried over a salad inside of a Wendy’s.