Back in July at our Pax family reunion, my grandparents were sitting on one of the blue cabin couches next to each other, soaking in the family togetherness and the chaos that goes with it. Grandma has been increasingly forgetful in the last few years and conversations sometimes looped back around to where they started or sometimes took unexpected turns.
Toward the end of the day I think she could tell things were winding down (or was she tired and wishing it were so?) and she announced to us all in that way you do when you're hoping to shepherd everyone to the door, "well, we wish we could invite you to our farewell but we don't know when it's going to be!"
Today I came across that line on a running list of quotes and memories on my phone (because I'm also a little forgetful at less than half grandma's age). I've been thinking of my grandma almost non-stop this week. She had a fall and things have been painful and complicated. She doesn't want any extraordinary measures, she's stopped eating, and she wants everyone to stop praying for her to get better. She wants to go home. As in Home. She seems to be inviting us to her farewell.
To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, I know it may sound greedy to want more days with a person who lived so long, but the fact that my grandma will turn 96 this week does not diminish, it only magnifies, the enormity of the room whose doors seem to be quietly shutting.
So it's a tender, bittersweet time unfolding there in that hospice and in Paxman hearts wherever they beat. Shirley's children are taking turns at her bedside and in support of their dad as their parents' paths, at least for now, seem to be diverging for the first time in over 75 years.
When the song How Glory Goes came up on my playlist last weekend, it was a poignant, close-to-home tear starter for sure. Written by Adam Guettel for his musical Floyd Collins, it's based on the real life account of a man who became critically, mortally trapped in a cave. While people work to try to save him he realizes death is imminent and wonders aloud about what the afterlife will be like:
Is it warm? Is it soft against your face?
Do you feel a kind of grace inside the breeze?
Will there be trees?
Is there light? Does it hover on the ground?
Does it shine from all around or just from you?
Is it endless and empty and you wander on your own?
Slowly forget about the folks that you have known?
Or does rising bread fill up the air
From open kitchens everywhere?
Familiar faces far as you can see, like a family?
Do we live? Is it like a little town?
Do we get to look back down at who we love?
Are we above?
Are we everywhere? Are we anywhere at all?
Do we hear a trumpet call us and we're by your side?
Will I want? Will I wish
For all the things I should have done?
Longing to finish what I only just begun?
Or has a shiny truth been waiting there
For all the questions everywhere?
In a world of wondering, suddenly you know. And you will always know.
Will my mama be there waiting for me,
Smiling like the way she does,
And holding out her arms,
As she calls my name?
She will hold me just the same…
Only Heaven knows how glory goes,
What each of us was meant to be.
In the starlight, that is what we are.
I can see so far…
I'd like to vote for all of the above, if anyone's taking requests. I'm quite certain there is a chain of mamas and sisters getting ready and waiting for Shirley, even while a chain of us here gets ready to say goodbye, the going and the glory both extending in symmetry and celebration of one extraordinary and beloved Shirley Brockbank Paxman.