I entered the room today.
The room with the empty bed
Indented by her body.
Just yesterday she was here.
hooked up to a machine
filling her lungs with oxygen
pushing through liquid
Liquid that can’t clear out
because she’s not well enough to swallow her medications.
She’s not well enough.
That was yesterday.
Yesterday when she spent all day struggling
Struggling simply to breathe
Groaning when her caretaker would roll her on her other side
She called for us
Called for us.
And when we came we told her,
Begged her to know it was okay for her to leave
To go with Nanny and Aunt Clara and Flo.
We waited for her to depart,
watched her chest rise and fall
Simply waiting for each of her breaths
That sounded like a final breath
to be the final breath.
We sat outside and group hugged
My mom, my brother, with my father,
tears in his eyes saying he said his last goodbye
and that was all he could say anymore.
He was ready for her to be at peace,
After she had declared she was ready to leave last week
to “go home”
After we brought her back to the house from the hospital.
She wanted to go home.
Here in the living room, this morning
Two days ago, it was Sunday,
My cousin cried in the kitchen,
Alex and Uncle Mark kissed her goodbye.
Saturday, Alex arrived,
She had her flight booked the night before.
It was the soonest she could come.
We worked on a collage to memorialize her school
We painted her nails her school colors,
She said “thank you” and “good things”
and an ounce,
a sliver of me hoped
believed she’d get better.
That maybe I didn’t need to be here afterall,
that in a month we’d all laugh,
And I’d see her over break and we’d go to her school,
And I’d take her to Africa and we’d volunteer in an orphanage there
Just like I promised.
Promised three weeks ago when I came out to visit her on emergency leave
Because I was having mental breakdowns in disbelief that I was going to lose my grandmother
One of my favorite people
One of my most inspiring family members.
My loved, my beloved Scooby.
One month ago, it’s April.
My dad is talking to me on the phone,
Explaining that Scooby isn’t out of bed yet because she had chemotherapy Wednesday-
The words spill through the phone as if I stumbled down the stairs,
Clunking and clanging through my ears,
Like someone banging on a triangle with a cowbell-
Ringing me back to that time in middle school when she was first diagnosed,
When we were too little to really understand
Until she had her stroke,
And her hair fell out,
And she failed to piece together a puzzle the kids I babysat could put together.
But she got better.
It’s April and I’m eating again to cure my worries.
It’s April and I’m having panic attacks.
February and I’m hunched over outside an old school building in Mississippi,
Crying with my mother as she cries on other line of the phone,
Explaining how hard it is to watch the most gentle being in the world
In a hospital because her kidneys have failed her
And she hurts.
And so they read her her book club books,
And she comments on how pretty the nurses are,
And asks her husband if he fed the dogs.
February and I’m crying.
Christmas, and I’m on the phone because I couldn’t be with them this year,
And she’s so proud.
She’s always so proud of all of us.
I smile as she struggles for words and then lands on “good things”,
I smile as she asks about my new job and my boyfriend and Texas.
May, a year ago,
And we’re flying across country so that I can see her hometown,
So I can get to know her better,
So I can build my grandparents a cabin that they can visit and spend the last years of their lives in.
Raleigh, and she’s ill.
We don’t understand it.
She seems okay.
The beach house in Ocean Isle and she’s seeing double.
She’s taking naps frequently, she’s lying around.
Her hands shake with arthritis as she struggles to hold salad tongs,
And I pray that she didn’t inherit Alzheimer’s from her mother.
I can’t bear to see her forget the people who love her so dearly.
April, a year ago.
I tell her I want to make a documentary on her,
I think she’s so incredible.
She seems opposed to the limelight,
But will do anything that will make me happy.
March, and we’re headed to her school.
We make our way to the cafeteria to pass out food to the low-income children.
They beam when she enters,
“Hello Mrs. Robey!” They welcome her with hugs.
“Hello beautiful” “hello handsome” “Good job” she says.
We walk down the halls, and children stare out windows to see her pass.
The teacher noticing the distraction encourages them to wave.
Twenty kids wave.
“Robey” lines the halls,
Images of rattlers and the values of Robey Elementary,
and here was Mrs. Robey,
The Mrs. Robey.
The one in the newspaper and on the website,
And did you know when I was a kid she was president of the school board?
Did you know she was the town’s first female mayor?
I cried as kids hugged her,
Shaking, hoping, one day, maybe I’ll be half the woman she was
For my family, my community, my grandchildren.
March and we’re walking at her school,
April, she walked a 5k with me, but needed to get going so she could see the kids in the choir,
And then babysit the neighbors.
May, and she’s dizzy, but “it’s fine”, Nyx wants to see Virginia.
I vow to spend more time with her in the coming years
We’re in the truck with Frances her sister, giggling as she struggles to climb up a dirt hill on Scooby’s property,
The four-wheel drive trying to engage its full potential.
Uncle Paul says he’s concerned, but Evelyn mentions Paul isn’t doing so well either.
June, and we’re talking on the phone about my bike trip.
September, and I’m calling to wish her a happy birthday from Argyle, Texas.
“Yes, it’s a really hard job, but I’ll be okay- I’m hanging in there,”
October. November. December. January.
“She doesn’t seem all that great, but it’s hard to tell sometimes with them,”
My mom’s voice reverberates through an iPhone as I stay up late talking to them.
February, and I’m in Mississippi, crying, wanting to be home, but wondering if its necessary.
She’ll get better.
March and she’s back home from the hospital.
“Her breast cancer returned?”
“Yeah, no one told you? It’s spread to her b o n e s-”
“It’s about five years with chemotherapy, 2 without,
but Mom and I think maybe she’d enjoy her life more off the chemo-
it really takes it out of her-”
“We just got her a caretaker that she seems to really enjoy,”
“She had to skip chemo this week,”
I’m so scared, I’m crying.
“Go see your grandmother, we have things covered here-”
M a y.
May and I’m on the first plane out when its feasible.
I’m here, and I’m alone.
She’s lying on the couch holding her head.
I meet Leighanne at the door,
she’ll be gone while I’m here.
Cousin Laura from Virginia was here last week, Frances will be here next week,
It’s so great to have you here, Nyx.
Is there anything I need to know?
“You know, just help her on the toilet, she likes to back in with her walker, and watch her on the stairs, she struggles to put on her depends alone-”
My heart races, and the record player stops and rewinds.
She keeps talking but I’m still catching up with the first thing she said.
“You know, just help … toilet… walker… stairs…struggles… depends”
My heart is breaking as I read to her,
Beg her if there’s anything I can do for her,
No, no, I just think I’d like a little nap.
Depends, one foot at a time, Scooby.
I flashback to the camp I worked at for disabled adults.
“Why are your feet so swollen?”
“It’s the… Bill?”
It’s from her kidney failures, he explains.
She walks with her walker scooting across the hardwood into the bedroom.
“When will I get better, Bill?”
” W h e n w i l l I g e t b e t t e r , B i l l ? ”
And we’re in the car on the way to her school, she’s well enough to walk today.
She’s done a lot of walking today, in fact we even went to Chico’s and got her new clothes.
The kids wave and the teachers warn, as the kids hug her, “Careful,” she’s very fragile.
They’re scared, the teachers- I see it on their faces,
And they bring meals at night so we don’t have to cook,
but I want to cook- whatever they want, I’ll make it.
Pancakes, Scooby? I can make your pancakes.
I tell her on the car ride home if she gets better I want to take her to Africa next year.
“But you have to get better, Scooby- we can’t go unless you get better,”
She lights up with excitement and she wonders if she’d be better off of treatment,
“Because,” she sighs “was fine few weeks ago,”
Why? she asks.
I’ve been gone just two weeks.
Just two weeks and she’s back at the hospital.
Only this time, when she comes home,
it will be her last time in a car,
and the last time she comes home.
The call shortened her life from a few years to less than six months.
The text: we’re calling in hospice.
End of life care.
Less than six months.
I cried and cried and cried, in the dorm room next to my teammates’,
wiping away the tears when anyone saw me unable to explain just yet.
Well, if I quit- I can still do these things,
Or if I rearrange my schedule,
Or when I’m on vacation we can drive out there- Or- Or- Or.
I want to come home,
I want to be there-
I can’t not be there-
You’re better off remembering her as she was, Nyx.
I don’t know, honey, if it were my guess, I’d say about two weeks.
T w o w e e k s.
Not months, not years.
Not even with full communication, just until she passes.
Group hug around me in the basement of a home the team is remodeling,
And the words stick to my mouth, unable to release them.
I stop, and cry.
She holds on for her grandkids,
So that she can say goodbye-
So that we can say goodbye.
Crying with the realization that she won’t be there
At our wedding
To hold our children.
She’s in pain.
She’s in pain.
Morphene starts tonight.
Austin flies in.
Alex flies in.
We surround her-
We lay our hands on her, begging of her to release her pain.
She holds out.
It’s Monday and we’re so sure she’ll leave,
So ready for her to be at peace,
To release the crinkle in her beautiful, emaciated forehead.
Her stomach bulges with internal chaos,
Her breast, swollen with cancer.
Her arms, bones, and skin.
Her nails, painted.
A mockingbird flies in through the chimney,
Gemma our dog comes in and gives a sympathetic lick.
The windchimes ring.
The angels are calling.
When everyone was asleep
She transitioned, so that no one would see her go,
So that it would be peaceful and gentle and beautiful
Just like Scooby.
It’s 5am and there’s a knock.
She’s immediately awake.
“Your mother’s passed.”