She’s Going Home by Chris Fleming
She’s Going Home
By Chris Fleming
It was her third surgery and her last. I stood above my grandmother, watching as machines breathed oxygen into her once healthy lungs while the monitors kept track of a heartbeat that wasn’t really hers. Inside the sterile intensive care unit, my grandmother lay lifeless while outside my father waited to say goodbye. My flight to Chicago was leaving in three hours and it seemed hard to believe that this was going to be the last farewell I bid my grandmother. It was only yesterday that she was sitting upright in her hospital bed, in all her glory and strength, as she had for the previous seven months after undergoing triple bypass surgery once, twice, and now an unsuccessful third time. She was a strong woman, always positive and always there for anyone who was in need.
After her third surgery that morning, the doctors told us that she didn’t make it, that there were complications, and that she was brain dead. There were only a few hours left before her body would shut down entirely, and now it was kept alive by machines. The only sound in the room was coming from them, the only movement from their mechanics as they pumped their fluids and oxygen into her seemingly soulless body. Could this really be my grandma?
Our conversation just the day before had been short. She held my hand and said, “Chris, I want to go home. I can’t take this anymore. I have lived my life and I have done enough. Do you understand? I am going to give up.”
I reached for her arm and held it firmly. “Grandma, don’t say that. You can fight it, you can make this. Don’t be silly.”
“I don’t want to anymore,” she replied.
When she said that, I flashed back to years before when my grandpa on my mother’s side told me two weeks before his death that he would be leaving and that I needed to take care of my mom. He said it only to me, not to anyone else. It wasn’t until I got the call two weeks later telling me that he had died that I would realize what his words really meant. Now, years later, another family member chose to tell me it was her time. I understood what she meant.
“Then Grandma, will you visit me? Will you let me know you are okay?” I asked.
She stared at me, puzzled. “What do you mean?”
Having grown up like the little boy in the movie “The Sixth Sense,” understanding that our soul lives on, leaving our bodies behind, it made sense to me to let her know that her grandson, someone who had a lifetime of experiences seeing ghosts, understood perfectly and was here for her whenever she needed. I thought I should at least let her know that I would be receptive to her giving me a sign, but I quickly realized that my experiences were my own, not hers, and some things were better left unsaid. I knew, though, that I had to say just one thing, so I did.
“Please let me know you are okay, Grandma, please,” I said.
With a puzzled look, she changed the subject and asked me to look after my dad as if I had suddenly become the parent and not the grandson.
I hugged her, told her I loved her, and thanked her for all the years of joy and love she gave my sister and me when we would spend weeks with her in Montreal, Canada every summer. Those memories from my childhood were the most fun I will ever remember. And then I left.
My father and I didn’t sleep very well that night. The following day, as I stood there beside her bed, I asked my dad if I could be alone with her for just a minute. Granting my wish, he left the room.
I stroked my grandmother’s hand and whispered, “Grandma, I know you can hear me. I know you are here. I feel you, I sense you. It’s okay. Let go, Grandma, let go. Dad will be okay. I will be okay. Thank you for everything.”
As tears streamed down my cheeks and I tried desperately to remain strong, I realized that not only was I losing my grandma, I was losing one of my best friends.
The room was silent, save for the synthetic breath of the machines. I looked around, up toward the ceiling, and stifled my emotions as best I could. I leaned over, kissed my grandma on the cheek and said, “Grandma, It’s okay. Let go. But before you do, give me a sign that you can hear me so I know you will be okay.”
Hearing nothing, I leaned back and stood up, and as I looked down at her fading and near lifeless body, a sharp sound blared from a machine and my grandma’s body sprang upright toward me. Her eyes opened up as wide as could be, her mouth opening in a deep loud inhale, and she looked at me, raising her right arm toward my chest, our eyes locked in an almost soul to soul bond. I jumped back, startled, but also transfixed as she exhaled and fell back down to the hospital bed, eyes closed and lifeless once again. I screamed for the nurse. Instantly, my dad and the nurse raced in.
“She opened her eyes and reached for me,” I yelled. “She inhaled. Inhaled, Dad!”
“Impossible,” the nurse said, as she checked all the vitals, rushing around the room looking for signs of life.
“You must have imagined it, Son,” my dad said.
“No, Dad, she reached for me. She opened her eyes and looked right at me, as if giving me a sign.”
“Son, please. You must have imagined it. The doctors said she is brain dead. Tell my son,” he pleaded with the nurse.
“I’m not sure,” the nurse said. “You must have imagined it or maybe the body had a spasm or.”
But I had stopped listening. I turned and walked out. I knew what I saw and I knew what it meant. It wasn’t meant for them. It was meant for me. My grandma gave me the sign I needed.
My dad took me to the airport and I spent the entire time thinking about that last moment with my grandma. She heard me. My grandma heard me. It was her time.
Later, as I opened the door to my house, I heard the phone ringing. I dropped my keys and suitcase and ran to the phone. My father was on the other end.
“Son? Grandma passed away. They just took her off the machines and I thought I would call to let you know. You don’t need to fly back for the funeral if you don’t want to. I will take care of everything.”
As I hung up, I got on my knees and cried one last time but, deep down, I know that with that last impossible breath, that no matter where she is now, no matter what she may be doing, she let me know that she was truly going home. Little did I know that years later she would make her presence known again when I would need it most.
For the past thirty years, I have looked at life from many different angles and experiences and realized many wonderful things about life after death. Sometimes, we become selfish and want people to live and remain with us because we will miss them, because we wonder how we will get on without them, forgetting and not understanding that we are all here for a reason and for only a very short time. When our time is up, we have to move on and venture home to a better place where all things we have forgotten become known to us once again. The greatest gift we can give someone is love, allowing them to be who they are and allowing them to move on. For when we hold someone back, it is not in their best interest but for our own selfish reasons. Sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is just let go and let them be free. Then and only then will they be at peace, and in a way, so will we.