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Shianne Henion | April 19, 2022

It’s six in the morning. I sit in the hospital in a daze, unsure of what’s happening. But I know then, that she’s going to go. A wisp of life carried away from me, gentle. A butterfly going south. I sit with my family, our skin a yellow porcelain under the fluorescent lighting. We pick on the shitty paintings, pointing out that what’s abstract is really just a blob.

“But art is subjective!” It can still be bad.

We go to Dunkin’ for coffee and breakfast. I am trying to stave off the nausea. The one that is eating away at me. I buy a chocolate croissant and can barely chew the crunchy flakes, can barely taste the chocolate.

It hasn’t sunk in yet, I tell myself. Somewhat shocked that I am still smiling and laughing. I talk about Gingie Wingie and Tater Tot, listen to the dirty jokes. But what we don’t say is what hangs over our heads. The storm cloud gathers, and we know it will rain soon. We know we should get our umbrellas and our raincoats. Yet, we can’t. We choose to hold on to what’s left of the sunshine. We choose to ignore the warnings. Life is like that, I suppose. All about choices.

I can still hear her voice in my head, talking about the most mundane affairs. The snort before she laughs, the sound she makes before she gets sarcastic. The look she gives to Pop-Pop when there’s an inside joke or a conversation the rest of us don’t get. I can still remember the smell of her hair, unable to place the exact scent other than just “Nana.” I loved to run errands with her, sit in the back of her Honda CR-V and then her Subaru Forester, talking and laughing. Kathy’s Tea Cozy was an every Sunday Affair, eggs and bacon sprinkled around the table. Coats and purses hanging off chairs and fresh coffee pouring into white, stained mugs.

It is hard to sit beside her bed and watch her lie still. It is hard to see her so quiet. It is hard to imagine that those precious moments with Nana are now nothing but movies in my head.

“Remember when?” All the time.

It is hard to sit and watch the red, plastic rosary rest on top of her body, to sit and pray with a priest who never knew her. It is hard to even think of God at a time like this. Nana would have laughed at how ridiculous that was, and maybe she would have laughed knowing I put the rosary in my hand and left with it. Maybe she would have understood. It was the last thing she ever touched.

From left to right: Lorraine, Shianne, Richard, and Keira.

We gathered around her as the doctor pulled out the life support tube, turned off the machines that fed her air. Nana’s heart rate dropped then, eighty-eight to sixty in minutes. Fingers ran through her rich, brown hair as words of comfort were murmured into her ear. We all sat there and stared, overwhelmed in our silence. Uncle Peter listened to Nana die on speaker phone. The blanket was moved to cover up her feet, then tucked into the crook of her neck. A single tear, holding so much within it—words, feelings, and memories… a person’s life gathered into a liquid bead—started to trail down her cheek. And then it was wiped away and her eyes were shut. It was the only thing she could say to us. It was the first time I saw Nana cry.

I tell my friends. I tell Instagram. I tell my car and the steering wheel as I coast down highway 17, the potholes that threaten to pop my tires. I shout it to the stars, alerting them to make a nest for her, to welcome her like a newborn. “Take care of her,” I say. “Make sure she tells you if something is wrong.”

I can hear her voice in my head, soft as a lilting breeze. Daisies, lilacs, and tulips. The bed of them hugging the side of her house, how they colored the grass with their petals. It was the way she reminded me of spring. How had she felt so eternal? Like something that always returns to you. How is she gone, now? To know that it had been so long since I heard her laugh, to know I would never hear it again. That is how I know.

But maybe there is a secret here, one I get to uncover by searching amid the foliage in her backyard, climbing atop of stones and leaves, placing my palms against the trees, pretending I was lost in an enchanted forest. Maybe there is a secret about life within those pieces of things that keep the earth turning. Maybe if I go back to those branches I would see her from the kitchen window. Or on the porch. Though maybe I’m being hopeful in a finalized hopelessness. Maybe I am too lost among the weeds to believe in the rebirth of flowers. If I try hard enough, maybe I could will her back.

Lorraine Schaad-Norkin

June 15, 1952- April 17, 2022


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