I know just what you would say.
“Why are you crying? Stop it. This is what I want, remember?” And you would give this little eye roll, maybe an exasperated sigh. But, it is one thing to say – don’t cry – and another thing entirely to keep it from happening.
Our heads and our hearts live in two completely different worlds.
My head knows that you are happy now, when you had not been truly happy for a long time. You are with Bill, your husband, whom you have missed terribly – despite all of your half-hearted grumbles and complaints about him before he died. We all knew how much he meant to you.
My head knows the worst part, though, was losing your independence, and you always were so independent. So full of life with a sharp wit. You spent time with Jehovah’s Witnesses every chance you got just to have a lively debate about God, faith, and heaven. You loved nothing more than a good friendly argument.
And your garden… my head knows how much gardening meant to you. You surrounded your little house with a paradise of beautiful plants and flowers. How you tended to them, always as lovingly as if they were your children.
I can remember countless days coming upon you, kneeling on one of those little cushions, elbow deep in the brush while you weeded and trimmed. A large hat often covered your head to shade you from the sun. But, even so entranced as you were, when Mom and I arrived, you always greeted us with a hug and an offer of something to drink. Bill would be sitting inside, and we would spend a little time sitting with him. But, inevitably we would end up on the back porch on that little swing, looking out at the landscape you were so proud of.
My head knows that after the stroke, you fought. When you lost Bill, you fought. But, when you started losing your sight, when you moved into that nursing home, you lost those integral parts of yourself, those things that made you so uniquely you. When that happened, you gave up, and you were never quite the same Elsie.
My head is happy for you, that you are finally at peace. My head knows you have had a long and full life, that you were more than ready to go home. There is even a sense of relief, because I know you had grown sad and listless these past few months, eating less and less. You were not happy, and, more than anything, I always want you to be happy.
But, my heart… my heart only knows the sudden loss of a close family friend. My mother’s best friend. Someone I loved as a grandmother. Someone I took for granted would always be there.
My heart knows the guilt of a hundred tomorrows. Tomorrow, I will call. Tomorrow, I will talk to you. Tomorrow, I will send you a note, a card, a letter. Tomorrow, I will get to visit home and I’ll definitely stop to see you. You are going through a lot and I should wait until things calm down. Wait until tomorrow, when you settle more into your new life.
Only, you never really did, and tomorrow never really came.
My heart sees only sadness, and loss, and the realization that you are gone. I can only hope that you knew how you were always more than just my mother’s friend. You were family. My family. I’ve lost the chance to say that out loud (and I’ve always been much better at writing things down). But, mostly, I’ve lost the chance to say goodbye.
My heart will always remember the woman with the caustic tongue and the warm hugs. The home away from home where I spent so much time growing up. The bright-floral couch I spent many hours on, curled up, sharing stories and just talking. The back porch and that squeaky, cushioned swing. The plastic goose near your front door that you faithfully dressed up in quaint little costumes for every different holiday and season.
I really loved that silly old goose.
I really loved you.
I hope you knew that, even at the end. Even when I was busy living my own life, several states away. You were never far from my thoughts. You have always owned a special piece of my heart. That piece you have taken with you to heaven, and there now resides a little Elsie-shaped hole.
And so, tonight, my heart cries.
For you, though, I promise to be happy tomorrow.