“Just a week or two, maybe less,” I heard my doctor quietly tell Gillian. She walked him to the door, wished him a good day, and came back to me. “You heard that, right Mom?” she asked, sniffling, holding the embroidered handkerchief her grandfather gave her when she was just a tot. And what a bright, energetic girl she was. She grew to be so accomplished. Married well as the old saying goes. Made me a grandmother to three amazing people. Now I leave her as a grandmother herself. The years, so many years flew by. Whoever thinks of getting to this age, of seeing so many changes in our world, our country, let alone our own lives, our own bodies?
I raise my right hand and give her a thumbs up. It’s the only way I have now of
communicating. How surprised would she be if she knew how much talking I do in my head. My Granddaughter Gabby, Gillian’s youngest, knows how to have conversations with me. She has ‘the gift’ and caught on really fast.
“I’m going to make some lunch. Gabby will be over later. She has some exciting news to tell us. Maybe she got that promotion. Guess we’ll see.” And off my dear daughter goes. It wasn’t easy after my last stroke to say yes to Gillian and move in with her and Thomas, but the house is big enough that I still have plenty of time to wander. Yes, I know you’re probably wondering how someone who only has a week or so to live can go wander. Funny story …
One day, oh so many years ago, Dee (my chosen sister) and I took a drive to Bodega Bay, our favorite spot, to just explore, walk the beach and visit our best-loved secondhand store always filled with treasures. After our usual breakfast at Angels, a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant that, true to its name, had pictures and tchotchkes of angels everywhere, we walked to Thrifters. As soon as we entered, the owner Breenie greeted us like long lost family. Conspiratorially, Breenie grabbed my hand, “Have I got something that came in yesterday just calling your name.”
She knew us well. Sometimes we’d joke that we put her son through college: we were always coming to her store. From behind her desk, she pulled out a picture. “I kept it aside, hoping you’d be in soon. You must have heard me calling you in my mind.” She smiled that all-knowing kind of smile and handed me what seemed like a regular picture someone had painted of the beach in an old oak frame. It was pretty enough but nothing special—until I held it. That’s when I knew it wasn’t just any old picture—it was speaking to me. I heard the waves coming in gently on the shore, smelled the saltiness of the ocean, heard the whales calling, the sand shifting from the wind. Oh, yes, this was definitely mine.
And now here it is, hung right in front of my bed. Gillian wasn’t sure why I would want “that old thing” as she calls it, and she may never understand. Luckily, Gabbie has already claimed it as hers for she knows that when I look at this picture, I get to go places, wander the world.
Now with the quiet surrounding me—with my time being what it is— I look at this picture, my old friend, and in just a few short breaths I am back on that beach in Bodega Bay, letting the wind blow my hair about my face that is once again young. The whales call out their greeting as I walk closer to the edge and look into the waters, seeing the reflection of my face and the sky. I lift my arms up, feeling the ease with which I can move, and give thanks. Everything, including me, feels new and wondrous … the sun, the water, the birds, the air. I take it all in and feel my being called to another time, another world.
I have learned so much in this life. The hard times— those times that brought me to my knees, that made me scream for help from God, from Spirit, from something to get me through—and oh, how thankfully I learned to yield to those times— to let those moments that felt like a lifetime wash over me, burn away the rough edges, heal the wounds, and bring me to a place of center. Learning to love, learning to be loved, feeling the miracle of love. What a gift to find a kind, patient, open heart. To follow the unknown. To take the risk and open a door, though scared, to see what was on the other side. Of being given, no—of unearthing—the strength to jump into the abyss and find me, find the stranger I was, and love myself fiercely. I give thanks for all the many discoveries I had, the surprises, the richness of being alive, and for that undercurrent of vulnerability that allowed the full me to be seen and heard. As I continue to stand looking into the waters, I know I am holding vigil for myself, for what is to come—the something that I have wanted for forever—to know what is after life, what is on the other side.
I listen, for I know there is much to hear, that I am being called.
And I am ready
Patricia R. Antolino was born and raised in the Bronx in the 1950s. A self-avowed hippie, she couldn’t have asked for a better time to grow up. The civil rights movement, protests against the Vietnam war, and the women’s movement kept her engaged and solidified her desire to bring peace and remembrance of our connection to each other. After she retired, she moved to Tampa where she considered herself lucky to connect with Marilyn Myerson’s Imaginative Writing Group, and became a member of her “Crew.” Patricia’s lifelong desire is to bring hope, joy, and a smile to those she meets and through the stories she shares.