Lillian McCarthy

“We’re all just walking each other home.”

Ram Dass

I thought I understood fully what the above quote meant. It’s been just over a week since my grandma took her last breath. She died on a Saturday sometime between 2:05pm and 2:20pm. I know it was roughly that timeframe because my uncle and I stepped out to give her 15 minutes in case she wanted to die alone as one of her doctors indicated some do. I didn’t want to leave her but I did, knowing that she has always been one for privacy. When we returned, it was obvious that she had not. Ever practical, she managed to die during my time off and 45 minutes before my uncle needed to leave for the airport.

Holding her hand in the days leading up to her death, I couldn’t help but feel almost an alignment with the universe—it felt right for me to be doing this as the grandchild. In one of the quieter moments alone with her, I found myself thinking how I wish I could be the grandchild of all of my friends, holding their hand as they die and to be there so they know they continue on.

In the days after, a question kept coming up: did she like mountains, beaches, deserts, or forests more? I couldn’t remember and it drove me wild. What did she think of mountains specifically? Was she drawn to them? Had we talked about this already and my memory was just failing me? I scrolled through the recordings I have of our conversations, angry at first that I hadn’t recorded more before realizing she is the only grandparent I have recordings of at all. Even if I had recorded every second, it wouldn’t matter if I did. It would be too much to go through to the point of meaninglessness and recording doesn’t replace the person. And what recordings I have! I have ones of her talking about her knowing I was gay, her own death, her views on surrogacy (she was such a champion for me), her wedding, her answers to a damn personality test I partially subjected her to, and more. To help whoever is reading this get a sense of her, I wanted to share two clips that bring a smile for different reasons. These are from November 2021 and December 2021 respectively:

Clip talking about her death

Clip talking about her knowing I was gay from an early age

Two days after she died, I drove over with a friend who very kindly flew into town after finding out the news and, after arriving, realized I didn’t have a key to her apartment. I’ve never needed a key. She’s always just been there.

The night before I left Florida to fly back to Seattle, my temporary home, my dad asked when we should leave in the morning. My brain immediately started doing the math of how to squeeze in one last visit with grandma before going. Muscle memory is strong, especially with love. In texting with a dear friend, I described it as spirit memory.

It’s been over a week since she died. A minute felt too long without her. I stayed in the room as the nurses positioned her body having to resist wanting to give her a big hug even while I knew intellectually that she wasn’t there anymore. Without thinking, I exclaimed to the nurses, “she is just the cutest even in death”. The nurses readily agreed and we gazed upon her adorable, tired, and very dead body.

I walked around Seattle today listening to some old recordings like I did during the pandemic when I missed her. What a gift to walk her home. I feared I wouldn’t have the chance and the fact that I did brings me more peace than I can explain. I wear two rings she gave me everyday. My dad managed to capture part of the moment when she gave them to me without much fanfare.

I still feel her with me. I think I always will. In an attempt to console me, a friend texted about how the hardest part of a loss is waiting for the dust to settle and to feel essentially normal again. I started to write out a lengthy response but stopped. I want to be changed by this loss in the same way I wanted to be changed by the pandemic. I don’t want to go back to some mythical normal. I want to integrate this loss into my life. I want to speak of her. I want to feel it and I want to hold the hole in my soul close. I only wish I could talk to grandma about her own death. I wonder what she’d make of it.

Please ask me about her. It might be hard for me to come up with stories on the spot and I might cry for most of any retelling but I want to tell you about her. I want to tell you about how complex, loving, stubborn, protective, passive aggressive, athletic, and kind she was. I want to tell you about how much of the staff from the nursing home where she spent her final years stopped by to say how much they loved her. I want to tell you about how she told me to “be cool” when I told her about meeting my birth mom’s wider family. I want to tell you about how she would curse golfers she didn’t like and how she’d watch every second of a golf tournament. I want to tell you about how much she loved murder mystery books once saying “there’s only so many ways you can get married but there are so many ways you can be murdered.” I want to tell you about how she let me off the hook when she along with my granddad caught me skipping out of a kid’s program on a summer vacation. I want to tell her stories for the rest of my life.


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2 responses to “Lillian McCarthy”

  1. This brought tears. We are all in the same place between life and death. We pass each other without ever being able to “get over there,” to enter another, to meld and fold. So, we come as close as we can, and then, quickly enough, absence. What’s left are remnants that fade in time. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. So sorry for your loss. The sparkle of love and light in her eyes is beautiful. I want to know your favorite memory of her and the most significant lesson she taught you. If you are willing to share.

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