I sat staring at her for what seemed like hours. I delicately swept my fingertips across her forehead while brushing back the fragile hairs from her face. I watched with a combination of anticipation and relief as her chest expanded and slowly collapsed. The length between each breath had been maxed and I fully expected the next to be her last.
During my previous visit she had managed to mutter “I’ve missed you too.” No four words have ever evoked such immediate and raw emotion. I stood at the foot of her bed and wept, knowing in that very moment that those were the sweetest words I’d never again hear her say.
She was so beautiful. And even as her health declined and her body weakened, not a single wrinkle graced her face. 86 years had been more than kind to her. Time had prepared me as best as it could. The shock from the stroke that rattled the family four years ago and left half of her body paralyzed had worn off. We knew the natural course of life would eventually trump her unbelievable will to live and on September 25, she fixated her eyes toward heaven and accepted that it was her time.
After she passed in the very home she occupied for 41 years, I sat surrounded by my family and soaked in those invaluable hours spent with them without distractions. I looked around at a house filled with trinkets and furniture and realized the only thing I honestly valued were the memories I had made growing up at 189 Cedar Valley Road and the people that shared those memories with me. The Christmases spent with my family by the fireplace. The after church Sunday dinners prepared by my Meme. Playing kick the can in the front yard. Sneaking into the attic with my cousins to rummage through my grandfather’s Playboy collection. Painting my Meme’s fingernails while watching The Young & the Restless. Although the visual didn’t mean much to me at the time, when I close my eyes, I can still see my grandfather sitting on the front porch in “his” chair and my grandmother lounging on the porch swing. None of the things inside the house matter. It’s the time I spent there that counts.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the time we’re given and about how true the passage read at her funeral is: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” – Ecclesiastes 3
Time. It flies. It’s either classified as quality or wasted. It’s money. It’s a teacher. It heals all wounds while simultaneously slipping away. It’s either once upon it or just in the nick of it. Sometimes it’s the the only thing that will tell. We all have a predetermined number of days and with each passing minute we’re one step closer to the second hand clocking out.
Sometimes a life changing event makes us do something crazy. For me, I wanted a daily reminder of where I came from and what I’ve experienced. I wanted to look down at any point during the day and remember a specific moment in time. I wanted encouragement to keep trying and to keep maximizing the time I have left. I wanted something to represent my secrets, my success, my future and most importantly, my family. When my cousin Kristin and I found a tiny skeleton key hanging from a lamp in my grandmother’s house, I knew I had found the perfect inspiration for something as equally as permanent as a memory – a tattoo.
It’s completely out of character for me and yet I don’t have an ounce of regret. I smile because it wasn’t a reckless decision but rather a calculated attempt to never forget what’s important to me. Every time I look at my wrist I think about how tightly I was clinching my cousin’s hand while sitting in the chair and remember an experience I’ll never share with anyone else. I think about my entire family gathered together at my grandmother’s funeral as the dandelions danced in the wind. I remember a house built on time spent together and overflowing with memories. And most fondly, I think about my beautiful Meme and her brutal honesty, her breathtaking appearance, her unparalleled cooking, her devotion to my grandfather, her love for animals and her handmade, homegrown, loving and beautiful family.