Understanding usually comes last. Anger, confusion, despair, they make their appearances first, sitting in the front of the room eagerly awaiting their names to be called. Then there is grief, a rude houseguest, who devours every item in the refrigerator, stays up late, and forgets to ask if she can bring friends over. She doesn’t bother cleaning up, while she seems inordinately intent on decimating your old way of life. Anger and sorrow are different when they make their unceremonious appearances. While they knock on your door, you're accustomed to welcoming them, just as you would receive an old friend, for that is what anger, sorrow and despair are, old friends. They stay for short periods of time, though they’re always there somewhere in the background, out of sight, but not usually out of mind. Death, before we became acquainted, had been nothing more than a mere character in my late night page turns, something that was only whispered among old friends in rooms that nauseated sorrow and anethstetic. Death was not anything I had encountered before. He found his way into my imagination as a young man with average height, and burly hands with broad shoulders from the weight of the lives he stole. His hands were calloused and his nails were trimmed to near perfection. Though young, I imagine his face to be wrinkled with time, with an ever so slight curve at the tip of his nose and small, parched lips. His eyes were a bottomless pit of sorrow for one so young, as he had suffered through every death just as his people had: the peaceful ones, the violent and even the sudden.
Death has been known to steal lives, and he stole one from me. I answered the call on the third ring, and while its echo bounced playfully across the room, I listened to the monotone complacency in the nurse’s voice, as if this was the 900th phone call she had made this morning. “Hello, this is Nurse Jameson from St. Patrick’s Nursing Home. I called to inform you of the sudden passing of Ruth Piers. I’m sorry for your loss”. Nurse Jameson hung up before the echo had even taken its leave. I lost track of the seconds that passed, but I had no desire to search for them. My body went numb and confusion made its untimely appearance. How could she have died? No other coherent thought could string its way through my consciousness. As if I was looking on from a distance, my body slid down the wall to the scratchy green terf that usually tore into my elbows. I couldn’t feel it, nor could I feel the searing pain my lungs were experiencing because I forgot to breathe. Confusion took its leave just as anger was arriving, but I was too numb to feel it, so I stood up and stumbled my way towards my training bag. My eyes were closed but I felt the friction of every strand of green terf against the rubber soles of my shoes, I felt the soft, rough hairs of the untrimmed carpet as I passed the free weights, and I felt my feet stop when I couldn’t go any farther. I ripped my way through my small, blue, nylon bag, anger finally entering, and I called my mom. “I’m ready to go Mom, she’s gone.”. I continued mumbling into the phone until my mom walked through the door, still in stilettos and a black skirt down to her knees. Her hair smelled as lavender as she enveloped me into her arms. Grief could be perpetually found in every note that would leave my voice, in every inattentive gaze that lingered for a second too long, in the consistent tapping of my knee against the slick, glossy floor.
As we drove, the trees flew by in a blur, anxious to get away. My mom was silent, and so was I. When we drove up to the doors of the Nursing Home, I saw families of four regrettably handing their elderly off to others, but instead of the waiting room, we were brought to a room in the back. A dark, empty hallway led to the flower-filled room of Ruth. As I walked through the shadows, I swear I could see a man with calloused hands and thick shoulders leading a wispy haired woman away, but a second later they were gone. I was directed into the room, and there she was, lying peacefully with her heavily wrinkled eyelids closed. Her delicate eyelashes fluttering every so slightly under the low-powered fan. I swear I could hear her soft heart beating among the silence of my own. Her white, feathery hair hung as a halo around her elderly face. Her hands were clasped as if she was nervous for her journey ahead, and when my mom finally dragged me away, I didn’t resist, I let her steal me away just as Death had stolen Ruth.
The days that followed were filled with dishes gifted full of sorrow and pain, and just a small pinch of happiness. Happiness that it wasn’t their mother, or grandmother or sister. Carnations appeared in her greenhouse, one for every ninety-eighth year of her life. The flowers rooted themselves in her garden just as grief rooted itself within the deepest part of my soul. I carried her around with me, aware of the constant weight that threatened to cripple the legs that held me up. Ruth may have been gone, but grief made sure I would never forget the way she would don blazers in the same way a knight would don armor, or how she would water her greenhouse at ungodly hours of the night, but especially, how she proved that love was not confined within familial bonds. To Ruth, death was just the next adventure, too bad she had to leave me behind for it.