But what my grandparents taught me was not about the importance of a long marriage, but rather, the importance of love. The kind of love that moves mountains, the kind of love that saves you, and yes, the kind of love that knows when to let go.
The last few years of their marriage were not easy. My grandmother suffered from dementia, and as time continued on, her mind began to deteriorate. Slowly at first, then swiftly, as she lost names and the ability to dress herself. Once, I stayed with her in the evening because my grandfather had to be somewhere, and she pleaded with me to take her home. We were at her house, but this wasn’t what she meant. She wanted to go home; to the house where she grew up because she insisted that her parents and sister were waiting for her. I didn’t know what to say, and I knew that telling her they were long dead wouldn’t matter, so I suggested we go for a walk. We walked past my aunt’s house, and she told me her daughter lived there, and asked if I knew her.
This loss, this absence of my grandmother was heartbreaking to me, so much that I couldn’t imagine my grandfather’s pain. Yet, he was there for her every day, wanting so much for the day when she would turn her sparkling blue eyes on him and remember, remember everything that they had once had. I don’t know if she ever did, but I do know that she once wrote him a note thanking him for taking such good care of her, for being her special friend. She wrote that she loved him. He still has the note in his wallet.
Toward the end, my grandmother was very ill. She eventually lapsed into an unresponsive state, but she continued to hang on, despite the odds. See, every day, my grandpa would visit her and every night, as he left her side, he’d tell her to get well. He’d tell her that soon, she’d be able to come home with him. Until one night, when he said, “Nancy, it’s okay. You can let go. I’ll be okay without you.” The next morning, before the sun was even close to kissing the sky, she let go.
I’ve thought of this story so many times, and it never fails to give me chills when I think of her selflessness in hanging on for him. And of his, in telling her it was okay to let go.