For Maggie

Dear Maggie,

I was going to write you this letter before you passed. I guess I didn’t prepare myself.

While I was here I tried to remember you as you were at the dinner table, Jeopardy playing in the background, each of your confident answers punctuating the air. I used to think you were the smartest woman on the planet. There wasn’t a date, historical figure, pop-culture reference or place you didn’t know. And you never patted yourself on the back, even when you won more money than any of the other contestants.

When I heard that they had moved you to hospice care I found myself back in the hospital. You, in one of those egg-shell smocks; The TV going but I can’t remember what’s on.  I’m watching a neon line bounce up and down in a syncopated march across a screen. The nurses are laughing behind their desk. I’m thinking how strange that is. You, re-adjusting your oxygen mask as it pinches your face and forces life into your lungs.  How can anyone could find laughter in a hospital?

Two days ago marked my first whole month in Ecuador. Like all my family and friends you were like a ghost here, noticeable in the strength of both your absence and your presence. I thought about what you were doing in your day-to-day, whether you were still reading, whether you still insisted on cleaning the dishes after dinner, whether you got around to painting the wall in the dining room. I couldn’t have known. I didn’t ask. I think I was afraid to speak to you, to write this letter, for the same reason I was afraid to hold your hand that day in the hospital. A pulse or a word can make everything real.

I wanted to keep you at that dinner table. I wanted to keep you at Stonyford, in a fold-out chair with a Dick Francis novel in your hands. Or, I thought I wanted to keep you there. In retrospect everything seems perfect. I didn’t hide from you for years. As a kid I didn’t scrub eyeliner from my eyes until they felt raw before coming over for dinner. I didn’t wait to come out to you (on accident) for ten years. I didn’t insult you in the process.

In all honesty I wish we’d had more time. I wish I had written this letter or said these things before you passed. All of these things don’t change the fact that you are gone and that I will miss your funeral.

You always liked to travel. The last dinner I had at your house I looked up at the fridge and all the magnets from different places you had traveled. You used to have a little straw hat with pins too. For me, mourning is when you notice that someone isn’t there in everyday interactions. Like, you pick up the phone to call and remember that number doesn’t work anymore. Every Wednesday I will remember. I imagine that in 6 months this will really hit me, a sort of delayed mourning. But I’ll try to be present in everything I do here and imagine you’re there, behind me, whispering all the right answers into my ear.

Love, your grandson,