A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes. –Mark Twain
I expect sunsets. On the days with no clouds or on rainy days, I want the sky to have rich colors. I challenge the sun to be bright and glorious when I’m getting off work on the 12th floor of a building downtown and to still be rounding over the hay bales when I get back to the farm.
And I expect autumn. All year, I wait for it–the branches getting undressed, dropping everything they have, being so perfectly bare. Even when they are losing what is most attractive about themselves, I am startled by what still stands.
When my husband’s grandmother was only expected to live a few more hours, I left work at the firm to meet Benjamin at NHC. Anytime someone in my life has died, I haven’t had a chance to say any sort of goodbye. This time, I filled the hour-long drive watching the leaves fall from the trees and the sky turn pink and purple while I conjured words to say when I arrived.
Ms. Katharine was a woman I’d known for a short five years. I met her in November of 2008 after dementia had taken most of her short-term memory, but she remembered my name and associated me with Benjamin until the last year or so.
At 92, Ms. Katharine was able to attend our wedding in 2011. In her prime, she had owned a wedding boutique called “Katharine Reed Bridal and Formal Shop,” so I’m sure she felt at home with brides. I had woven a veil from her shop into my bouquet. She attended not only as the grandmother of the groom but as one of those regal, silver-haired ladies with impeccable taste in clothes. She said something about not trying to outshine the bride, and we both laughed as one of my favorite photos from that day was snapped.
A year later, Benjamin and I bought the home George and Katharine Reed had shared for more than 50 years. Though I didn’t know her as long as most who love her, living in this woman’s home has given me such an intimate perspective of her and the amount of care she put into this place.
So, I wanted to tell this woman when I arrived at her bedside how much I admired her taste in clothing and decor. I hoped to promise to maintain her once-perfectly manicured flower gardens. I felt desperate to tell her that all her care for detail was not in vain, that the farm was not just a farm but a fine example of country living. I planned to explain to her how Benjamin and I would continue using their home–our home–to host company, to shelter those in need, to share food and laughter, and to love everyone.
Walking to “Grandmama’s” room felt familiar from the times we’d visited her in assisted living, the hospital, and there at NHC, but the atmosphere in Room 508 confirmed that things were as we had been told. She lay quiet, eyes closed, slightly twisted in the bed.
“Hey, Grandmama,” Benjamin said boldly.
“Hey, Ms. Katharine,” I followed.
Then we sat staring at her for a long while, an hour maybe. Besides the nurse coming in to check on us, all was silent. In the end, I didn’t say what I had wanted to tell her. Though it seemed limited, the currency of time was actually on my side, and it felt more honorable to simply live my thoughts than to say them.
Katharine Reed was the mother-in-law to my mother-in-law, molding what her daughter-in-law would be to me. She was one of the most influential women to love my husband before I was around to love him myself. At 95, her life was complete. It was full of kindness. She had truly cared. She had more virtues than vices, and in my life, I could ask for nothing greater. As I had expected the autumn sunset on my way to her, I had expected the call that she had left this body and world. From experience, I was ready for the sadness of it, the grief of a family of friends, the resurfacing of life questions, and the tearful recollection of memories. I even readied myself in the stance of continuing a legacy. What I wasn’t prepared for was the endings–of a day, a year, a life–to have such beauty.