Regretting Words Unspoken
This is a short story, but to my best memory - the truth. I will never forget this because it was one of the most painful losses of my life to this day. I loved my Granny.
I stood at the foot of my grandmother’s bed, hiding my frustration with Granny’s condition and the inflamed gall bladder she was scheduled to have removed in the next few hours. My good friend Ryan had come with me to visit; he’d heard me tell all the stories of this great lady and her influence on my life, and he was being a good friend by showing his support. Granny looked at me with desperate eyes, yet still found some way to smile.
“Jason, it’s good to see ya, boy! Get over here and give your old Granny a hug,” she said.
I sent her a grin and then hunched over one of the closest friends I ever had. I held her in a tight embrace, and couldn’t help but think of the last time I’d seen Granny – the Chicago Bulls had just won yet another game, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen at the helm. Granny knew what a big MJ fan I was, but Scottie was always her favorite. I stood back up and looked down and pretended to scold my grandmother.
“Granny, Ryan and I came all the way up here from Erskine because we heard that you’ve been giving these nurses fits,” I said as I winked at my friend Ryan.
Ryan walked up to her and nodded with his usual friendly face, “Nice to meet you…your grandson has told me an awful lot about you.”
She scoffed, “Ha! I bet you didn’t hear about me bothering these nice young nurses. You probably just came to see me because it’ll give you another excuse to get something to eat! Well – go on to the house…I’m sure you’ll find something.”
Ryan and I both could tell she was just teasing, even though I was notorious in my high school days for going around the block to visit my Granny, just to eat an extra supper after the one my mom had already fixed. Granny even gave in and laughed a little at herself. But her short chuckles turned into spasmodic coughs. The color in her face changed slightly, but she still tried to pretend that everything was okay as best she could. The act only lasted for so long. I could tell she was feeling some discomfort, and I gave my buddy Ryan a concerned look. He just shrugged his shoulders as if to say he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. We both looked at Granny, and she started talking again.
“I tell ya, Jase…these doctors, they tell me everything’s gonna be ok – but I just don’t know. Your Granny’s not as young as she used to be, ya know? I’ve just been feeling so awful,” she told me.
I’d helped my Granny bury her favorite pet gerbil and seen her upset about that. I’d helped my grandmother up off the floor when she fell down one time when my parents weren’t around, and saw the embarrassment on her face that I tried to brush away quickly by joking with her. I’d seen my Granny mad at me for picking on my brothers. But I saw something different in my Granny’s eyes that day…fear.
For the first time in my life, I’d seen one of the matriarchs in our family truly afraid, and only being 18 at the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. So I handled it the way I tried to handle anything else I didn’t understand back then; I tried to just brush it off like there was nothing to worry about. I made light of the situation, or tried to, with my words, hoping it would help her feel better. Just about that time, my mother was coming back to the room to stay with Granny. She’d known that Ryan and I couldn’t stay too long because we had to get back for classes at Erskine in the morning. So we’d decided that we’d say our good byes when my mom came back from getting something to eat.
Ryan gave my mom a token hug that none of my friends could get away without back then; she was everyone’s favorite mom after all. Then he looked at Granny and he said, “It was very nice to meet you, Mrs. Fort. I hope your surgery goes well.”
Granny thanked him, and then she looked up at me, that same strange fear in her eyes. Even though something didn’t feel quite right, I laughed it off, and pretended to fuss at my Granny.
“Now Granny, I mean it – don’t you make these nice nurses here make Ryan and me come back here…you behave now, you hear?” I said as I wrapped my arms around her neck tight. Then I kissed my mom good bye, and we made our way back to Due West, SC.
I went through the motions the rest of the night back on my college campus. Ryan and I parted ways and I looked at my classwork from earlier that day. I ended my night the usual way and folded my laundry in my room while I listened to Garth Brooks on my roommate’s stereo; he was hardly ever in the room. Bed time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on my top bunk, wishing I could toss my alarm out the window. I got ready, went to breakfast, and started my day.
About 10:30 AM or so, I had already made it halfway through my second class of the day. I was about to raise my hand and ask my Spanish professor a question about the previous night’s homework, when our chaplain came and stood outside the class. He smiled at the professor, and then made eye contact with me. I don’t know how I knew, but I remembered that uneasy feeling as I hugged Granny the previous afternoon. I acknowledged the chaplain, Jay, and packed up my things in my backpack and met him out in the hallway.
I don’t know if it was that eerie premonition I felt when I last hugged my grandmother and saw the fear in her eyes, or just the connection I could make with a college chaplain and death notifications – but Jay just put a hand on my shoulder and got out the words, “Jason, it’s your grandmother,”- I will never forget hitting my knees, screaming out with a torrent of tears in my eyes,
“NO! God…why? NOOOOOOOO!”
Jay wrapped me into a tight hug, knowing a little bit of my family history and my connection to my grandmother. He helped me get up and we started walking to his office, a short walk across the mall in the middle of campus. We went into his office at Watkins Hall. As soon as we got to his office, he welcomed me in and shut the door.
“Your parents are on their way. They told me you’d take this pretty hard. Is there anything I can do?” Jay asked.
There are times in life when you realize people were inserted there for a reason, and it was this time that I remembered my friend Ryan as being the last friend to be with me while my Granny was alive.
“Ryan…get my friend Ryan,” I said.
Jay knew who I was talking about, and said to wait in his office. Sure enough, not ten minutes later, my friend Ryan walked through the door. Ryan sat beside me, gave me one of those “As close as a Brother” hugs and a pat on the back, and he and Jay sat in the office, and let my words pour out. And man, did I give them an earful.
I told them about the fun times I remember with my Granny, and how we always watched the show MacGuyver, and the Chicago Bulls, and the sit-com Coach! I told them how I would go over to her house in high school whenever I got in an argument with Dad, and Granny would just laugh as I complained about her youngest son. I told them about the pet gerbil we named Jordan, after MJ himself. By the time I was almost finished, I was about to cry again when I remembered how I left things with Granny.
“I can’t believe I didn’t tell her I loved her before we left yesterday,” I said as I looked up at Ryan.
He corrected me, swearing up and down that I was wrong.
“Jason, that’s not true. I remember very vividly, the last thing you said to her was ‘I love you’.”
But I knew better. Although I understood what Ryan was doing, I knew the truth deep down in my heart. I had ended my time with my grandmother in words of jest. What was I thinking, not saying those simple words, ‘I love you’?
And to this day, it’s been one of my deepest regrets.