So it's been over a month now since my last blog, and by now, most of you know why...
It was July 6th...
It was my oldest brother's, Pete's, birthday. I called him, left him my annual personal birthday song on his machine, and wished him well.
And then for the first time I was going to rehearse my lines with a friend...I was to make my debut as Aunt Toniann, in the successful, Off Broadway play, My Big Gay Italian Wedding on July 15 & 16th. I had a lot to do: memorize my lines, learn 3 dances and 2 songs...all in a week!!
It was a beautiful afternoon...I was indoors practicing my lines, and the sun was shining brightly, reminding me that it would be so sweet to allow the sun to beam on my face. My friend came over as promised, and we rehearsed for about an hour, when I got a phone call from my older sister, Gina. "Judy, Grace is in the hospital...she was having trouble breathing...I don't know what's going on..." Since I'm in New Jersey and it would take a little time to get there, I suggested to her that she call me when she got to the hospital and let me know what's going on. I hung up the phone...and then I called back. "Gina, if it's serious, let me know and I'll drop everything and go to the hospital...either way I'll be there tonight." I hung up and continued going over the songs and my lines. Gina called back. "Oh, my God, Judy...get here quick...they had to revive her and they said it doesn't look good."
I threw whatever on, and ran out the door. Got in my car. When you know it's serious for some reason it seems everything and everyone is moving so slowly. I was speeding down the turnpike, telling myself not to drive too fast so I wouldn't get into an accident or get a ticket. And two exits before the George Washington Bridge, I got a feeling in my gut. She's gone. I know it. I knew it. How does a person know these things? I'd heard the stories on tv before, but I swear I felt her gone. And my cell phone rang. It was Gina, my sister. "Judy. She's gone. She's gone. She's dead."
I wanted to pull over, but I kept driving. Oh, my God...did I hear her right? Grace is gone? One moment she was here...bam, she's gone - just like that in the span of 2 phone calls. Holy...I just kept thinking, 'Grace is gone?' There was so much to do. Oh my God...I have to call my brother and tell him on his own birthday that Grace is no longer with us?! I called him, I told him, and ironically, he said he knew it too...he got the same feeling I did. He was recovering from hip surgery so he couldn't even get to the hospital. And then I had to make a very difficult phone call. I had to call my father. I had to tell him that his first born child was dead. How? He was just shy of 80 years old...
For reasons I cannot understand or even explain to you, the one detail that made it most difficult to tell him was that he and Grace had not spoken in YEARS!!! I have struggled with telling you this big detail because it is very personal, because I don't want anyone in my family feeling like I am exploiting them, and because I don't want my sister's memory tarnished in any way. We have different mothers, Grace and I, and I don't want her mother upset either. BUT. But, I feel very strongly about people learning from others' circumstances, and if I can help people make up with relatives through this story, then so be it.
"Papi, how are you? I don't know how to tell you this, but I have very bad news. Gina called me a few minutes ago, and told me that Grace has passed away."
"No, Papi, Grace."
My heart was in my throat and my stomach was killing me.
"What happeneed? Should I come to the hospital? Where is she?"
And I heard a vulnerability in my father that I never knew existed. It was the voice of a father who wished he could hold his daughter. I told him I was on my way to the hospital. I asked him for time. I told him once I had all the information I would tell him. And I hung up and got to the hospital.
I had guilt. I wondered if I should have just tried to get to the hospital sooner. She died alone...none of us got to her in time. Ironically, it was just like her - she was indeed a loner. Don't know why, but she was a woman of solitude. And then I went through my memories with her. They were all good ones. I just wish we'd been closer. she was a bit of a loner, but she was tough as nails, stronger than any heroine in a novel I'd read about. I loved her. I love her.
I got to the hospital. I hugged Gina and my nephew, Joshua (Grace's son left behind) and then we went to see her & say goodbye. I have to admit, I cannot stand seeing someone who's passed. I'm sure no one does actually, but to me, the person is NOT there anymore. Why even look at the body if the soul is no longer there to bring it light? But for some reason, I touched her hair, and it was so soft. Rest, Grace. Rest, sister...no more pain for you, no more torment, no more grief, no more drama, no more sickness, no more disappointment...just light, God's light, God's love..and that gave me comfort. But I cried...I cried.
I had to pick up my father and his wife, and by the time we reached the hospital, her body had already been moved to the morgue. No one should see anyone in a morgue...it's just so clinical, so impersonal...it was not good. But he wanted to see her, and I felt he had that right. I warned him, but he didn't care..he wanted to see her, to touch her. And I won't say more...I want to respect my family's privacy, but the thing that bothered me was that there was an odor that was with me all night: in the hospital, in the car, on my clothes. It wasn't the smell of death - it was the smell of a whole bunch of stuff that tries to mask that there is death and I think it was just as bad.
After the storm, the sun will ALWAYS follow.
It's been a month and one day since Grace's death. Her memorial service was beautiful - we released purple balloons for her & I gave a little speech. You see, we aer not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience. And while we are in this school called Earth, we are tested, we have trial and tribulations...and when we pass, we graduate. I explained that we should see Grace's death as her graduation back home to heaven with God. And then we released those balloons and I felt hope. We all did.
I'm happy to report that my father and my siblings have all reunited...mutual apologies have been made...so Grace didn't die in vain at all. In fact it was through her passing, that there was some healing in my family. I am so proud of them, and Grace, I love you always!!
Time is SO short, it really is. I know we say it so much, we are immune to the words. But oh, my God, really, in one phone call...life changes, and suddenly someone is no longer here on this earth. So please, if there is someone who you are not speaking with...the anger is nothing compared to the guilt you may feel if you don't fix it NOW. Don't allow pride to keep you angry. It doesn't have to be perfect again...but try. You can apologize...so what? Just do it. Please. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound! I love you, Grace! Watch over us, please, we really need it!!!