The Afterlife

My grandma told me recently that if this whole afterlife thing ends up being true, she’d promise to let me know. She would rattle some dishes, flicker the lights for me... but I haven’t seen anything from her yet.

About a year ago, I started going to her house every Thursday after work. At first she’d come to the door in one of her soft pastel sweaters with matching earrings, and we’d sit in her formal living room, have coffee and gossip about her neighbors. Beryl’s dog Puggles attacked another dog, but we all know Puggles can do no wrong. Theresa was walking into people’s houses again without knocking. Sweet Marion needs heart surgery and her husband has vertigo and keeps falling over.

One time I knocked on the door and my grandma was still in her robe, no sweater or earrings. She waved me past the living room to the TV recliners, and we watched “Too Cute!” on Animal Planet and decided which puppies were our favorites. She stopped getting dressed for our visits after that, and I made my own coffee.

One day I went over to her house and found her sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. I hadn’t seen her sitting up, out of the recliner, in weeks. She ate a bowl of ice cream. A man was installing a hospital bed in her TV room where the recliner used to be. When he was finished, we untangled the oxygen tubing, wheeled her back to the room, and lowered her into the bed that I knew she would never get out of.

We had talked a lot about what would happen next. Her father was a Catholic-raised Spaniard who walked vehemently away from the church, and while she maintained a much less dogmatic version of atheism, she kept her expectations for Heaven vague and non-committal. She’d shrug and say, “I think when you’re dead you’re dead,” but then would add, “…who knows. Seeing your grandpa again would be nice.” 

We agreed that either way sounded okay. 

Two weeks ago, I sat by her hospital bed in the dark and watched her methodically panting in a morphine sleep, and I looked at the photo of my Grandpa on the window sill. He is young in the picture, smiling in his Navy uniform, and I stared at him and whispered, “Will you just come get her already?” His frozen smile didn’t change. Her breathing didn’t change. 

I suspect that when you’re dead you’re just dead, but it sure made me feel better to say it. 

The day my grandmother died, I walked to the end of my driveway to get the mail and saw a vulture soaring in low circles over the cow pasture across the street. Its smooth, graceful curves in the sky seemed to be calling for my attention, and I watched its entire performance, clutching my mail, until it turned and diminished into a small dot in the sky.


Richmond, VA

Ali Torrence-HaleComment