Holding Space

old diaries
I would like to share a moment that has stayed with me, and will forever stay with me - a moment, I feel, pertains to the work we have done this semester. It is about my own pondering of death, understanding of grief, and capturing of love. It is a declaration of sacredness, and also devastation. So much of chaplaincy is about holding space, feeling and seeing sanctity, and finding that space to feel beloved, to be held, despite the overwhelming devastation that is often found in this life.

I spent the last weeks with my grandmother, Teresa before she died. It was unexpected, random, sudden. It wasn't exactly peaceful in the sense that we were waiting for her death because we knew it was coming soon. There is something so discomfiting and eerie in being witness to death's arrival, in sitting at the bedside of someone who might at any moment, slip away. And the strange lapses in between when suddenly things seemed promising – she's drinking juice, speaking coherently, trying to sit up. It felt like we were in a liminal space – Teresa, more than anyone else – but it made me hauntingly aware of life as a timeline, as a liminal space itself, as solely the in-between of two ends.

Teresa had horrible Alzheimer's disease. It is sad that the bulk of my memories of Teresa are from when she was sick. She was an entirely different person when she got sick, but she never lost her gentleness, and that is what I have always remembered her for. I remember her being so delicate and graceful in the way she placed pottery around her home, and spooned milk over each part of her cereal so that each piece was equally saturated. Before she got sick, she was an intense woman – devout, spiritual, observant. She was deeply intellectual, and a beautiful writer. Her and my grandfather loved each other dearly. They built a beautiful home together that they planned to stay in for the rest of their lives, but they had to move to be closer to my aunt when Teresa was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

I went to the hospital most days that Teresa was there. My mom stayed with her overnight every night, hardly leaving her side beside to get a breath of fresh air, or something to eat. My mom is the most selfless person I know, sometimes to the extent that she seems to forget about herself entirely.

Sitting beside Teresa in that hospital bed was incredibly intense. It was constantly weighing on me that she didn't know something that we all knew. I wrote down some of the things Teresa said as I sat beside her. She wasn't usually coherent, but there were these strange moments of lucidity. At one point she said, “what stage is it,” to which my mom replied “what do you mean?” Teresa chuckled, and responded “you're just ordinary people.” And once, “we live our lives,” “ someday I'm going to write a letter.” She used to sound out the names of the doctors written on the whiteboard in front of her hospital bed. She wasn't interested in TV. Sometimes we would play music for her, and she would start dancing a little bit, moving her shoulders. She always called out for my grandfather.

I remember at one point, she closed her eyes and looked like she was somewhere else, mumbling something here and there, deeply pensive wherever she was. She opened her eyes suddenly and said “this is strange," latching onto the sides of the hospital bed and stretching her body, pointing her toes. She used to do ballet and yoga, and she never lost her grace. She said something about her father on his knees, and she mentioned god, and not wanting to speak to her best friend again.

When Teresa came home from the hospital she was put in hospice care. My whole family spent time together in that house while she lay in the living room, in a cot under the windows. Under the bed, was a red Persian rug. My grandfather and Teresa loved those rugs. There was always at least one in every room. Hanging on the window above the bed, was an L for ‘Lou' (my grandfather) and a T. My mom taped two postcards to the window because Teresa always loved art. I remember seeing my mom kneel over Teresa through the window one night when I was leaving. It looked like a scene from a movie - an outsider looking into the interior lives of a family through a window, seeing both so much and so little at the same time.

That room holds a space in my mind. I associate space with memory — it is the container of a memory after all, the setting in which the memory was transcribed. In that room, I wore blue jeans and a yellow tank top as I knelt over Teresa to say goodbye. I have never uttered the word "goodbye” and meant anything more than “I'll see you at some point, or if I don't, I know you are there.” This time, it meant goodbye for good. I tried to press my feet more firmly into the carpet this time; plant myself there, and feel myself there, in a moment I knew might only last ten minutes but would stay with me for much longer. When I said goodbye to Teresa, she was alert. She was lucid. She touched me and tried to hold me, wipe my tears. She made her squirrel noises — she used to imitate squirrels randomly, and it always made me laugh. She would scrunch up her nose and make little noises, and she did that again, as she lay on her deathbed. It seemed like a miracle to me — her coming to life like that. It felt like she was trying to tell me that it was okay that it was time to say goodbye.

It feels wrong to end this on a note of resolution. It ended just like that. I came back for her funeral and we buried her under the earth with all of her journals.


Talia is a fourth year arts student in English Literature and Cultural Studies. She plans to get a Master’s in Creative Writing.

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