I learned a new word today. Apparently the extra day that is added to the Julian calendar every four years is called a bissextus. It sounds kinda sexy, but to me it is just a cool reminder that we are blessed with an extra day this year. But the idea of having just one more day makes me think of something sad, something I am still dealing with but often push out of my mind because it still hurts–the passing of my grandma. It’s been almost two months now. She was old and I’m glad she isn’t suffering anymore. But I miss her. I miss how invested she was in simply asking about my life. I miss the smell of her kitchen, and seeing how happy she was when the whole family was there laughing and eating her food. I miss how she made me feel like my life was supremely important. I have no doubt that I will see her again in the next life, but it still hurts. I hate that she won’t be at my wedding, and I hate that she will never hold my children. But thus is life. We have to accept death and look back on lost life as a gift and a small glimmer of beauty and perfection that we can recall and smile about when life gets even tougher.
About six months ago my grandparents gave my parents their old green van, and I have driven it from time to time while my own car recuperates from its various ailments. A few weeks ago after grabbing a quick sandwich before work I hopped into the van, threw my backpack on the ground and was hit with a gust of wind from the past. The smell of the van entered my nostrils and immediately surged to my brain reminding me of my grandma. It’s weird how smells can transport you back to the most specific places of your childhood in a fleeting instant. I sat there, breathed in and cried a little. I haven’t cried much since the funeral. I guess I have just changed the subject in my mind when it came up. But that smell, that whiff of the past was too much.
Another instance hit me unexpectedly several days ago. I was visiting my tiny four-pound niece in the NICU when a very real moment crept up on me. I was saying goodbye to little Evelyn, kissing her tiny cheeks as she lay supine in her small hospital crib, listening to me as only an infant could. I started to talk to her. It’s funny how adults talk to newborns. We know they can’t understand us in any way, but we still tell them how precious they are to us, and how much we love them. Maybe it is just assuring to hear those words aloud. Or maybe we just feel that some portion of our love will be received or heard.
I said, “Evie, I love you, but I gotta go home now.” I kissed her soft little head one more time then said, “You met grandma up there, didn’t you?” I don’t know where this came from or if she did or didn’t meet my grandma before coming down early, but I started to cry looking at that tiny human and feeling the closeness between her and heaven, and took my slipping emotional state as a cue to excuse myself. I waved goodbye to my sister in a hurry, leaving before she could see my tears. Because like some people vomit upon seeing vomit, my sister cries on sight of tears. I scuttled out into the hallway and rubbed my eyes quickly, not wanting to break down in front of orderlies and nurses as I made my way to the parking lot.
I guess these little moments seem sad, but really it’s a beautiful thing to remember someone you love. James M. Barrie said, “God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December.” And even though sometimes it hurts so bad, I’m thankful to have those roses.
With any death that is close to you you are reminded of the fragility of life. I think about those last days in the hospital with my grandma, and I wish I could have just one more day with her. The truth is we don’t know how many days left we will have with anyone. And though a leap year doesn’t really extend my life any further, it reminds me how much can be done in one day, and how grateful I should be for each sunrise and each sunset. Be it a boring Wednesday in the dead of winter, or a sunny bissextus, let us not take for granted a single day.