Grandma was tired. So she told me goodbye.

At the wake, when the kids kept running around, disturbing the disturbed, their mother, or maybe their aunt, or maybe their neighbor, shooed them to the basement. Adult quiet and proper mourning returned. However, I noticed that Mary, eight years old, or so, stayed upstairs. For a while, I watched her, carrying food, clearing plates, even answering the front door. A petite, hard working, hostess. I wondered why.

“Mary,” I said, when she walked past, taking two empty plastic cups to the trash, “You are really doing a lot to help. Don’t you want to go downstairs and play?”

“No,” she said. “Grandma said I should help.”

I was confused; after all, we had buried her grandmother that morning. “When did your grandma tell you to help?” I asked.

“Before,” said Mary. “Before. When we talked on the porch.”

“You and your grandma talked about her wake, before she died?”

“Yes,” said Mary, “and we ate cookies.”

“What else did she tell you?”

Mary hesitated. Perhaps confused by the question or by the intrusion of confidence. I waited, sipping my coffee.

“She told me a lot,” Mary revealed.

“Like what?”

“She told me what to do. She said I have to study hard, because I am a good reader. And math.”

“That’s really nice.”

“And I have to tell the truth.”

“That’s important.”

“And I have help my Mom, because my Mom is sad.”

“Well, you are doing a great job. I am sure it really helps your Mom feel better. Are you sad that your grandma died?” I asked.

“No. Well, yes. A little. Not a lot. Some.”

“Why?”

“Because Grandma said it was OK.”

“Your grandma said it was OK that she was dying?”

“Yes.”

“Why was it OK?”

“Grandma said that she had a lot of fun playing with me, but she was tired, and she was going to get some rest. Grandma said she would see God.”

“What else did she tell you?”

“She gave me her necklace.” Mary showed me that she was wearing an ancient yellowing necklace, folded three times because it was too big for her young neck. Mary stared at the pearls for a moment.

“Did she give you anything else?”

“No. We talked and ate cookies. And milk. Only grandma didn’t drink much milk. I don’t think she liked milk. “

“Did she say anything else?”

“A little.”

Mary was quiet for a moment. Dishes clanked in the kitchen. The doorbell rang. Someone laughed. The smell of baked chicken floated through the room.

“Grandma told me she loved me. And that she was tired. So, she told me goodbye.”

James C. Salwitz is an oncologist who blogs at Sunrise Rounds.

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