I inhale deeply and smile down at my granddaughter. Her head smells good, like powder, and her tiny body is warm against my chest. It’s been a long time since I’ve held an infant – at least since I’ve held one that wanted to be held. Leo was such a fussy baby – standoffish and distant even as a newborn. But the twins bask in the attention. They let me drink them in, all squiggles and giggles and gurgles.
I sigh with content and lay baby Jessalyn back down in her crib. I turn to Theodore, sound asleep, and softly touch his cheek. He looks like his mother already.
My hips ache as I make my way upstairs. It’s strange, this body I’m in. It feels foreign – somehow not my own. It’s like I’m a guest in someone else’s home – it’s comfortable enough but it’s not mine, not really. I laugh when I look in the mirror – because, honestly! Who IS that old lady? The eyes are the same, but the rest is nearly unrecognizable, a mask of gray hair and sagging skin.
It’s me, but it’s not me. A young person encased in a old person’s body.
But I laugh at my reflection, because despite the wrinkles and the aches and the pains, I’m happy. Happier than I’ve ever been, really. I know my time is growing shorter by the day, but I’m more grateful than ever – grateful for each morning that I wake up, each time I hear the twins cry, each smile I share with my children. I’m grateful for each squeeze of the hand, every kiss on the cheek, for another roll in the hay (!) with my handsome husband.
We’ve been lucky. We’ve been blessed.
Time seems to go by faster in my old age, and the next day the twins become children. They jump out of their cribs- these innocent bundles of vibrant energy – and I’m reminded of my own children’s birthdays. I think back even further to my own childhood, and I recall the faces of the people who raised me. My memory is not what it used to be, but in my mind’s eye, I see my mother and Aunt Emmeline, both so young and vibrant themselves in those days. I see Sylvie and Milo, full of passion and spunk. And I remember myself, young and idealistic and naive.
Now it’s Theodore’s turn to be idealistic, Jessalyn’s turn to be naive. And they are, the pair of them, all that and more.
Theodore is also a goofball like his mother, cracking jokes the very day he learned to talk. He’s innocent and curious, but above all, he is devoted to his family, and especially to his best friend – his sister Jessalyn.
And then there’s Jessalyn – so full of life, wanting to be a part of everything, to know everyone, to be in the thick of it all. She has a million little friends, gets invited to all of the birthday parties – a true insider-in-training. A lot like my own Aunt Zara, come to think of it. Funny how genetics work that way, how they trickle down from generation to generation.
As for me? I spend my days doing grandmotherly things. I garden and I bake.
I read to Jessalyn and I help Theodore with his homework.
And I help Lola prepare for her own impending motherhood – her belly is just starting to show, and I know she will rise to the occasion. It’s beyond surreal, to see my youngest baby become a mother herself. My only hope is that she’s happy.
Most of all, each morning that I wake up with Palani at my side, I thank the Watcher for the gift of another day. Who knows if I’ll get another? Who knows if we will?
It goes on like this for days, weeks, months – I don’t really know or keep track of time. Until one morning, I wake up and roll over to kiss Palani. He is still, and my heart stops. And then his dark eyelashes flicker, and he smiles at me groggily.
“Good morning, beautiful,” he says, just like he always has, and always does. I smile and thank the Watcher for this day, just like I always have and always do.
And It’s a day like any other – until I feel it. My breathing slows, and my heart feels heavy. I had always hoped it would happen in my sleep, to spare my family the sight of it all. But death doesn’t bend to our will, and I drop to my knees on the cold kitchen floor, surrounded by the family I love.
I didn’t want them to see this, but now that it’s happening, I’m glad that they’re here. I’m not alone. I don’t feel afraid.
I feel nothing but peace. I’m groggy now but I smile. I hear Lola sob, I hear the children wail – but they sound far away now. I wish I had the energy to to soothe them, to tell them what I know now beyond a shadow of a doubt: This isn’t death. It’s transition.
I see Palani’s face hovering over mine.
“I love you,” I whisper. He is the family I chose. “Take care of them.”
He places his forehead against mine, and for the last time, I close my eyes.
And what I see is beautiful.
Rest in peace, Aurora Hasslich-Wahine – Fifth Generation Heir.
The house is quiet with Aurora gone. It’s the kids I worry about the most. Theodore has nightmares every night, and Jessalyn barely gets out of bed. Even Leo is affected.
Aurora held this family together, and I worry we may fall apart without her.
I miss her.
I do my best to do what she asked – to take care of them the best way I know how. I put on a happy face, and act like I’m strong. But when no one is looking, I cry.
I spend a lot of time in the gym. Not to work out, old man that I am, but to feel close to my wife in the place she loved best. She built this gym. She put so much value on her health – it seems ironic that I should outlive her.
I feel closer to her here than I do in the Hall of Founders. The Hall is about the legacy – about who she was as an heir. But the Aurora I loved was so much more than that. She was my best friend and an amazing mother. She was a fitness enthusiast and an amateur bartender. She was kindness and happiness and courage all rolled into one.
I’m lost without her.
It’s here in her gym, listening to her favorite workout playlist, that I feel her with me. And it’s here in her gym, alone in the wee hours of the night, that I hear her.
I think I’m crazy at first, that I’m just hearing things- because there is nothing I want more than to hear her voice again. But I know better – I know I’m not crazy. This house is no ordinary house – this house is the very spirit of the Hasslich heirs. And Aurora is among them now – I’m sure of it.
That’s why I don’t question it when I hear her call my name.
That’s why I don’t question it when she tells me it’s my time.
“I’m ready,” I tell her. And I am. My breath stalls, my heart slows, and I follow the sound of her voice. I take one last breath, feel a familiar touch of the hand, and for the last time, I close my eyes.
And what I see…..
She smiles at me, and I feel nothing but joy.
“Hello, beautiful,” I say to her. Just like I always have. Just like I always do.
Rest In Peace, Palani Wahine.