My grandmother died unexpectedly.
I was living in Los Angeles. It was 2019. I woke up one afternoon, checked my phone and saw multiple missed calls, a voicemail and a text saying "please call me when you wake up", all from my mother. I didn't even have my eyes all the way open yet, but immediately called her. "Gammie is in the hospice center and things aren't looking good."
I was never close with my grandmother. I'm not extraordinarily close with anyone in one in my family, mostly due to my self-involvement and tendency to not keep up with people. Nonetheless, it surprised me and I could feel that it was a really significant moment, something I needed to address with care and serious and to act on it right now.
My roommate was getting ready for work but still had a little time to kill. She did me a huge favor and ran me to LAX, getting to work just in time and skipping out on prime pre-work chill time for my sake. I was on a plane headed back to Orlando, Florida less than two hours after waking up.
I landed at MCO, Alexis scooped me up from the airport. Despite the very unpleasant and unfortunate circumstances, she was really glad to see me. We didn't get to spend much time together then, being on other sides of America and all.
We zoomed back northeast from the airport and arrived at the hospice center around sunset. My mother was there, with my stepfather. With them were her younger sister and her husband. Gammie was in a room, laying in a hospital bed, tubes everywhere and breathing with great difficulty. Jagged, horrible breaths. Unresponsive but still there, somewhere deep down inside. Closed eyes. She was waiting for the last of her three daughters, my mother's older sister.
Mom and the younger aunt were sitting inside, doing their best to get physically comfortable in the somewhat cold room. The husbands came in and out of the room, consoling slightly but mostly keeping a distance from things. I went in and found a chair.
My mother and aunt took turns talking, recalling fond family memories, remembering PawPaw (who passed about seven and a half years before - mom had been Gammie's day-to-day caregiver ever since.) Reading Bible verses.
After a few hours, Alexis had to go home and I was starving. Hadn't eaten all day. She drove me over to my dad's house where I scooped up the motorcycle he always lent me when I was home in town. I went through the Steak 'n Shake drive through and grabbed some dinner.
I ate in the lobby of the hospice center, chasing the bad burger down with shitty, cold coffee. Awful couch. Harsh lighting dimmed for the late hour. It was quiet but the whole place felt plastic, off-putting. It was probably just the circumstances, truth be told.
The oldest daughter and her husband arrived from Maryland sometime late that night. May have technically been early morning, which sounds more right now that I think about it. Road-beaten, they'd driven the whole way in a single go.
Everyone piled into the room, but for some reason the husbands ended up leaving again shortly after saying their goodbyes. I, my mother and her two sisters remained.
When they were younger, the three of them toured the Southern Baptist Convention a little bit as a singing trio. Gospel and hymns, three part harmony. There, gathered around their mother's deathbed, they began to sing again.
"Blessed Assurance" - an old Franny Crosby hymn that my grandmother loved dearly. Three part harmony. I sat there dumbfounded. Something happened, that I cannot even remotely capture with words. They sang transcendently. They were crying. I was crying. Gammie was with us still. Then, she was no longer there. Her body remained but the soul had taken flight. They finished the song and broke into deep sobs. My mother collapsed for a moment with her arms thrown across her mother's body, as if to try to hold on to her for a moment longer. Husbands returned to the room to console their wives. There were now seven people and a body where once had been eight people.
She had waited long enough. In a way, I felt like she'd been waiting the entire time since PawPaw had gone on. The final hours of waiting were likely the hardest, but the passing seemed to be easy, oddly gentle. Her daughters, singing of Christ's promise, and no doubt a small, growing opening through which she could see Him, the Most-High, and hopefully something of PawPaw too beckoning her to come in, away from the pain and misery of this earthly place and into that peace that comes with the fulness of Eternity.
I hung around town for a week or so after. One afternoon sitting alone at Alexis's house, I felt the old familiar urge to write a song. I'd been listening to almost nothing but old outlaw and traditional country music for over a year and was embarrassed about how badly I wanted to write a country song. I kept trying to come up with something not country but all I could seem to pick out was that steady "horse-rhythm" that opens the song. I guess "The Quiet Sounds of Sewing" is really my first country song, the first of many to come.
I wrote out the first verse and got down the chorus, debating the "domiciles and suicides" line for a long time. I was afraid of it being too harsh for people. I went with it anyway. The second verse came as a self-criticism, a recognition of how short time is and how much of it I have wasted.
We must make something of ourselves here, I'm sure of that. I'm confident that this realm is for learning, growing. I don't know toward what. But what is most important above all else is that we remember this place is not the end. This realm we're in is merely a way station on the road to somewhere else.
I can't really say much else about that night or the song.
I hope you like it.