Last Wednesday, my grandmother died. After 88 years of living a full life, she died in bed in the apartment building she called home for over six decades. Many know my grandmother as “Sam’s wife.” Sam Kimberg, my grandfather, has become a part of the Student U story, with an award given each year in his name for the person in the our community who brings the most joy to world. My grandmother was the light that transformed Sam’s depressive darkness into joy. Under every crazy hat, behind every kazoo song, next to every center stage performance, was my grandmother. She was Sam’s foundation, Sam’s home base, Sam’s safety net which allowed him to dream so fearlessly.
Sam’s School, the book written to memorialize my grandfather’s life and his connection to Student U, begins in a hospital room as Sam conducts his family in one final symphony. With oxygen mask on, IV’s connected, he lifts his hands and I play “You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine…” on my kazoo as my family sings along. Sam’s School then travels backwards in time, tracing my grandfather’s life from his birth to this grand finale. However, Sam’s death is not where any story ends. It is not where his story, Student U’s story, or my story ends, and least of all, it is not where my grandmother’s story ends.
This was the unwritten scene right after Sam’s final song:
She sits in the waiting room but no longer has anything to wait for. Three minutes earlier her husband of sixty years heart rate slowed to zero. One day earlier she had said her final goodbye, brushing her left hand over his right. Three days earlier she was told there was no hope and asked the doctor to please let him go in peace. Three weeks earlier she had been told lymphoma. And now she is in the waiting room waiting for nothing.
She looks straight ahead at a new chapter in her life’s story. Over the previous sixty years she has played sidekick to the protagonist. Now she will take center stage. Their journey will become her path. Their duet will become her solo. Her song will sound different than their song. He used to kazoo as she sang along. Now her voice will alone need to carry the tune. But rather than allow their last performance to be her crescendo, she is determined for an encore worthy of a standing ovation.
She sits in the waiting room ready for everything. Her fingers rub the wedding ring which 60 years ago was too tight and now is a permanent fixture on her hand. She holds his hand in her heart, breaths in deeply, breaths out slowly, and begins the rest of her life.
The rest of her life lasts four and a half years, a full four and a half years longer than any of us expected. During those years, my grandma was able to celebrate mine and Amanda’s wedding and sing to my daughter, her great grandchild.
When my daughter Eliana turned one month old, my grandma called and sang “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”
And the whole world keeps spinning. Joy begets joy, life begets life, and we continue to celebrate our place in the journey.
Eliana never was able to meet my grandma or my grandpa. But tonight, I will pull her close to me and sing “You and my sunshine, my only sunshine…” And through this song, and through my love, and through our joy, Eliana will know her great grandparents.