Saying Goodbye to Shirley, The Goddamned Legend

I am currently sitting in Berlin attempting to work on my daily tasks managing social media accounts for thought leaders while Shirley, my granny is lying in a hospice bed halfway around the world, gasping for her last breaths of air. According to the doctor, these are her final days left on Earth.

Some days, like today, living so far from family feels so heavy, the weight making me feel deeply disconnected from life, and also from death. Sure, I’m grateful for the role technology plays in moments like these but it’s not the same. My sister called me from my grandma’s bedside the other day. She asked if I wanted to see the nurse shifting my comatose granny around and I said yes. I know she wouldn’t want to be remembered like this, but I had to see the last remnants of Shirley with my own eyes. She still looked good surprisingly, but her face was badly bruised from where she fell and her body was skin and bones.

When she was alive — fully alive- she loved sweets, cakes of all kinds, and often skipped meals so she could imbibe in more sweets. Though she always had a Tupperware full of chocolate chips in her freezer, she was always concerned with her weight, bragging to me when she’d lost a few pounds. I never had the heart to tell her I could care less how much she weighed. I just wanted for her what I want for all of my loved ones: to be healthy, to feel strong and beautiful, and to always strut into a room. As I watched the nurses poking and prodding her from a million miles away, I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d finally be happy with how thin her body had become.

One thing Shirley never had a problem with though was strutting into a room. Once she’d come out of her room dressed head to toe in leather. Leather shorts, a leather cappie, and a leather vest. My sister and I naturally looked at each other with eyes wider than saucers, “Grandma! Where on earth are you going?” Imagine our surprise when she replied, “Church.” It looked more like she was heading off to a long weekend at Berghain, the infamous gay club in Berlin, but Shirley didn’t seem concerned with our reactions, for turning heads was her ikigai — her purpose for living.

My ticket home is booked for a week from today. I don’t know if she’ll still be on this Earth when I arrive, but I don’t think she’d mind much if I am not there to see her pass on to the next dimension.

After all, this is the woman who took me to Germany for the first time, the woman who encouraged me to travel as often as possible, the woman who I’d chugged beers with at Oktoberfest with and the same woman who encouraged me to leave the party with a handsome German soldier. The next morning she didn’t dare ask about that knutschfleck on my neck but the smile on her face let me know that she was proud.

This is the woman who taught me how to live life fully, to seize the day (and night), and to never EVER stop dancing. And so when I feel sad about not having her around anymore, I will dance. I will dance like there is no tomorrow. I will dance like there is tomorrow. I will dance like I’m covered in head to toe in thrifted leather and chunky turquoise. I will dance like all I eat are cakes and giant tubs of chocolate chips for breakfast.

Shirley, you are a goddamned legend. You will be missed greatly, but you will never be forgotten.

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Nicole Paulus

Squarespace website designer and writer in Berlin. Helping Conscious Business Owners navigate the Squarespace platform and gain clarity around their content.