She’s not missed any big life event despite living a couple thousand miles across the country. In fact to look through my stack of photo albums you’d think she lived here. And you’d also think she sure has been some neat places. And that she has a great smile, a truly great one. She has delighted in so much of life with us. She surprised me by flying in for my first baby’s shower. Thus she was also here when, a few hours after that baby shower, my water broke and my first babe came 5 weeks early. It is her name that we gave as our daughter’s middle name.
She came out just as often as the “great-grands” started to arrive. She snuggled and enjoyed them and we relished watching our children have the privilege of knowing their great-grandparents. Though they’d traveled most the world over, dined with dignitaries and stood boldly for causes they believed in…these time watching her love my kids have been my favorite.
Last January we thought she would soon be gone, literally as we walked through the sudden loss of Chris’ dad, she faced tremendous health challenges that seemed insurmountable. Truly beyond anyone’s expectations, she made it through. A bonafide miracle I’d argue. Not able to travel however, we wondered when we’d see her again.
When my mom told me she was flying back east to bring Grandma out for the month of December, it seemed too good to be true. I think we all held our breath till she got here. But she did. “My soul needed to be here” she told Grandpa on the phone shortly after she arrived. Not highly mobile, we knew we’d need to drive to her and plan our gatherings around what would work for her. We did.
Tea parties, gingerbread house decorating, Christmas cookie making, present-opening, lots of great food and just as many wonderful smiles. Crazy boys running around or building legos by her feet. Dressing up like princesses or Rylee sitting reading to her. The weeks were packed with sweetness. My advent plans along with many other holiday plans fell by the wayside. But somehow it was okay, it was more than okay it was a treasure. Talk about treasure, she told me shortly after she’d arrived and was talking about her family “I am so rich, to have all of this, all of you”.
The day after Christmas we spent the evening with Chris’ family, our first altogether gathering since his dad’s been gone. Hard. So good to be with one another but emotions were barely below the surface. My mom called on our drive home that night to tell me that Grandma had had a stroke. She was in the hospital but stable.
The next morning things changed quickly and I called my husband in tears to come home right away so I could go be with her and my family. We sat around her bed and the moments that followed were holy ones. My mom read her favorite Psalms. We sang her hymns. I could not utter a word but just stroked her silver hair and wept as I watched love pour from Grandpa that I’d never seen but known existed.
Things stabilized again for a couple days but it was clear the end was very near. I asked my grandpa at one point how long they’d been married. While many things are foggy for him at the moment, this was crystal clear, he exclaimed before I’d finished asking “Why 63 years and 2 months!” and then shared little bits about their early life together in Kansas. I bit my lip to not cry and thought I want to know the months and years when I’ve been married that long…goodness, I just want to be married that long! What a legacy.
We all took turns sitting at the hospital with her, holding her soft hand and sharing memories. Looking across the bed at my own mama, more than once I thought about how someday I will have to do this with her…then realized, someday I hope I get to do this with her. To sit with someone so very close to the door of heaven, truly felt like hallowed ground.
Thursday morning as my kids and I were just heading to Costco, my mom called. “She’s gone, it happened so fast. I was here with her, just me.” I sat outside my car in 25 degree coldness crying warm tears into the snow. I drove home, passed the kids all off quickly and went to my parent’s house. Eyes kept filling up and voices were broken but oh the hope and peace of knowing she is in the perfect place.
Grandpa kept saying “She was where she wanted to be…what a place to spend her last 3 weeks!”. Though not at all what we expected or planned, I can’t help but feel like we were just given the most precious, sacred gift in getting to share this last bit of time with her. We just didn’t know exactly the gift we were receiving until now. What a joy-filled sendoff to eternity! What a load of sweet memories we have stored up!
If there’s been any theme for us this year, the year that I declared the “year of JOY” as I rang in the New Year, it is this:
Life is fleeting. We do not live with some guarantee of tomorrow. Today is a gift. Don’t wait for whatever it is you’re waiting for to treasure the life you’ve been given. It will always be complicated and it will always hurt. But there is beauty in the unlikeliest of places and there IS joy to be had even when nothing seems to be working out.