When I got the call from my Dad last week I knew it was serious. They were taking my grandma to the emergency room. I had just seen her a few days before during our Thanksgiving dinner. I knew then we didn’t have much time left with her. For the first time as I walked past the Thanksgiving table she didn’t recognize me. “Who is that girl?” she asked. I put my arm around her and said, “It’s me, grandma.” She smiled and looked at me. “Will you be you forever?” I laughed. “I sure hope so!”
To explain who my grandmother was and what she meant to my family can’t be done in a few paragraphs or words exchanged over a cup of coffee. She was kind, patient, strong willed. She was one of my favorite people in the whole world, my hero.
Thanks to her I never spent a moment in daycare. Instead, mornings and afternoons were filled with playing rounds of Yahtzee, “working” alongside her in the home office snipping photos from magazines to make collages, and sleeping next to her on satin sheets when it was finally nap time. I am the oldest of ten grandchildren and she spoiled every single one of us with a freezer stocked with ice cream and a closet full of games and videos for us to enjoy.
As we grew older and started going our separate ways, studying at universities far away, she would send handwritten letters and cards with recipes neatly folded and tucked in, or a few dollar bills. When she bought her first cell phone she would call often, sometimes even surprising us with a text.
She was the family historian, too. Like a private investigator, she knew the intricate details of all of our lives, down to our romantic anniversaries to the make and model of our cars. This act of keeping tabs kept us connected in spite of our physical distance. We might’ve come over for ice cream and dominoes less often, but we knew we were still loved with a fierceness disguised by her fragile frame.
You see, my grandmother was very sick for the majority of her life. As a young mother she developed rheumatoid arthritis which left her wheelchair bound and chronically in pain for the duration of her life. I don’t remember ever seeing my grandma walk without using crutches. Yet, she did not let this painful illness define her. With more than enough reason to complain, instead she smiled. She even had a nickname for the reason she could no longer play piano, or chase her young grandchildren around the house. She called it “Old Arthur.” When she was having an especially bad day she would joke that Old Arthur was acting up.
By choosing joy over resentment, determination and endurance over anger, love over sorrow, my grandma taught us that it is possible to overcome and thrive in spite of life’s worst circumstances.
When I saw her in the emergency room, struggling to breathe, I took her hand and told her I loved her. Barely able to speak, her eyes shone with clarity and recognition. She squeezed my hand and mouthed, “I love you.”
Soon, family and friends began trickling in to say their goodbyes. As we each stood at the head of her bed her bright blue eyes lit up and she smiled. Too weak to say but a few words, her expressive eyes still sparkled with joy.
My sister who is backpacking in Central America told me she has been having dreams where our grandma is laughing, and smiling, and running. It was as if she knew my grandmother would be leaving us soon, and had been given this calming reassurance. When she told me about her dreams, I knew it was okay. It was time to let our grandma go so she could finally do all of the things she was unable to in this life.
We took her home from the hospital the next day. She had told my Dad and Grandpa before going to the hospital that she was afraid that if she went this time, she would never leave. We honored her wishes by bringing her home as soon as possible, realizing she was fading fast. As soon as my grandpa told her “Honey, you’re home now in your own bedroom,” she passed away peacefully.
With tears in my eyes, I held her hand and asked her to send our family angels to be with us. “We’re going to need a replacement,” I told her.Google+