Where to begin…
If you follow this blog, you might recall that I lost two of my grandparents, my father’s mom and dad, last year. My grandmother (Jeanne) passed away and not long after, my grandfather (Don) followed. My grandmother’s death was expected for quite some time and my grandfather’s death occured so temporally close to her passing that the sting wasn’t as severe.
My mom’s dad (Bob) passed away back in 1989. I remember being pulled out of school for that, but it is all a complete blur. I have vivid memories of my Grandpa New, but they seem very distant, as if I was very, very young when I experienced them.
I did a lot of soul searching when my grandparents passed last year, and came to the same conclusion I always do. They are in a better place, and the promise of everlasting life through faith in Christ Jesus means I will see them again. When I visited them last they were both very lucid, and grandma was still moving about her house. She was clearly weak, but she was still very much herself.
My mom’s mother, whom this blog is about, has battled cancer for a very, very long time. I don’t even recall the last time I knew her as someone without any cancer, or cancer in remission. She has had a number of surgeries and treatments and lost her hair several times.
Her cancer came back on the radar a couple months ago, and they started ramping up for more chemotherapy, as surgical options were pretty much exhausted through her previous cancer surgeries. They found that after her first treatment, she was deathly sick and the cancer seemed to have spread throughout her body instead of dying in place.
After all those treatments over all those years and all the hope of complete remission, she was given 1-3 months to live.
Needless to say, the short time line came as a shock to everyone, most of all Grandma. Ever since she had her first surgeries and treatments for cancer, she always worried that it would be back. She would often panic anytime she felt a familiar pain, but this time it was very real to her and she had a very hard time facing that diagnosis, now that it was finally delivered.
Jaime, Emma, and myself made a decision to travel back to Indiana as soon as we could to get to visit with her while she was still lucid, and more importantly, alive. I had a chance to visit with my other grandparents before they passed and I will treasure that memory forever.
The difference this time around was that Grandma New was basically bedridden by the time we arrived to visit her. Her hair was completely gone (the first time I had ever seen her w/o a wig or kerchief in my entire life) and she was severely emaciated. She was also being medicated and her emotions were both visible and amplified.
Those of you that know me well know that I don’t handle sadness or despair very well. I struggle to both show and experience emotions when they aren’t joy or anger. Moreover I tend to (if possible) force my sad emotions into one of those categories with pseudo-sound reasoning and logic.
This time was different. I can’t explain it really, but I’m pretty sure that this was the first time I had ever seen, in real life, someone completely helpless and suffering. It was impossible, and I mean, impossible to change the feelings I was having and experiencing into anything but sorrow and sadness. Logic be damned, I could not do it. I knew that she would be better off when she passed, that her pain would be gone. But it hadn’t passed, her pain was very real, and her sadness was very real as well. I had talked with Jaime and prayed for strength to talk to her about Jesus and His promise; to reassure her that this old world will miss her, but she won’t miss it at all.
The first night we were there (4/20/08) was surreal. I was at a loss for words. I, unlike my normal self, felt completely unsure of myself and almost afraid of what would happen if I did or said anything. We chatted a bit as a group in her bedroom and then mom went to get her meds for the evening.
She brought her meds and she took then with some warm water and mom left to check on some paperwork with hospice or something. Grandma said something to the effect of “I’ve been having trouble keeping these meds down.”, and I could see that she was struggling not to vomit. At this point Jaime, who found the entire situation very sad due to her Grandmother passing in a very similar way, took Emma and left the room. I so much wanted to yell for help or something, but I knew that it would only serve to embarrass grandma. I asked her if she wanted her small container that was there for her in case she was sick and she nodded.
I grabbed the small tub and held it to her chin for her as she spit the pills and her dinner back up. I could see that the act of vomiting caused her great physical pain. She was then reaching for some Kleenex to wipe her face, which I quickly grabbed for her. She wiped her face and I pulled the tub away from her quickly. (I know I hate the smell of vomit)
As she leaned back she had tears in her eyes and said, “I’m sorry you had to see that.”
I don’t remember much for the next 30 seconds which felt more like 4-5 hours. I managed to keep it together, but even as I write this I’m trembling. I was furious at the doctors. I was furious at the hospital. I was furious at myself. I was furious at God. I don’t often get angry with God, because I usually come to my senses, remember his promises, and move on. But something about seeing my Grandmother so destroyed by this world made me very, very upset. It was not fair. Regardless of our sin nature and fact that we are all sinful creatures, noone *deserves* to suffer like that and then feel guilty about the effect of their suffering on others. I eventually settled down (in my mind) and kept telling myself that God’s will is much bigger than my emotional state and that he will bring peace that transcends all understanding. That’s exactly what I needed, because I would not understand.
I muttered something like, “It’s no problem Grandma, don’t worry.” I wanted to go punch someone right away. I wanted someone to step into the house and claim responsibility and I wanted to destroy that person with every fiber of me.
In the meantime, Emma was being pushed in Grandma’s wheelchair and was having a blast. It was very nice to see Grandma smile a bit, but she was very tired and we left.
The next day we went over again and we knew that this would be our last visit as we were planning to leave the next morning bright and early. During that evening I had prayed again for strength, and thank God, she was feeling much better the next day. She was much calmer, seemed less stressed, and even joked around with us a bit.
I hated to break the mood, but when I got some time alone with her I told her that we will continue to pray for her as we had been doing for months. I also told her that if we don’t get to see her again, that we look forward to seeing her in heaven. I told her that she needn’t worry about us, and that she can keep Grandpa company and prepare us a place, as we’d be along soon. I had found out that she was baptized by my parents’ pastor only a few days before and had made a commitment of faith. I can’t express how happy I was to hear that. It really made this part much easier for me.
She started to tear up a bit, but I smiled at her and hugged her. She said that she believed that was what would happen and was very happy about it. Emma came in and patted her leg a little bit, which was very sweet, and Jaime and Emma both gave her a hug. It was pretty powerful actually saying a last goodbye and knowing it, but it was very cathartic as well.
Mom said that she often mentioned our little talk about heaven with other people and that brought me great comfort. Hearing that reassured me that I had done the right thing to say something and I have no regrets.
She passed away 9 days after that last visit on April 30, 2008. She was 75.
She loved all things nature. Mushroom hunting, fairs, flowers, fields, and animals. She collected owls (porcelain, stuffed, et al) and took care of her own cats as well as clingy strays. She played cards with my Mom, Dad, and Sister almost every week, and was well known and liked by nearly every person in Martinsville it seemed. She loved her family literally more than life itself, and I’m quite certain that leaving her loved ones was fair more upsetting than dying.
She met my grandfather when they were little kids, and their relationship blossomed over many years into a loving marriage with a lasting legacy.
I’m glad that she’s in a place now with flowers stretching as far as the eye can see, and her husband there to help her lift the heavy stuff. 🙂
Here she is holding Emma… I like this picture because they both look so happy.
Here’s a pic with Grandma, me, Mom and Emmabug
I find music to be a very powerful tool for finding my way through confusing situations. I’ve quoted some Ralph Stanley before, but he seems to really verbalize and put to music my feelings in an almost eerie way. Here’s another one of his songs that made me smile when I listen to it and think of Grandma.
THE PRETTIEST FLOWERS WILL BE BLOOMING
I know there is a land of beautiful flowers,
Where we will meet again when life is o’er;
Where we will while away the endless hours
On heaven’s bright eternal shore.
The prettiest beds of flowers will be blooming,
By the prettiest streets our eyes shall e’er behold,
Where the beautiful tree of life for us is waiting
By the prettiest mansions made of purest gold;
The prettiest robes and crowns we’ll all be wearing
In that city four-square, beyond this world of strife,
And the prettiest songs with the angels we’ll be singing
On that beautiful morning by the river of life.
On heaven’s golden strand there’ll be no more dying,
No chilling winds or tempest e’er will blow;
It is a land of love and wondrous beauty
Where fragrant flowers ever grow.
I want to meet you by that beautiful river
On that eternal morning in the sky;
Where we will live in peace through endless ages,
Where we will never say goodbye.