Monday, April 22, 2013

Not Knowing: Grandmom's Story, Part 4

One of the things that my dad worried about the most when he was sick and even before then was his mom, who, since the death of my grandfather many years before, had been living alone in a small town in southern Alabama until she suffered a stroke at the age of 87.

My daughters and my dad, with Grandmom, Sept. 2010

For all of my life, I'd thought of my grandmother as one of the most fiercely independent individuals I knew, a person whose goal it was to leave the earth a better place than she'd found it, without asking for much help or (as she put it) "without burdening" others and without using anything as an excuse for not doing her part to help others in need.  Grandmom has perhaps one of the most interesting life stories I've ever heard, with lots of adventures and even more challenges faced along the way.  She pinched pennies, cut corners, and made due for all of her life, but, a deeply religious person, she never failed to tithe or to give of her time when her church or someone in her community needed assistance.  She was well-read, and maybe that was one thing that contributed to her acceptance of people from all walks of life, of all backgrounds and all races, which was not a practice often seen in that time.  From the way I saw things, Grandmom didn't concern herself too much with what a person's income or job title was or with how fancy of a car or house a person had; as long as someone seemed to have a good heart, seemed to be trying to "do right," and seemed to be genuine and kindhearted, Grandmom liked that person, and, like my dad, she extended courtesy and respect to most everyone she met.

Although the level of anxiety and extreme depression that Grandmom had been experiencing seemed to leveled off for the most part over the course of the weeks after she had been told about my dad's illness and subsequent death, her overall health did not improve.  On the afternoon of April 18, 2011, my mom got a call from the nursing home and was told that Grandmom's condition had worsened.  Mom called my sisters and me to update us as she hurried to get to Grandmom's side, where she stayed for the remainder of the day.  With Grandmom's breathing labored and her skin color changed, Mom talked to the nurses and decided to spend the night with Grandmom so she would not be left alone even for a minute.  The staff at the nursing home was kind enough to move Grandmom's roommate to another room so Mom could sit at Grandmom's bedside in privacy.  Throughout the night, Mom read to Grandmom, talked to her, and tried to reassure her that it was ok for her to go on ahead, reminding her that she was so loved and that my dad and my grandfather were waiting for her in heaven.  Grandmom seemed to be at peace, and, as the first light of day could be seen through the big window in the room and with my mom holding her hand, Grandmom took her last breath.

My sister Nancy joined my mom soon afterwards at the nursing home, and together they dealt with the things that needed to done, including calling the funeral home, packing up Grandmom's belongings, and saying their goodbyes.  There were some haunting similarities to what had had to be done after my dad's death just three months earlier, but at the same time this was a different situation for many reasons.  Given all that had happened to impact her quality of life and given her age and overall health, we all knew that Grandmom was prepared to go on ahead and that she very likely welcomed her own passing from this life.  From my perspective, it seemed that she had been leaning into the light for quite some time, dearly missing her husband of 50 years and many others who had gone before her - and feeling that her purpose on this earth had been served.  Personally, I will say that the news of her death hit me hard but that my mourning was much more for my own sake than for hers, and the grief from her passing and from that from my dad's was so enmeshed it was like pouring gas on a fire.  

I found a group email that my dad had sent out just before he'd gotten sick to update people about Grandmom, and I used that set of contact information to communicate the news to many extended family members and friends about Grandmom's passing and to let them know that we had decided to hold a memorial service for Grandmom in her hometown over Memorial Day weekend to give those traveling from out of town time to make the necessary arrangements.  Mom had the obituary run in the newspaper in Grandmom's town and contacted Grandmom's church to let them know as well.  

A couple of weeks later, a violent storm came through the area where I live overnight.  The noise of the thunder actually woke me up in the night, interrupting a dream that I had been having about my grandfather's brother Hilyard, whom I had only seen a few times in my life.  The last couple of times I remember seeing him, he was using a walker to get around; it had been many years since his passing and many more since I had seen him.  In the dream, though, he walked up to me unaided, looking younger than I remembered ever having seen him but so closely resembling my grandfather that it was easy for me to recognize who he was.  He looked at me and said very simply, "Your grandmother and your dad want me to tell you that they are ok," and then, before I could respond, he turned on his heel and strolled away.

When I checked my email early that next morning, I saw that I had a message from my dad's second cousin Carl, Hilyard's grandson, who had heard on the news that the storm had left damage to many homes in my city.  I was touched that Carl was checking in on us; I had not corresponded with him in the past except for the recent message about Grandmom - but I was stunned at the timing of the communication, just about an hour after I had had the dream about his grandfather.  I emailed Carl back and told him that we hadn't sustained any damage in the storm, but, not knowing what he would think if I told him about the dream, I didn't mention it then - but I did a few weeks later at the memorial service for Grandmom.

To be continued ... 

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