Photo with Grandma five years ago on my wedding day
I stood in a hospital room, dimly lit, quiet, warmed with the love of family.
We drove varying distances to be there, each of us pushing our way swiftly down the road, trying to beat the inevitable last breath of a life we have all cherished, some of us not realizing how deeply until this very moment.
Just days before, I stood in another room..... her living room. Hovering over Grandma as she pulled her weak shaky body to it's feet. She paused half way up, holding tightly to her cane, "This getting old......is for the birds". She shook her head and looked up at me with tired brown eyes. "I know Grandma". She has been saying that for years.
I helped her bathe, dress, and gather up the things she would need for her visit to the hospital for a sleep test she had been dreading for months. Early the next morning she would travel on to my mother's house where she would stay....... maybe for good. "Sharon isn't feeling well enough to care for me, and your mother refuses to put me in a home, so I guess I'll be staying with her". I can tell she feels like a burden already. "Grandma, you are at that point in your life where it is time to surrender and allow someone to take care of you, there is nothing wrong with that, just enjoy it".
Emilee plays quietly with Legos and Adeline lays on the couch sucking her thumb. I water the plants and gather up Grandma's crocheting supplies, so she can finish up her last afghan when she gets to my mom's. I ask if there is anything else she needs. She takes my girls in her arms, one at a time, holding them on her lap. She comments on their beauty, their growth, the differences in their personalities. She tells them that she loves them, that they are special. They smile and beam!
I give Grandma a small squeeze and a kiss. I tell her I love her, wish her luck on her hospital test, and then, just like a million times before I turn and walk toward the creaky red door, only this time a feeling comes over me half way through the kitchen. This is it. This is the last time you will walk away from this familiar scene. This is the last time you'll see her sitting in her squeaky rust colored chair. The last time you will hear the T.V. filling in the silence of her lonely home.
I just kept walking refusing to believe it. I knew Grandma would be coming back with my mom to gather up the rest of her things, and I would be with her then. I would soak everything in and take millions of mental pictures. I would be ready then, but not now.
The feeling was right.....and I was wrong.
The next morning when Robert called to tell me he was pulled out of his sleep to the sound of Grandma calling for help, which then turned into her passing out in his arms, her heart stopping on the way to the hospital, the paramedics bringing her back to life and her now lying sedated with tubes down her throat in the hospital, I felt my heart tighten into a painful knot of regret.
Not just regret about not hugging her one more time, but a much much deeper regret. I loved my Grandma deeply, but I have a little bit of her stubbornness in me, and sometimes I refused to love with all of my heart. I held on a little too tightly to hurtful things that had happened in the past. I was a little too judgmental. I built a wall, and often justified my luke-warmness, as though somehow she, being imperfect, didn't deserve my complete and generous love. I kind of kept her at a distance.
As I stood at the side of her hospital bed, I silently thanked the Lord, for his tender mercy. For allowing me one more chance to show love, to give love. To say I'm sorry.....to say good-bye.
The tubes were taken out, and Grandma was alert and able to speak in a soft whisper. We spent a long night, gearing up over and over for the end. We sang songs, all of us, no matter what had happened in the past, we sang for Grandma, we shared memories.....good memories. We laughed and cried. We held each other and we held her hands.
Grandma's heart was a heart that had been broken over and over in her nearly 86 years of life, and now she lay in a bed with a physically broken heart, a heart that was failing and yet I don't think her heart had ever been more filled with love and contentment. I imagine her silently counting each of her family members. She always did that at family gatherings. Grandma loved nothing more than being surrounded by family, and that is exactly how she left this life and I'm sure that is how she was received into the next.
I got to be there. I walked into her hospital room on Friday April 1, 2011 at 10:25 a.m. and witnessed her last breath. The room was still, silent and sacred. I cried.
I miss my Grandma, and tomorrow I will go back to her home for the first time. I am trying to prepare myself. The empty chair, the silence, the memories. My lesson in all of this is that holding back......is for the birds. Loving wholly and completely, even when we are hurt is what God intends for us and in the end the only thing that matters.