Sunday, September 15, 2013

This Is Not The End

I was sitting in class in ninth grade one morning when it was announced that one of the school's students had died over the weekend in a tragic car accident. I knew her. She was my partner in Spanish class and a casual friend. Throughout the day, grief counseling was offered for those who needed to express themselves. I didn't go. I just went through the motions for the remainder of the week. I think, in retrospect, that I might have been in shock. It was hard to swallow the fact that someone so young, who had been alive and well the previous week, was gone. Eventually, the reality of the situation hit me and I remember crying over losing her, death in general, and what I thought was a completely unfair end to a young life.
    I attended her funeral later that week with several friends. Her family was not LDS and so her funeral was held in a funeral home rather than a chapel. It was the first, of the very few funerals I had been too, that was held outside of the church. It was depressing.
    The speakers talked about the unfairness of her short life, about the things she would never get to do,  and about how sad it was that they would never again see her. I felt myself shrinking as I heard my own previous grief stricken thoughts mirrored back at me. I knew better.

    Two weeks ago exactly, I got a call from my mother, before I was even awake, telling me that my Grandma was found on the floor at the care center where she lived. They were taking her to the hospital and would update us shortly. I went to church at 9:00 and awaited an update text whilst I relived my memories of having found my Grandma on the floor, and the many changes that followed that discovery. We made it until sacrament meeting (third hour) before we were told that she would be okay and just needed rest and antibiotics. They were, however, going to keep her at the hospital under observation. Nick and I left sacrament early so that Nick could assist my dad in giving Grandma a blessing. When we got there she didn't look very good but we left with the assurance that she would be released the next day.
    On Monday, I went back to teaching and assumed that I would be updated as needed. Wednesday afternoon I was preparing to leave school and go home for the birthday date that Nick had planned. On the way out the door, Nick called me and told me that Grandma had a dead leg (because of the position she had been in on the ground when they found her), the doctors said she would either need to lose the leg and live for a few months on weekly dialysis or, we would need to let her go. Her kids decided it would be best to let her go rather than prolong her suffering. With this knowledge, we spent Wednesday night at the hospital with my family and a semi-incoherent Grandma. It was hard to watch her be so confused about her situation. She didn't know where she was, she didn't know who all the people (doctors and nurses) were, she couldn't remember falling or having undergone surgery. We just took turns standing by her, holding her hand, letting her know she was loved and not alone.
    She stayed at the hospital on heavy morphine for a few more days, then they moved her back to her care center to finish up her journey. She had visitors almost constantly. Her children surrounded her continuously; holding her hands, singing to her, and putting her affairs in order. Her grandchildren and in-laws were around fairly regularly as well. Nick and I went almost everyday, spending our evenings by her bedside. It was difficult. It was hard to say goodbye to her every night not knowing if she would be there when I went back the next day. It was difficult to watch her breathe raspy inconsistent breaths, it was painful to wonder if she was in pain, it was sad to watch a woman once so full of life wither away before my eyes. Yet, it was ten times harder to be somewhere else. All I wanted to do was be by her and make sure that I made the most of the time I had left with her. I was restless unless I was in her vicinity. She must have been surrounded by people from both sides of the veil who loved her because there was more peace in her dark room than I could find anywhere else during her final week.
Taken in the last 6 months.
     On Sunday night, we went to the care center. And, for the first time we were left alone with her. I was able to hold her hand and tell her what a wonderful Grandmother she was. I told her how much I appreciated her. I thanked her for our house and explained that she was the reason we had one. I thanked her for taking such good care of Nick and I when we first got married. I told her that every room in our house reminded me of her because we inherited so many of her earthly belongings. I told her what an honor it was to have been able to take care of her for a while. I thanked her for being a viable presence in my life and supporting me in everything I did. I thanked her for birthday dates and Christmas presents. For taking us to plays and buying us ice cream. I thanked her for coming to my band concerts and choir performances. I thanked her for supporting me in school fundraisers, my trip to Thailand, my graduation, and my marriage. I told her that I was grateful that we had the opportunity to spend so much time with her in the last couple of years. I reminisced about our many times together and told her that I loved her over and over again. I cried and cried and held her hand. I know she could hear me and that she knows I meant it. At one point I looked at her and said, I love you so much. She started blinking at me. I told her that I knew she loved me too and she nodded.
    After I had said everything that I needed to say, Steven came back in the room and we sang her several songs. Including "God be with You Till We Meet Again". I mostly listened to that one, since I was incapacitated by tears at the time. When we left, I grabbed her hand one last time and told her goodbye. That was the last time I saw her alive.
    She passed away Tuesday afternoon while I was at school. She was surrounded by her family and went quite peacefully. Friday night we had a viewing and yesterday we had the funeral.

 Now, I started with the story of my friends funeral because, as far as I can remember, that was the last funeral I had been too up until yesterday. The feelings that permeated the funerals were completely different. My Grandmother's funeral was almost happy. It felt far more like a tribute to her life and the celebration of a job well done than did my friend's. At my Grandma's, there was talk of eternity, and freedom from pain and disease. There was talk about being with loved ones again. It was nice to be able to think of my Grandma and Grandpa being together again after 21 years. My aunts and uncle reminisced about the good times my Grandmother had had, the people she blessed and influenced, and the righteous life she lived.
Taken over 21 years ago.
    When we got to the cemetery I looked around at one point, only to see that every single one of her children was smiling and/or laughing. I marveled at how blessed we are to have a Heavenly Father that has enabled us to be with our loved ones again for eternity. It may be hard to be without them for our brief mortal experience but to have the knowledge that this is not the end embedded in our hearts was an amazing comfort. We were all so happy for Grandma. She had made it. She may have lived a longer life than my friend did, but they had that in common. They both made it home. They are in a much better place than here. My friend may have missed out on a lot of earthly experiences due to her shortened life, but I'm sure they were replaced with much more meaningful experiences in heaven.
   I didn't speak at my Grandma's funeral because I was to scared that I wouldn't have been able to actually speak. If I had spoken, I would have talked about what a wonderful example she was to me of service, love, and charity. I would have shared stories that illustrated what a tough, capable woman she was. And, I would have talked about her love for the gospel and her family. As it was, all of that was covered and more. I just got to sit back and appreciate the fact that I was blessed enough to be one of her descendants, and that she was strong enough to have joined the church on her own, and that she loved me. I'm grateful that she was in my life. I'm grateful that I will see her again whole and mended. For now, I can't think of a better guardian angel to have on my side.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post as always. Grandma is so proud. And so is my dad - who's birthday is today.