Saturday night as we were preparing the kids for bedtime, the telephone started ringing. As I looked at the caller ID and noticed my Mom's telephone number, I knew the message before I even pressed the answer button. My Grandma Rose, Owen and Clara's Great Grandma, had passed away a short time earlier. Her suffering had ended, her journey to the Cross was complete.
I laid down in bed with Owen and explained that Nana and Papa (my Dad and Grandma Rose's son) would be coming in from Phoenix because Grandma Rose had died. Owen asked " I am not going to see Grandma Rose ever again?" I explained that Grandma Rose would always be with him and Clara, watching over them. He then said "An angel came out of her body and went to Heaven and now Grandma Rose is in Heaven." While we attend church regularly, we don't frequently discuss the concept of angels in the context of death. Even if we did, Owen is usually busy playing quietly during worship. Furthermore, this is the first family death in his brief three years, so we have not had this discussion in the past. As such, I found Owen's explanation both interesting and comforting.
In early March, Grandma Rose had been rushed to the hospital with severe chest pain and difficult breathing. She had not yet established advanced directives; therefore, the caregivers used heroic measures to keep her alive. One of the valves in her heart was not working correctly and blood was not circulating out of her lungs appropriately. The doctors provided a grim prognosis for her continued survival. The family gathered at the hospital hoping for survival, yet saying goodbye without saying goodbye. Little did we know that she would improve enough to return home less than three weeks later.
Grandma Rose spent most of the next five months living in her home. Occasionally, she would be taken to the hospital when she was not feeling well. She spent the last two to three weeks living in a hospice where they could provide comfort care to ease her discomfort. During the middle of this week, she told the doctor that she was tired of laying in bed being useless and that she was ready to die. When she spoke with my Dad on Friday, he said that when she said goodbye that he sensed it was her last goodbye.
As an adult approaching 40, it is interesting to look back on experiences that have shaped me. So many happy moments of childhood and young adulthood involved Grandma Rose. She was a masterful storyteller, spinning a tale together based on the random trinkets she kept around to entertain my brother and I when we would visit her. I remember sitting on the front stoop of their house under the maple tree playing with the "helicopter" seeds. We took many walks down the sidewalks consisting of a mix of slate slabs and new concrete. It was nearly impossible to leave Grandma's house without something to eat. Even if you had just eaten a full meal, the smells emanating from the kitchen would convince you that you had just a little more room. Our annual Christmas Eve pierogie feast will always remain one of my favorite memories. Oh how I wish I could bottle the atmosphere of those evenings - kids anticipating the morning to come, rich family conversation and laughter, great homemade food in seemingly endless abundance. Grandma's basement was always full of new surprises. Each visit would yield some new toy that Grandma had found. One New Year's eve, Grandma was watching my brother and I while Mom and Dad were out. Grandma and Grandpa had some friends over to play cards and I spent the evening counting the empty beer cans produced by the group, with particular attention to Grandma's consumption. It is a story that neither of us ever forgot.
The memories are so plentiful, so rich, and so comforting. I simply feel compelled to celebrate her life instead of mourning her loss. I know without doubt that she will always be with me and my family in this life and beyond.