Yesterday we were in the kitchen. My mom said one small sentence and several of us simultaneously realized what weekend it was. This past Saturday marks two years since my mom’s mother passed away. And I had been thinking it was going to be Monday. I couldn’t believe I got the day wrong.
Luckily, I wasn’t alone. Some talking with my family helped us discover we all remembered that week very differently. Someone thought it was a Sunday, but others insisted it was a school day. Someone though it was during spring break, someone insisted it was the week before. The debate turned into gentle story telling and talking about the different ways we grieved, which was a conversation I was neither expecting nor prepared for. Perhaps because I’ve been realizing that I didn’t grieve for almost a year. I pushed it away, insisted I didn’t need to talk about it, consciously distracting myself constantly. I didn’t know what to do with myself, how to do it best. So I cried. I isolated. I pushed it deep deep down to be dealt with later.
My grandmother, my Granny, struggled with Parkinson’s disease most of my life. As the eldest grandchild I had the most memories of her before the illness really changed her. I felt so guilty. Guilty that I could barely remember, guilty that I was the only one who had those memories. I don’t know how familiar you are with Parkinson’s, but it takes a lot from a person. My Granny’s fine motor movements decreased gradually, her “I love you”s slowly got quieter and lost the inflection that makes them sound genuine, her face wasn’t always able to show emotion the way it once did.
But I remember. Some of it.
I remember taking baths in the downstairs bathroom, decorated with yellow seashells. Granny would carry in a bounty of cups and fun from the kitchen, turning the tub into a chemical lab of vessels full of water and soap.
I remember her singing lullabies about ducks as I snuggled under my beige baby blanket in the upstairs room with bright orange and yellow shag carpet.
I remember her never uttering the words “cottage cheese” after my child mind had dubbed it “white beans” oh so eloquently.
I remember watching the smile spread across her face and laughter shake her head as she told the story about me and my babysitter’s cheerleading gloves for what must have been the millionth time.
I remember watching her water flowers, planted in a big metal milk jug that looked like it came out of the cow themed wallpaper that covered the house.
I remember scampering around the house, counting the cows scattered around the house on the walls, on the stove as a kettle, or on my feet as the slippers I now (proudly) own.
I remember the way she cared for her mother before she passed away, and the way she reached out for each person she encountered. Ever a nurse and an administer of genuine tender loving care.
I remember picking raspberries and currants with her in the backyard, asking her to cut off a stalk of rhubarb for me to chew on while I ran around barefoot in the dirt.
I remember her helping us dig up worms before a fishing day with Popop, my grandpa.
I remember her gentle smile as she took out a vase when I would pick the lilies of the valley (obviously planted in a garden on the side of the house).
And I remember the way she said goodbye. She would hug you tight (sometimes almost too tight) and then look into your eyes and say, “Be there. Okay? I want you to be there.” Then we’d pile into the car and twist in our seats as we drove down the drive way, turned around to watch “the granny dance” as our favorite cheerleader/dancer waved goodbye in the most superfluous way I’ve ever seen.
Be there. It sounds so simple like that, so sure. She was the most sure person I knew. She was practically made of assurance. And certainly not in herself, but in Jesus. She wanted us to be there. She wanted us to be SURE and SAVED. She knew Jesus, she knew He was sure, and she knew she was going to heaven. And she wanted me to be there.
I don’t know what kind of coping mechanism it was, but I chose my last memory of my grandma. I don’t really remember the last time I saw her, or much of the funeral weekend.
But what I do remember is a weekend I was at a camp retreat and on the last morning my dad decided to bring my brother, my sister, and I to see Granny. The camp was close to where she was at the time, in one of those facilities that’s partially hospice and partially an heavily medical assisted living center. We got there and surprised them, pulling my grandparents out of the church service they had been in at the facility. I know we sat and talked, visiting and “catching up” if you will. I honestly don’t remember what we talked about. But I remember when we huddled up for a send off prayer. (Now, if you know me, you will know I am a huge physical touch person. Holding hands and hugs are my jam, so obviously these huddles were a happy place for me.) I got to hold my Granny’s hand. Now, you know when you’re holding someone’s hand and they do that comforting thing with their thumb? The smallest little thing, where they just rub your hand with their thumb? Something that will make me smile without fail? Something that would be nearly impossible for a woman less than a month away from partying with Jesus at the end of a long battle with Parkinson’s? Well God gave me a moment with my Granny while my dad prayed. Life was going on by us, but Granny ran her thumb on my hand and I thanked God for my last memory of my grandmother. I remember that. I remember thinking “This is it. This is one of the moments I will never forget.”
And I haven’t. I forgot what day she left us to hang out in heaven. I get mixed around with some of the stories and if I’m being brutally honest some of the memories I listed above may be mix ups too. But I won’t forget my last moment with Granny. Not today, not tomorrow, not next March or the March after that.
Friends, I don’t know what I really expect you to get out of this. Maybe just remember to talk about the people you love. It’s really scary when memories get gray and fuzzy around the edges; when you suddenly don’t remember what color the dress she wore was, or the exact words he said. It’s okay if you don’t remember everything. Tell the stories anyway. Maybe the dress color or an exact quote doesn’t matter as much as the feeling it pumps into your heart, or the look of love in someones eyes. Tell the stories.