Saturday, October 24, 2015

Dear Grandma...

My Grandma Patton is weaved throughout this blog just as she was woven throughout my very being. For as far back as my memory goes, Grandma was there. Sometimes teaching me something I'd later realize I should've listened closer to while she was teaching. Sometimes just a silent force reminding me of my roots. Sometimes she was a storm in my life when we butted heads (& we did on occasion). Sometimes she was just simply peace...

It's hard to write this post, but it's time...

It's been nearly a year. One long year. Some days it feels like decades since I've heard her voice or felt her hug. Other days it feels like it was only yesterday. The wound of losing her so fresh and raw.  Even now, all these weeks later, I can't type her name without tearing up. I use to wonder how long it would be until I could think of her without tears. Now, I've accepted the answer is "never".

Grandma was kind, compassionate, wise & loyal. She touched countless lives. She was also a spit-fire, opinionated at times and, in her earlier years, quick tempered with a sharp tongue. I always struggled to imagine this woman of grace and peace that I knew as the firey, plate throwing young wife my Papaw married. I laughed every time she told me of how he'd patiently wait until she'd finished her tantrum and then ask softly "Feel any better now?"  She'd always tell me how she was mad all over when he'd ask that! But over time, as is the case with most of us, she learned more self-control, the tantrums faded and she became the wise, peace-loving matriarch of her family.

I guess a part of me knew it might be the last morning I'd spend with her at her house that last morning there. She'd been sick for several days and mom & I had talked that we both thought this might be the time she didn't recover. A reality neither of us wanted to face, but that we knew was coming one day.

When I came in, she was lying on the couch asleep. Mom & I sat and talked for a while and then I went in and touched her arm. That same look of joy came over her face when she realized it was me. She was always saying my coming in her house was like the sunshine coming in. I never understood that, but I appreciated that she felt that way. She was so weak that morning. She sat up on the couch and I sat down beside her. She leaned on me, her head on my shoulder, asking me about the kids. Always asking about the kids. Then she said, "want a cup of coffee?". I looked at mom both of us knowing she couldn't make it to the kitchen and sit for coffee.
"It's ok," I told her. "We can just sit here and talk."
"No, I can sit in there. Let's have coffee." she said softly.
It took mom &I both and her using the walker to get her to the kitchen. But she made it. She sat down in her chair and I fixed our coffee. Every time I looked at her, she was leaning a little further to the side. Mom and I silently telling one another to watch her.
I sat her cup in front of her and mine in front of me. With one hand on her arm helping to balancing her up, I drank my coffee with the other. I don't think either of us finished that cup. Maybe I did, so she'd go lay down, I don't  honestly remember. But she finally said, "I think I better go lay back down now."

As we got her back to the couch, I was reminded of a conversation she & I had a few weeks earlier over coffee.
"I need you to do something for me," she'd said one morning.
"What's that?" I asked
"I won't be here forever. I know you and your mom hate when I say that, but it's true. I can't live forever. So I need you to promise me you won't be sad and upset" she said in her matter of fact way.
"I can't promise you that" I whispered. Stunned.
"Well, I'm asking you to" she replied.
"I'll tell you what," I said, "I won't promise to not be sad but I promise to keep moving forward. How's that?" I asked
"Good enough," she said and the conversation was over never to be mentioned again.

Here I was just a few short weeks later faced with keeping that promise. It was too soon. I didn't care that she was staring down would always be too soon. That was the last time I saw here in her home. I met mom at the hospital later that afternoon, they admitted her and we knew...this would be it. She would come in and out of lucidity. Her hands moving in her sleep as if she was sewing and making quilts. When she would wake, it was almost like she was disappointed to still be on this side of heaven. I knew she was so ready to move on from this world.

A few days later, she was moved to the nursing home where I was working. She'd ask for me over and over. Wanting to know I was nearby. She was the biggest reason I went to nursing school. She always thought I should be a nurse. I use to tell her, if nothing else good became of me being a nurse, I could see to it that she was well-cared for in her final days. That's one promise I kept to her.

Mom held almost a constant vigil over her in those final days. Occasionally, Grandma would wake enough to ask her who had been to see her as if she was checking off a mental checklist of who needed to say good-bye. On her last day on earth, she was silent. Every hour, I'd lean over, kiss her forehead, tell her I loved her. As the afternoon passed, I told mom I'd go home and be back the next day. I leaned over & told Grandma again "I love you. Always." and kissed her forehead. One of our cousins, who'd always been like another daughter to Grandma, was in the room and she said "What did she say?"
"What? She didn't say anything. She can't even hear us without her hearing aids in. I just have to tell her for me" I explained.
"No, her lips moved. It looked like she said 'I love you too'", she replied.
"I don't think so. There's no way she can hear me." I said. And I left.

It wouldn't be much over an hour when I got the call from Mom...she was gone.

Later, Mom would tell me that at the end, she told her she loved her and Grandma said "I love you too" in barely a whisper. It didn't hit me until that night, there was no way her earthly body could have heard us. None. There was peace in knowing her spirit was with us then.

We carried out her wishes for graveside rites only and we divided up her things as she had already planned. No one fought over anything. No one would have disrespected her in that way. We shared funny stories and laughed at memories we all had. We attempted to heal in some way.

And time marched forward as it likes to do...she visited me in a dream shortly after that. Once to tell me Papaw sent his love and she was ok. I remember I asked her "What's it like there?" she laughed out loud and said "You know I can't tell you that." But she was happy and at peace...that much I was sure of.

I often think about what she would think of me today. A year later. Still a crying mess at the mention of her name. Missing her more today than I did even a year ago. She'd be so aggravated at me. She'd remind me that I promised I'd go on. She'd ask me why I'm wasting my time here missing her. She'd "jerk a knot in my tail"...

But I can't help it. I try, Every day I try. But I miss her in a way there are no words to describe. I know she lived a long life. I know she was ready. I know that it's selfish of me to want her here. I know that her last few years, her health made her a prisoner in her home. I wouldn't want her back the way she was. She didn't deserve that. But oh how I miss her!

There was never a problem too big for her. I could walk in her door feeling like the weight of the whole world was on my shoulders. Most times we never even discussed what was bringing me down, but I walked out feeling at peace. Refreshed.

It's the little things I miss...going through the Senior issue of the Paoli News Paper in May explaining who's kids was who's so she could see grandkids & great grandkids of people she knew. Realizing I'd done something stupid and had some stain I couldn't figure out how to get out, and calling her for advice on what to do.  Just going for a drive into Amish country on a pretty day.

Oh & the kids...she loved them all. She never saw me she didn't ask about Liv and Tyler and Lily. She wanted to know what was going on in their lives & how they were. She always wanted to see pictures of what they'd been doing. When one of them was making me nuts (or all 3 lol), she'd remind me of why I love them. She had a knack for seeing people at their core and she would always tell me they were good kids. All of them. "But they're gonna mess up sometimes," she'd say, "they're just kids.  They love you. You know that, right? Don't give up on them. Just keep loving them." she'd remind me.

She loved deeply and she was loyal & wise. She was the only person left in this world who looked at me and saw nothing but good. Surely she knew I wasn't all good, but in her presence I felt important and understood. I mattered.

After she died, everything made me sad. From washing the coffee cups we drank out of to mom pointing out worn spots on the kitchen table that she and I had made from hours of visiting to having my first birthday in 38 years without her to finding a card from her I'd tucked away where she called me her "Sunshine". Everything was hard, but the kids she'd loved picked me up and tried to put me back together. Holding me when I cried. Telling me it wasn't stupid to turn up her street on my first day off work after her funeral only to realize she wasn't there. Helping me find places in my house for the things of hers I'd been given.

I remember the night mom brought me her table. I finished supper and got the kitchen cleaned up, but the tears were threatening. I hate crying in front of people and the kids had seen plenty of tears already. So I went to my room and shut the door. Soon, I heard a light knock and in walked Tyler. "You ok?" he asked
"Yeah, I just need a minute" I said
He took one look at me and knew. "Come here" he said drawing me into a big hug.
I remember looking up at him and saying "I feel a big cry coming on so this is your chance to run".
He laughed, hugged me tighter and said "Then cry. In fact, big ugly cry and feel better. Stop trying to hold it in. You're sad. It's ok. We're here."
In case you don't know, when someone tells you it's ok to cry while hugging you, it's a good bet you're gonna cry. And cry I did.
Liv came in and asked if I was ok and Tyler told her I was having a big cry. "She'll be fine. Put on a movie and just be here with her."
And so I sat,  like a big baby, held by both kids crying until I felt better.

Looking back, I think Grandma knew I would need those kids as much (maybe even more) than they needed me. So much has changed since then. None of us are who we were a year ago. I miss my Grandma and I miss my life from then.

If there's anything I would say to others about loving someone it's this: 

*Take lots of pictures. On days when you look awful. On days when nothing at all is going on. Every chance you get. Take pictures. Some day you will be so glad you have them.

*Save voicemails. Especially the ones that say "I love you". Some day you'll wish
you could hear their voice one more time.

*Love deeply. If you love someone, tell them. If they make your day better, your life better, whatever the case - tell them. Tell them today. Tomorrow and every day. I bet we said "I love you" a billion times in the time we had together and you know what? If I had 5 minutes with her today, I'd say "I love you" as many times as I could in that 5 min.

*See a person's heart & soul. Don't look at their clothes, their outward appearance, the car they drive or the house they live in. Don't listen to the gossip. Don't pay attention to whatever behaviors they're doing that make you wonder what they're thinking. Look in their eyes at their very soul. See them for what they are. If they're lost, be a light to guide them. If they hurt you, love them anyway. Forgive them for the pain they cause you and never stop believing in them.

*Give to others. Every chance you get. No one was ever worse off because they helped someone else.

*Don't waste time. Don't be idle. If there's something you need to say or do. Do it. Now. Before you can't.

*Write it down. The stories they tell you. The memories. You think you'll never forget...but you do.

This is just part of my Grandma's legacy.
Every life she touched is part of her legacy.
I am part of her legacy.

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