My grandma passed away this last week. My mother’s mother, an amazing homemaker, maker of jam and fudge, gardener, faithful daughter of God, and friend. Her life was hard in many ways, full of challenges and heartache. But this post isn’t about her life, not really. It is about her death, the beauty and celebration of her life, the lessons I learned from her last days and the days following her passing.
I felt privileged to be a part of her last days here on earth. She was in the hospital for the last couple months of her life struggling through a lot of pain and fear. It wasn’t easy for her or for those that loved her. I visited her in the hospital and each time I came away I was filled with peace and hope. I didn’t know what would happen with her health, if she would improve or not. It was hard to watch her suffer but there were so many blessings, moments, and experiences that I was blessed to experience and I’m so grateful I was part of her last days.
I am grateful for a doctor who knew our names and our family situation, that admitted to being wrong and not knowing all the answers. I’m grateful for family time, so many of us gathered together. I’m grateful to volunteers at hospice that washed my dying grandma’s hair and talked to her with compassion and love. I’m grateful for pain medication. I’m grateful for my mother and aunts, examples of love and comfort. They washed her hands and face, helped lift her for different procedures, did whatever she asked them to do, spent many nights with her not getting much sleep if any at all. They took her mind of the fear and the pain, they loved her.
I was there the first day that we thought we would lose her. I was privileged to watch her 4 daughters gather around her hospital bed and work through the process of letting her go. I watched them have the courage to tell her the words that she needed to hear, that it was okay, that she could go, that she had done enough, that they would take care of all that needed to be done. There was a reverence in the room I will never forget.
There were tears and laughter as family gathered in her hospital room, as memories were shared and stories told. Family supported each other with words, food, and embraces. So many tender mercies.
Conversations that were years in the making finally took place. She was able to share her last words with so many. Words of forgiveness, love, and grace. Words that challenged some to change. Her last words to me were that she loved me and that I had a wonderful family. She had never said those words to me before. I knew she loved me but I had never heard her say those words to me, she had a hard time with those words, but in death she was finally able to say them. It meant a lot.
Her funeral was full of stories of her sacrifice and devotion. How she practiced time and again the art of sacrifice and love. With 7 children and over 70 grandchildren and great-grandchildren (her first great-great grandchild is due later this year) the room was full. All the family came together and did their part and shared their love and strength.
As I reflect on these last few days, I’m amazed at the wonder of it all. Death can be beautiful, blessed, and full of gratitude and love. We know she is safe, that she does not hurt, that we will see her again. The siblings were dividing up some of her earthly items. The last of her homemade jam and fudge were given, the last she will ever make. That, more then anything else hit me the hardest. Funny what things make the experience of death real and concrete. But as I shared my sadness with my mom, she said to me that we would make more, and we will. Because of her and her legacy we will make more, do more, be more. Her strength and faithfulness through adversity will carry on through all of us who learned and were inspired by her.