So this next one is my story or at least my family’s story. It’s a story that is told partly by my own personal memories and partly by the day at the memorial service. The two are intertwined so this may take a while.
My Grandma was a gentle and wonderful person. All my memories of Grandma are centered around home and family. I hardly think that is atypical but it is certainly special. If I had to define one thing that is the predominant memory of my childhood at Grandma’s house it would be riding the two-pedal red steel fire engine around the two support poles on the tiled basement floor with my younger cousins on big wheels or on foot. Screaming and hysteria would ensue until someone either got hurt or threw up. Isn’t that a classic family memory? I expect that many of us have similar stories.
In her later years my Grandma was crippled by dementia and we all watched her decline but in the process measured more about her amazing will and her fight to live than her demise. To me it was a testament to her strength, not her fear. And her fears were plenty. I hope that nobody in my family thinks this is over-sharing and if so I apologize, but it is part of my story and the essence can’t be told without at least some reference to the reality.
Some people just worry. I come from a long line of worriers and have spent much of my life trying to learn how to worry a little bit less. Funny thing is that I never considered worrying as a weakness but rather I saw it as a sign of caring deeply. I frequently tell people at work if you are not a little bit nervous about something you may not be taking it seriously enough. The same thing applies in this case.
On to the family story as it relates to the Harbor Light Hospice memorial service. It is very much in theme with the first four stories in this series even if it is more close to home for me. As I said before, Grandma was a fighter. I marvel at her will to live and gained more respect for her every day I visited her over the last few years. There were good days and bad days for sure, even in my occasional visits. The highs and lows had to be more dramatic for my Mom and her sisters who visited her on a daily or weekly basis. Most of the times I visited my Grandma in the last two years I would just hold her hand or put my palm on the top of her head and share with her as much positive energy as I could. I always felt a sense of calm and connection even though no words were shared and she was in no position to “recognize” me in the true physical sense. The love between a grandparent and a grandchild transcends the ability to talk and I am so grateful for the many times we shared even in the most advanced stages of her dementia.
There were a number of times that we thought that the end might be near in the last year or so but again and again Grandma would rally and reach a stable point once again. What was it that she was holding on for? I sense it was her desire to see all of her daughters in the same place just one last time and to be sure that everyone was at peace with her leaving us. Everyone has a different idea of when they are ready to let go. My life for the last few years has been an ongoing lesson in learning to let go. I have gotten divorced, lost a parent, changed jobs, released important friendships and given up physical possessions. For me my Grandma was a living example and a lesson that transcended almost all other life lessons.
After we heard the stories of a few other families at the memorial service, my Mom and her youngest sister spoke about Grandma’s last few days. As her health status progressed to grave, my two aunts that lived out of state happened to be in Chicago for a visit. On one special day, the five sisters gathered together in the company of Father Ron from Harbor Light Hospice along with my Grandma for the anointing of the sick. They prayed. They read scripture and told stories about letting go. In the end Grandma finally saw that her legacy had gathered together one last time to comfort her and let her know that she could move on. She finally had permission to surrender into the mystery and joy of the great beyond and then she died in peace.
Her wake and funeral were a unique and special celebration of life. We laughed and told stories. We took photos as a group of cousins and we took photos of the five sisters. I later gave a makeshift eulogy at the banquet hall after her funeral luncheon. I have no idea what I said but I’m told that it was nice and touching. I credit none of that to any special gifts of my own but rather to a truly amazing, delightfully simple life that deserved a fitting story. A life that continues on in the stories of the past, the excitement about the future, and mostly about living in the moment with all of its joys and fears and mysteries.
After the funeral, which was on a ridiculously hot summer day, my girlfriend and I were driving home and talking about living in the present. On a whim we searched our iPhones for a nearby water park. We stopped at a Wal-Mart and bought bathing suits and towels. And then we spent a couple of hours sliding down water slides and floating in a lazy river, not unlike a bunch of cousins playing in a basement on big wheels and on fire trucks. We even went to dinner at Red Lobster after the water, a place I had taken Grandma many times in the past long before she approached her final days. I never realized until this exact moment in time what a fitting tribute that evening was to my memories of my Grandma. Living life in the moment, pushing on despite circumstances, making room for fun and playing. Again the universe delivers a powerful message.
I will always love you, Grandma, and I’m so grateful that we had so many precious experiences through the years. I live by your example. This is a life story that is worth continuing, and I’m sure it will.