Breaking my post-once-a-week pattern for a particular reason …
One year ago today, my grandmother ended her battle with Alzheimer’s after twelve years. She had spent almost the entire previous week in the hospital with pneumonia, and all her family was told form the beginning that this was it; she wasn’t going to be leaving. After many days spent by her bedside, in laughter and tears, she died surrounded by her children and grandchildren, gone but never forgotten, though her own memory went so many years ago.
I’ve been thinking this week about Grandma’s legacy, about how her love, her faith, her hope, and her humor have passed down now to three generations, with who knows how many more to come. Whenever I am tempted to think that my sphere of influence is too small to make a difference, that my presence in this world doesn’t really matter, I remember this wonderful women who lived in a tiny corner of the world, raising her children and planting her gardens, and whose life touched so many and continues to do so even now. No person is too small or too insignificant to make a difference. We never know how far the ripples of our life may travel.
I’m including here in this post the tribute I wrote to Grandma last year, the day after her death. And at some point today, I will sit down with my girls, show them some pictures on their uncle’s Facebook wall of their grandmother, and tell them some of the stories I remember best.
She is gone, but her love and her humor live on.
She went out accompanied by a blaze of northern lights, some of the most brilliant seen around here in ages. Heaven welcoming a gallant soul home with fanfare.
Even after her breathing had slowed drastically, her heart remained strong until the end. We always knew her heart was bigger and stronger than most.
Her humor was one of the last things to go when the Alzheimer’s took over. Even when she was in the nursing home and couldn’t even recognize Grandpa, she would try to tease the nurses and aids. They all loved her.
They were married for sixty years. Two days before she finally died, I sat and watched him hold her hand as he told us the only reason he underwent chemo and fought so hard for life through the blood clots last year was so that he could take care of her, make sure her ending was peaceful and dignified, so that he could take care of her to the end. None of his kids could speak at that point, so I managed to choke out that he had done a wonderful job of it. They were an example to us all.
Of eight kids, six managed to make it home to say goodbye, only the one in Australia and the one in Arizona not able to get back. Fully half of the grandkids were able to come. No one fought, no one argued, no one tried to make things difficult for anyone else. Everyone acted as selflessly as human beings can act. Another testimony to the love and respect everyone had for her.
The hospital nurses teared up when their weekend shift ended, knowing they wouldn’t see her again alive.
There was as much laughter as tears around her bedside, as stories were shared and memories were dredged up and old jokes revived. Her fifteen-year-old grandson played his guitar, everyone sang, and her last days were filled with the music and laughter she loved so well.
She has been gone for a long time. Twelve years ago was when she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, at that point too far advanced to do anything but watch and pray as it slowly disintegrated the woman we all knew. The pneumonia that took her tonight was a release from that living death (twelve years is phenomenally long for Alzheimer’s sufferers – most don’t live more than five years), and our tears were as much joy for her as sorrow.
She is whole again now. She is free. She is rejoicing and laughing with her Lord.
It hurts, still, but this is a clean hurt, one that will heal. The pain of the Alzheimer’s never went away; it would lie dormant for a time, but it was always there lurking in the background. This – already there is a peace growing from the sorrow.
We will miss her. We have missed her for years. But her legacy – the love, the laughter, the strength and faith and joy – she passed that on, not only to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, but to all who knew her. I am proud to call myself her granddaughter, and you can be sure my girls will grow up knowing about what an amazing woman their great-grandmother was.
Rest in Peace? Maybe. Personally, I suspect she is singing and dancing right now.
Grandma as a girl Senior portrait