2009 - Four generations
2009 – Four generations

I can say I don’t believe in fate, unless it is a fate directly connected to God’s ultimate design and plan for our lives. We ebb and flow through life, many of us hoping that we are landing somewhere within His will for our lives.

This is why I don’t believe fate took us to Spearfish, South Dakota on May 18, 2013, I believe it was God’s orchestration of a larger purpose. Our “plan” had been made a year-and-a-half prior. We would travel to see Grandma, and other family members in the area, adding in must-see destinations such as Mt. Rushmore and Reptile Gardens (not for me, I have a snake phobia).

We left home on May 17, having no idea what our trip had in store for us. We arrived to rain and fog that would last the next five days. My Grandma was spending time in a nursing home as she underwent radiation treatments for a tumor in her throat. The doctors hadn’t given her a time limit of how long she would live, so there weren’t too many concerns that she wouldn’t make it out her stubborn self.  She was down to eighty-nine pounds, not too much less than what she weighed before radiation began. Just days before we arrived they had inserted a feeding tube (through her stomach).

We saw Grandma on May 18, and had a fairly good visit. I say, “fairly,” because the first thing she said to me summed up my entire relationship with her. She was on her bed, I went to her and barely touched her as I gave her a gentle hug. She made a noise and I asked if I had hurt her. She brusquely said, “Yes. Just don’t do it again.” My heart fell to the floor.

Despite my continued feelings of inadequacy, I plodded on searching for something to talk to her about. Her voice was hardly a whisper because of the radiation, but she had never talked to me much anyway. I was so proud of my daughter, Payton, as she sat on the edge of her Great Grandma J’s bed. I asked questions, and she answered. I would ask her to tell Grandma about preschool, friends, and our trip the day before. Payton sat there for more than an hour, chatting, listening, and singing songs for Grandma. Grandma smiled and nodded. Payton watched intently as Grandma hacked up phlegm and spit it into a cup. I saw concern and questions in her eyes. I helped Grandma, handing her what she needed, and making every effort to not do something wrong. After the episodes ended, Payton picked up exactly where she had left off, being her energetic, social self.

sunflowers mommy and me picnik

The next day, we returned to find Grandma had fallen the night before. She was a little confused, but more than anything, she was in pain. The doctor had her on pain medicine but it didn’t seem to be doing much for her discomfort from the fall. She was irritated and had laid down before we left.

We said goodbye and went to my Aunt Candy’s house, my cousin, Tobi, and her boys met us there. I don’t even remember the phone ringing, but around three-o-clock, Tobi hung it up, put her hands over her face, and cried, “Grandma died.”

For some odd and unexplainable reason, I waited, thinking she was joking, probably because I didn’t want it to be true, and because I had seen Grandma two-and-a-half hours earlier, and I would not have said she was near death.

I realized in the coming days that no matter how frail, how sick someone is, nothing can prepare you for death. It was kind of odd because my Grandma was never without a cigarette in her hand for as long as I can remember. It was part of her. As a child, I recall warily watching the ashes protruded from her cigarette, growing inches long, wondering when she was going to knock them into the ashtray. I was worried those dark, burning embers were going to land on me, on the dining table, or in her glass.

When she approached seventy, then eighty, I was astonished she hadn’t succumbed to a smokers disease. Despite what I felt loomed ahead for her, I wasn’t prepared for that phone call, nor was I prepared for how I would feel about her passing.

At her Celebration of Life the evening before the funeral I was surprised to hear a couple people say, “She wasn’t your typical Grandma.” I thought I was alone in these feelings. She really wasn’t that typical loving Grandma who gives hugs, sends cookies and goodie boxes, and takes the grandkids on fun adventures (hers consisted of the small town cafe if we were lucky, and maybe even a dinner for the frugally minded at the casino). She was loving in a different way. Her way.

I must come to grips with that, no matter how rocky our relationship was. Through her passing, I have recognized how deeply I miss her, and this must mean there was something more between the two of us than I imagined.

I suppose everyone becomes reflective when a loved one passes. I must learn to not carry on the parts of her that hurt me (because I emulate them more than I would like to admit), and I must learn from her positive attributes.

My Grandma was an extremely strong woman. After she passed I realized she was

2010 - all of Grandma's kids, grandkids, and great grandkids celebrated her 80th Birthday with her. She was as happy as a clam that day. I'd say the word "clam" is fitting, as her favorite place was the beach.
2010 – all of Grandma’s kids, grandkids, and great grandkids celebrated her 80th Birthday with her. She was as happy as a clam that day. I’d say the word “clam” is fitting, as her favorite place was the beach.

the rock and the pillar of our family. The only reason the aunts and uncles, and some of the cousins ever saw each other was because of her. I wonder if in her last moments she was aware of this and saddened by it. I know I am.

She had to have known, because she was an extremely intelligent woman. After my Grandpa passed in 1980, she continued to build their phone company into a multi-million dollar business. By the way, this was done in one of South Dakota’s smallest towns, hovering around a population of three-hundred.

She gave all her kids and grandkids most of our inheritance throughout the past twenty years. She wanted to enjoy watching how everyone spent it. She had some good sense.

As I grew older I saw how much she had loved my Grandpa, who died in 1980. When I asked her years ago to answer questions about her life, it took her several years to return them. Even then, the information about my Grandpa was sparse. In my naivety, I never noticed that her avoidance of the subject of my Grandpa was probably due to her deep ache and loneliness without him. She grieved for him thirty-three years after his death.  It wasn’t until her funeral that I found out she had passed one day before they would have celebrated their anniversary. I felt she didn’t want to go through another anniversary without him. Grandpa had passed on June 19, 1980, and she left us on May 19, 2013, I also feel this meant something to her.

My last years with her have been the most important, memorable, and encouraging. I wanted her affirmation, I needed her affirmation. I wish I could say I rely solely on God to build me up, but a large part of me wanted my Grandma to think I was important.

grandmas80 - Payton singing H.B.For me, this came when she supported my husband and I in our decision to do foster care and eventually adopt. I know she loved my kids, I saw it written all over her face when we took my daughter to see her for the first time. She was enthralled and happy. There weren’t too many times that I saw my Grandma smile, but Payton made her face shine.

Just three months before she passed, she told me that she had been reading about Autism (our son, Jeremiah, has Autism), and encouraged me in what we are doing with him. Unlike many others, she seemed to grasp the efforts that we make every day to make his life better.

It meant so much to me that she cared about my children. Being that they both have Special Needs, I have never poured my heart and soul into something more completely than my kids. To know they brought her joy in her last hours brings me overwhelming peace.

2010 - Payton singing Happy Birthday to Grandma at her 80th Birthday party.
2010 – Payton singing Happy Birthday to Grandma at her 80th Birthday party.

As I simultaneously look to the past and to the future, I hope to carry on the positive attributes she exuded, and realize there may be more to relationships that have caused me pain than I may ever recognize. In life with my Grandma I would have never thought I would have so many good memories from the past after her death.