Every day on Facebook I see statuses about the death of a grandparent. It's pretty normal for people in my generation to be experiencing that. But obviously when it comes to my grandparent, my grandmother, it's different. She isn't just another white haired old lady whose time is up. She the lady I've loved since I could remember, the one who delighted in all my secrets, the lady who I share a name and a flair for the dramatic. We are so alike it's scary. I'm the only grandchild named for her, but I was telling my mom yesterday, I think we share a lot more.
This weekend was supposed to be a lovely weekend in Charleston, SC. Enjoying family, a wedding of a dear friend, and of course the beach. Instead I got a call saying my grandmother had been in a series of falls and surgeries and that she had a heart attack and was on a ventilator. They were planning to unplug her, just as she always wanted, the next morning. I packed in 20 minutes and left at 4 AM with a sick baby and two sisters. We got there in time to say goodbye.
It was strangely wonderful to listen to each family member step up and whisper what was on their heart to Grandmother. Sweet memories, tears, laughter. Priceless jewels. I don't remember what I said, but I'm sure others do. I remember what others said. It's as if, you have no filter and the truth of your heart is exposed in a time like that. I wanted to jump in bed with her and wrap her in my arms and hold her like she'd done for me my whole life. My skinny little grandfather shook as he said, "We were married 68 years, but it wasn't enough."
And when they took the machine's off, she breathed on her own.
But with nearly zero brain activity and her living will, they removed all feeding tubes, IV's and moved her to Hospice to live out her remaining minutes, hours, or days.
I'm no stranger to death. Many loved ones have left the world too soon for me. But I am new to the process of dying naturally. I probably spent 10 hours with her spread over three days. watching the change her coloring, her skin temperature, the way her breathing changed. All of it lead to her leaving me. Wondering every moment, if I was watching this 90 year old woman, breath her last breath. I wanted to be there to witness it. I wanted to see if there was an obvious change in the split second between being in her body and being with her Lord.
Since I've been alive, my grandmother has talked openly about her excitement of death. She asked me nearly every time I was with her to play my violin at her funeral. She would excitedly share with me of her anticipation. She wasn't scared. In fact, we were all wanting her to go. How strange it is to pray for someone to die instead of live!
Her body wont give it up, and as my dad wisely reminded me, God has had her days numbered since before the beginning of time. Last I heard, she was still alive.
She was the epitome of a southern belle. A beauty queen with spunk. She was constantly making every mundane detail an exciting element in a dramatic fairy tale. Since I feel like we are one in the same, I can say with certainty that she dreamed of dying surrounded by flowers with her hair flowing over the pillow in a most dramatic way.
Since she was so dramatic, I just expected the moment of her death to be. There were so many times I held my breath as I watched to see if her chest would rise again, because that would have been the "perfect" moment to die.
When the family surrounded her bed, holding hands and singing hymns. Or when a sermon her son preached on mother's day was playing and he was describing the (again dramatic) way that my grandmother was saved (from hell and a fire). Or when my sister tearfully asked her to hold her baby when she got there. Or when my sister played Fur Elise on the piano and a beautiful sea breeze drifted through the windows. The list went on and on. I didn't want her to die when Barclay was pitching a fit because he didn't want to share, or when I was washing my hands, or when life was going on and no one was watching.
I do have to share probably one of the most pure and beautiful moments I've ever experienced in my whole life.
My Aunt had brought some fresh gardenias into the room and set by the window. Gardenias are what I think of when I think of growing up in Charleston. Their delicate and sweet, and every time I smell them I am taken back. I grabbed one and held it near her face. My sweet Grandfather swore he saw her smile. I placed it behind her ear and started braiding her hair. Granddaddy told me that she carried Gardenia's in her bridal bouquet 68 years ago. He then asked me, "Will you braid some of those into her hair to make a bridal crown?".
Slowly I weaved each perfect white flower into her long grey hair. I was treasuring every feeling of that moment. The cool breeze, the memories in my heart, the sound of my grandfather crying, the inhale when it was done. I stood back and saw something breath taking, a vision her 68 years before flashed before my eyes. An image from an old black and white picture I had seen. Not only was I think of her wedding day to my granddaddy, I was thinking of how she was Christ's bride. Perfect and holy because of Christ dying on the cross for her. And how she was about to meet her groom.
I sat back and watched as my grandfather wiped his free flowing tears with his hankie. And muttered things like,
"Look at my beautiful bride!"
"I loved my wife so much."
"She looks so beautiful"
My heart broke for him.
My heart swelled with honor as I witnessed such a simple moment.
I cannot believe I will never again pick up the phone to call Charleston and hear the honey sweet, southern accent of my grandmother,
"Daaaaling. Is this my heart strings? Is this my Helen Joy?"