Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Heart Strings

I don't even know where to begin. Or how to put into words all the emotions I've felt the past few days.

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?"




14 comments:

  1. I am crying as I read this. I am so sorry for you loss, but thank you so much for sharing your grandmother's beautiful testimony with us all.

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  2. I, too, sit here crying as I read your precious recount of your grandmother. I know exactly how you felt as you watched her breaths wondering which would be her last -- I sat at my grandpa's bedside doing the same thing! My heart breaks for you. But thank you for sharing your beautiful grandmother and your memories of her!

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  3. My Goodness Helen Joy. I can only imagine what you are going through right now. I too have to admit it has brought me to tears. But you have described your grandmother's time here in such a beautiful way. It makes me feel a little better about mine. She too has had a few close calls this year. So thank you for writing this and sharing with everyone. It sounds like she was a very special lady. Especially if she was just like you. :-) You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers.

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  4. I am so sorry for your loss. I am also moved to tears as I read. Thank you for sharing this, I know it was very difficult and painful. So often I get caught up in the technical details of my job (and as a matter of emotional self preservation), I forget that these people at the other end of the ventilator are more than just my patient... they are wives, mothers, grandmother, etc and they all have a life story to tell. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your grandmothers. May God grant you and your family the comfort and peace that can only come from Our Father.

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  5. Ohhhh Helen Joy! My heart aches for you! Your sweet grandmother and your relationship with her DEEPLY reminds me of that which I have with my own "Grammie" (the one you pictured so perfectly with me on my wedding day in that bridal suite....) What a beautiful obituary you wrote here! How proud she is of you, looking down upon you now (and how she was when she was here on Earth). I sob at the mere thought of having to tell my own sweet Grammie goodbye one day...one day I fear will come very soon. But I pray for the same peace and knowledge that she and your grandmother seem to have always known...that this Earth is a mere stop on our journey Home. How wonderful that is to believe in...to KNOW! You and your family are in my heart! I love you.

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  6. Helen Joy,

    What a beautiful (and sad) experience you have shared with all of us.

    Reading this has brought back many, many memories of my mom lying in a hospital bed surrounded by tubes, and all of my brothers and sisters holding hands around her bed and singing hymns, saying Good Bye…

    I know you will miss her deeply, but just know that God is there waiting for you to crawl into HIS arms and cry on HIS shoulders.

    Thank you for sharing so many wonderful things about your grandmother. I especially like the gardenia moment you had and how you pictured her not only as a bride for your grandfather, but also as a bride of Jesus. That is a beautiful picture!!

    You will see her again…many thoughts and prayers for you and your family.

    Love you! Lillie

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  7. So much emotion reading this post, but the sentence that gave me goosebumps was, "'We were married 68 years, but it wasn't enough.'"

    It's so heartbreaking, but at the same time, such a beautiful love.

    Prayers and love for you and your family.

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  8. Wow HJ! Such a beautiful post... Makes me feel like I'm there with my family.
    - Jeremy Paul

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  9. such a beautiful well written post. what a treasure it is that you have such a priceless love for your sweet grandmother.
    thankyou dearly for sharing this...

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  10. My sweet Helen Joy..........whew ....I can't stop crying.....I loved your Grandmother dearly.....She was such a sweet dear lady .I love my Nannie sooo much so I understand all that you are saying.I also share your gried and excitement in that my Dad just died a month ago and I am still grieving but I do know that he is with his Saviour and is joyful beyond belief.
    I'm sorry I could not be there to love on all of my favorite girls but I was out of town for our anniversary.I love you .Call me anytime.

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  11. I meant to say grief not gried up above

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  12. Oh Helen Joy, I remember your grandmother! I loved her Southern accent and sweet Southern charm! I wish I could have known her better! I'm remembering all of you in my prayers. I'm sorry for your loss, but so happy that there is hope in her death - that she is going home! ((hugs))

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  13. ashley levasseurJune 1, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    This is one of the most beautiful writings that I have ever had the privilege of reading. What a beautiful story of love and a life that most definitely is living on with her Lord. Helen Joy, I truly love you… although I have never gotten the chance to spend time with you...I have "fallen in love" with your beautiful heart through your blogs, photos and FB. I am praying for you and your dear family as you continue to heal…

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