Almost two weeks ago, Josef’s grandmother passed away.
She was 92, and it was one of those occasions where, when the person passes away, everyone is grateful that the person is no longer in pain and discomfort.
I’d known her since early on into Josef’s and my dating relationship. She and her husband were at our wedding, as were Josef’s other set of grandparents. It was really special to have them all there at our wedding. My only living grandparent, my grandmother Alice, wasn’t able to attend our wedding, and she passed away just a few years after Josef and I got married, so I greatly appreciated having grandparents-in-law.
Josef’s grandmother was someone I saw only on occasion, such as the holidays. She and her husband were in their 80s and still living at home north of Atlanta. Over the years surrounding the wedding, her body began to dramatically fail her. It was sad to watch her decline, but it was also amazing to witness the devotion Josef’s grandfather gave her.
Two-and-half years ago we helped the two of them make the heart-wrenching move from their home to an assisted living and nursing home community. For the first time in their married lives, Josef’s grandparents would not be able to live in the same space, at his grandfather had a studio-style apartment and his grandmother moved into a semi-private hospital room. Her health had declined so greatly that she entered the facility under hospice care. None of us knew how much longer we had her.
Shockingly, we lost Josef’s grandfather two weeks later. He had developed an acute case of leukemia which had started to take its toll right before they moved. We never imagined this scenario — we had all assumed he would outlive his wife.
After her husband passed, Josef’s grandmother, now in a situation where she was receiving the care she needed, gained weight and was healthy enough to be moved off of hospice care. While none of us would say she was now flourishing, she certainly was able to enjoy some of the benefits of being in a community of wonderful care-giving with events she attended and enjoyed, including music programs, playing bingo, and even getting her hair done. We came to know her nurses and the staff. We came to know her peers there, too.
Suddenly, I found myself growing closer to her. While she missed her husband greatly and wanted very much to “get out” of that place, she also said things to me that she’d never said before. She told me I had a great smile. That she loved me. That I was beautiful. The kind of phrases that children and grandchildren crave to hear from parents and grandparents.
I grew up around elderly people at the church my family attended. My father also took us to visit family and church members who lived in nursing homes As a result, I was exposed to older people from an early age and didn’t experience some of the fears and dislike my peers had for older people. In college, I went once a week my junior and senior years to visit a state-run home for the elderly near my college. As much as seeing a young person may have brightened their day, it was always just a rewarding and even therapeutic for me to have those experiences.
Not too long ago, Josef’s grandmother went back into hospice status and had the extra layer of care hospice provides on top of the care she already received at the nursing home. We’d been told before that she had six months, but of course she got better or simply lived on past that threshold. We developed a theory we referenced after she passed – she was going to pass away eventually, but only on her terms and only on her time frame, not anyone else’s.
Josef and I were given, as a gift during our current pregnancy, a weekend away from a dear family friend at their lake house in north Georgia. The day before our trip, a Thursday, Josef’s mother told us that Josef’s grandmother really was going this time, and it would be a matter of days. I had already been feeling weird all day — there is something in me that just knew something was up, and so my feelings were confirmed when I heard she was going to pass away in a matter of days.
After work that day, we went to see her and we spent an hour with her, sitting, reading scripture, I sang to her, and we told her all the things that I hope she wanted and needed to hear as someone who is going to pass away soon: she had been a wonderful mother and grandmother, she had raised an incredible family, she had inspired her grandchildren in choosing their careers, and she was loved very dearly by all of them. We told her how amazing we thought it was that she was going to have a great-grandchild in just a matter of months. That her first born son, Josef’s father, would be becoming a grandfather.
The hospice chaplain came in while we were visiting with her, and it was very eerie and coincidental that he shared the same name as Josef’s grandfather. This man had spent a great amount of time with Josef’s grandmother over the last while, which was really comforting to hear.
Not knowing whether or not we’d see her again, Josef and I made peace that we had said our goodbye without actually saying goodbye. The next day, we went up to the lake, thinking we’d see her on Sunday, if she decided she wasn’t quite ready to go yet.
Saturday about mid-afternoon we got word that she had passed. It was sad news, I cried, but part of my heart rejoiced at her freedom. I imagined her able to not only walk again, but run like the wind. I could imagine her hugging her husband close, as she’d dreamed of doing for the last two-and-a-half years. Her arms had stopped working over the last few years, so I could just envision her stretching her fingers, running her fingers through her air. I could see her stretching her back and dancing and laughing and basically no longer burdened by all the ailments she suffered in her body.
92 years. Wow. That is almost 60 years from where I am now. She had said, when Josef’s grandfather died, and she was 89 years old, that life was too short.
The timing here is interesting – I can’t shake the importance of her passing coinciding with the arrival soon of our son.
A kind of spooky story: after Josef’s grandfather passed away a few years ago, his grandmother’s roommate at the nursing home complained about the man who came to room to see Josef’s grandmother at night. She said it was the same man who visited when Josef’s grandmother moved in to that room with her. In the days leading up to Josef’s grandmother passing away, the roommate wouldn’t go in the room because “that man” had returned. Believe what you want, but some of wonder if Josef’s grandfather came back to fetch his wife, as she said he would.
More kind of spookiness: over the last 24 hours, I’ve been finding pennies in unexpected places. I’ve found 4 of them, lying on the floor or on my desk at work. 2 at home and 2 at work. There are some who believe that when you find a bunch of pennies all of sudden, it’s because someone (an angel in heaven is the most common story) is trying to communicate with you. Maybe Josef’s grandmother is letting me know she’s thinking of me and telling me she’s indeed doing alright now that she’s passed on.
I hope (and am comforted by the thought) that Josef’s and my grandparents are watching over us while we prepare for the arrival of our baby. I hope they watch over him and that we are able to tell him about his great grandparents. Pennies or not, we remember them and they will remain in our minds all our lives through!