Saturday, March 8, 2014

Happy Birthday in Heaven...

One year ago today, Greg and I greeted the dawn in my Mam-ma Polly's apartment, where we had spent the night trying to soothe her as she struggled to breathe.  Her Assisted Living Facility staff had been unable to rouse her the previous morning, and the Hospice nurse determined that she had most likely had a serious stroke.  She slept all of that day, as we watched and waited.  I administered morphine and Ativan drops to her every two hours, as instructed by the Hospice nurse.  As we settled in for the night, Mam-ma began what I refer to as the "death rattle"...that raspy, gurgling that sounds like someone is strangling with every breath.  It got so loud that the facility staff could hear her as they sat at a dining table down the hall, where they were rolling silverware for the morning breakfast.

Greg had gone home for the evening, but he called to check on me about 11:00 p.m., and I tearfully told him how Mam-ma seemed to be struggling, and he said, "I'll be right there."  And he was.  Mam-ma's dear friend and fellow resident, Bessie, came and sat with us for much of the night...insisting that "I don't sleep much at night anyway."

The aides did all they could to suction Mam-ma's lungs, but the senior aide finally said, "I'm stumped.  I don't know what to do next."  So we called Hospice, and my dear nurse friend, Ginger, came to our aid.  She worked and worked to do the things that she could, medically, and then she said, "I think she knows I'm here...and that I'm messing with her.  I'm going to step out, and I want you to soothe her and talk softly to her and see if she will settle down."  So I did.  I crawled into her bed and talked to my grandmother...stroked her hair and whispered to her...just as she did for me as a child.  And soon, she settled down.  The whole ordeal lasted a few hours...but after that, my Mam-ma Polly never really stirred again.

For the whole day on March 8th, we sat...Greg and I and my mother.  I spent a good deal of the day lying in bed with Mam-ma, cradling her and singing or talking to her.  I read to her the scriptures she had marked in her Bible.  Family members and friends dropped by to see us and say "Good-bye" to Mam-ma.  Residents and staff members came in to offer one last greeting.  Some who came to visit stood over the bed and prayed for Mam-ma and us...others merely kissed her cheeks and tearfully told her they would see her in heaven.

It was a long, tiring, but bittersweet day.  I knew from previous experiences that for every agonizing minute of that time, I would wish for a hundred more later on.  So I tried to just "be" in the moment... to trust that God was allowing us these last few minutes with my grandmother before she was truly see that He was giving us time to adjust to the idea.  And then, when she took her last soft breath, I held her hand and let her go.  Relief...and overwhelming sadness flooded me.  Little did I realize just how much my life would change.

If anyone thinks that death is the end, they are totally mistaken.  And I am not just talking in a spiritual sense.  There has been endless paperwork...even for someone whose "affairs" were tremendously simple and - for the most part - cut and dried already.  I am still waiting on at least one bill.

More importantly, there have been countless days - and ways - that I have missed Mam-ma.  A dear friend whose grandmother passed about 5 years ago told me several times how much she missed her.  I thought "Yeah... but Mam-ma is so ready for I am ready."  I was so wrong.  I head to the phone to call her...even though I had not spoken to her by phone in probably close to a year prior to her death, because she could no longer speak.  I finish a sewing project and think, "I'll take that next time I go to see Mam-ma."  Some topic of conversation triggers me to think, "I'll have to ask Mam-ma about that... she will know!" Or, "I have to be sure and show this picture to Mam-ma and tell her what Zola, Timothy or Nathan did!"  And during our most recent ice storm, for just a second, I thought about how at least Mam-ma was safe and secure at the Assisted Living Facility and I didn't have to worry.  Then I remembered... she's not there any more.

I've been back to the facility a few times to visit...but I'll admit that it is hard to go there.  Everyone wants to talk about Polly, which is bittersweet.  And I do find that I am doing many of the things that my grandmother once did.  I don't mean the crazy, quirky ones (although some might disagree on this point!).  I'm talking about things like how Greg and I keep our birds fed, especially during icy weather.  That was so important to Mam-ma.  I made Valentines cookies for Timothy, Zola and Nathan.  I still remember a February 14th a few years after we graduated from college, when our mailbox contained a giant heart-shaped cookie from least it ONCE was heart-shaped.  Now it was in a dozen or more crackled pieces!

I think of how Mam-ma encouraged others...especially family members...and became something of a "go-to" person.  I see that happening... especially with a few younger cousins who often reach out to me for advice or encouragement.  I think of how Mam-ma sewed many of the garments my sister and I she could look through the catalogs and make us "one of each" similar colors and fabrics - and often better than the originals!  I am now doing this for my nieces and cousins.
I look in the mirror and see the white hair that is quickly overtaking my head, and I think of Mam-ma's beautiful white crown of glory.  Everyone talked about how pretty her hair was...and it looks like mine is on track to be very much the same.

If I can grow old as my grandmother did...with friends, grace, beauty - and even a little spunk...I'll take it.  I am determined not to be sad today.  I want to remember her with love and be so grateful for the lessons she taught celebrate her generous laugh at her antics and to love her in spite of the way she often made me the object of her frustration, anger and tirades in later years.  Through it all, she was my mentor, my friend, my confidant, and grandmother extraordinaire!  I love her...I miss her...and I carry her spirit with me every day.  Sometimes, a little even sneaks through, and I have to say, "My 'Mam-ma Polly' is showing."  And that's not necessarily a bad thing...not a bad thing at all.

Happy First Birthday in Heaven to my Mam-ma Polly... Willie Dove "Polly" Thrasher Chandler.  We love you, we miss you...and we will all see you again one of these days.