Saturday, May 12, 2007

Thinking of my Grandmother on Mother's Day

I find myself thinking of the morning seven weeks ago that I stood beside my grandmother in my dad's hospital room, sharing in his final moments on earth.

My dad's mother is 84 years old. She'd made the trip from Michigan to Nova Scotia in an SUV with my aunt and my two cousins, racing to get there before he slipped away. Dad had cancer, but had been doing fairly well - his decline was swift (mercifully so.)

My sister called to warn them about the shortening time frame. I prayed that he could hang in there until they arrived. It would mean so much to him if he could see his mother before he had to leave us.

And then they arrived. I couldn't get over how strong she was, having been on the road for two days. We spent the next day and a half sitting with Dad, talking with him when he was still able, talking to him when he couldn't respond with words anymore. My step mom and I slept in the room with him overnight. My sister stayed as well, on what turned out to be the last night.

In the early morning something seemed to have changed. I told my sister to call my aunt, to tell them they should get to the hospital right away.
When they arrived, we formed a ring around my dad. My step mom, my sister, myself, my aunt and my grandmother. We stayed there until he took his final breath. My sister coaxed him to see his new destination, told him he could 'stop paddling'. At those words, his eyes opened and his gaze fixed on a point beyond my sister, though she had his face in her hands.

He took several long breaths, with longer gaps in between. Then we knew he'd finally taken that step into all that waited for him.

My grandmother began saying the Hail Mary, which we joined in. Then she rubbed Dad's forehead, saying, "I was there on your first day, and I'm here on the last."

That has echoed in my heart since that morning. Especially considering that Dad is not the first of her children she's lost. Dad was her first baby. Her second child died as a toddler of a fever. Grandma had three more children. Then her last baby died very young, I'm not actually sure of what. But considering that all her children had diabetes except my only remaining aunt on that side, likely that was the cause.

So when she said that, my heart tried to understand what it would be like to live to 84, only to outlive her husband and all her children except one.

"We fly to You, our Mother. To You we come. Before You we stand sorrowful. O Mother, in Your mercy hear and answer us." - Memorare, Prayer to Mary

I felt a great presence in the room that morning. A female energy, one that encircled my dad in love and which took the form of an actual circle around him. The women most precious in his life surrounded him as he shed one form and took on the next.

If I think of how awestruck I felt for days afterward, perhaps my grandmother has had the privilege to be present for both the birth and death of her son. Not many people are given such an opportunity.

I think my grandmother has been very blessed. And I know I'm lucky to be her granddaughter.


Toni. said...

The tears came so quickly as I read your beautiful post. My heart ached for your grandmother (and all of you too) as I read her sad but yet beautiful words. I recall my mom crying on her mom's lap just hours before my grandma died. And I was reminded of my husband's grief over the loss of his mom, who died at age 52 of colon cancer.

You're so right. Your grandmother has been blessed (Job 1:21 comes to mind). That we should all live so long with as much grace as she.

Miss Frou Frou said...

Julia, that was a beautiful post. Mother's Day is always a bit sad for us, now, as tomorrow would have been my Dad's 71st birthday... growing up it was cool, Dad's birthday close to Mother's Day, and my Mum's birthday close to Father's Day. He died on the Friday before Father's Day 3 years ago.

Cathryn Fox said...

Julia, that was a beautiful and moving post. Thanks for sharing.

Christine said...

Wow Julia. Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing her story.

Robin L. Rotham said...

Julia, your post is so incredibly moving, I can barely see to type. Thank you for sharing these very personal memories with us.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Wow, Julia. You've given me goosebumps. I can't imagine losing my parents, let alone my children -- and your grandmother's had to face it all.

That's an absolutely beautiful story of the power of family love.

Rhian / Crowwoman said...

"I was there on your first day, and I'm here on the last."
UMMMM - dang it - big old lump in my throat....hugs sweetie. now i need to find a box of tissues....

Christine said...

I was moved to tears by your lovely tribute to both your dad and your grandmother.

My grandmother began saying the Hail Mary, which we joined in. Then she rubbed Dad's forehead, saying, "I was there on your first day, and I'm here on the last."

I made a promise to my father that I would be with him when he passed away, and I was. I made the same promise to my mom - and I was. I write about them often on chicken-scratch.

Came to your site through Rhian's poetry train this Monday - am very glad I did.