My Grandma Friesen, Evvy's Oma, passed away this weekend.
She lived out her life in all its fullness - all 97 years of it - and spent her twilight years in the Madison care facility in Coquitlam.
Although her mind and body were strong well into her 90s, she waned near the end. Morphine helped to ease the pain of her aching hip and spine, which had long since passed their expiry dates, but her dauntless heart kept on beating, probably fueled by all that darn Barley Green she consumed daily for more than half a century.
Meanwhile as she waned, we waited, watched and held her hand, hoping her departure would be swift and peaceful. It felt like a long wait. In my mind, it was like saying a warm and tearful goodbye to her at the airport, and watching her board the plane only to have it spend nearly two months taxiing laboriously towards the runway. And now, finally, gloriously, she's airborne. Grandma has taken her final flight home.
Hmmm...I hope the in-flight food is way better than Air Canada's, she could really use a change from those horrible geriatric Boost shakes. Although - come to think of it - the angels in their realms of glory are probably rejoicing that they're about to get some serious help in the kitchen up there.
I was lucky to see her a few times before she passed. We dropped by for a visit each time we were on the mainland and I took the time to hold her hand, which was always warm and strong, even as she grew thin and weak.
I have settled on a final snapshot - a moment that I have chosen to define her last days in my memory. Thanksgiving weekend, Sunday morning. Unseasonably warm and sunny. Peter, Evvy and I had come prepared with Rummy Tile and Evvy had a couple of piano pieces at the ready. We arrived at lunch and sat down to join her. Evvy shared her Starbucks banana bread, and Grandma shared her orange jello.
She was quiet, but very happy to see us, and she recognized Peter and Evvy, but was bewildered by my haircut (she'd never quite gotten used to, platinum-blonde pixie, and always took a few minutes to remember me.) I showed her a picture of our family from Ross and Cindy's wedding (my cousin and new cousin-in-law) and she painstakingly, almost obsessively worked at naming each person in the photo. It was clear that, although she knew that she knew each face she was seeing, she was having trouble accessing her stored memories of their names, ages and exact relationships to each other. It was hard for me to watch. I guess I was struck with the reality that no matter how healthy and vibrant a mind is, it must suffer decline at the end of its days... It made me think of how I had misplaced my work keys the week before and spent nearly an hour looking for them only to find they were hanging from my computer (I had used the flash drive on my keychain that afternoon). I guess in some cases, mental decline starts early! :)
To distract Grandma from her herculean, but totally futile mental efforts, Evvy (with some encouragement) put on a little concert and played a couple of the piano pieces she had been working on at the time. This was met with Grandma's applause and an enthusiastic "that's wonderful!" Evvy was told that she is very talented, very beautiful, very special and that Oma is very proud of her. Those were words I heard, treasured and believed every time Grandma said them to me- even during my surly teenage moments. They were words to grow by, and they still hang in my heart like silver ribbons every time I think of my childhood.
Rummy tile came next. Evvy, of course, played on Oma's team. The two of them were a force to be reckoned with. What Evvy missed, Oma spied, and together they made a great duo. We played two games because Grandma did not want us to go, then we wheeled her outside into the sunshine and soaked up a bit of vitamin D together. As tired as Grandma was, she still protested our departure. Evvy was happy to fill her quota of hugs, and Peter was told that he was looking good. As for me...
"Merilee, your hair looks different."
"No, Grandma, it's Rachelle, Merilee is my mom!"
"Noooo! Really?" (While looking at me askance.)
"Yep. I'm definitely Rachelle."
"You're looking so young!"
"Well, I AM a bit younger than my mom..."
"It's nice to see you!" (Still clearly believing I am my mom.)
"It's nice to see you too Grandma. I've been here for a couple of hours now."
"Are you leaving already? Say hi to Al for me."
"OK. I love you Grandma."
The next time I visited, I wore a hat. I was immediately recognized as Rachelle. Clearly, in Grandma's mind, hair is a defining feature. Come to think of it, I don't think her hairstyle ever really changed during the entire time I knew her... Defining feature, indeed.
I had the chance to tell her everything I wanted to say the last time I saw her. She was in and out of awareness, but she listened and squeezed my hand. Her lips moved to say "I love you". I couldn't have asked for more. But all the same, I think I'll leave her a parting note. You know me, just when you think I've said it all, I go and think of something else to say...
Oh Grandma. I am so thankful you had the chance to plant your seeds of encouragement and love in my heart and my daughter's. You have given me so much, and I think of you often as my hands are busy baking and crafting. I'm pretty sure you gave me these hands, and I intend to keep them busy. I think this week I will buy a yogurt maker. Seems like something you'd encourage me to do. Plus, homemade yogurt makes me think of you, and I've got loads of rhubarb and raspberry sauce in my freezer to top it off with.
I'm really glad you've gone to be with God, I know how much you were looking forward to it. For the past 10 years you've told me that Jesus was about to take you away. Better late than never, I say.
So, say "hi" to Grandpa for me, OK. Tell him about everything he's missed and let him know we still think of him too, although, if Heaven works the way I hope it does, he probably already knows.
Heaven's lucky to have you. If it's as good as they say it is, you should find plenty to do to keep you busy up there. You were never the type to stand around idly singing songs of praise, so I hope you have fun stocking the Holy Freezers and playing Rook with all the disciples. Oh, and please let Jesus know that he's looking a bit "mager"*
*low German for "too thin for my liking, so you'd better have another helping."