Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Granny ... A mini-novel ...

        It is ironic that my last post was on October 21, 2015. It was about Granny, as is this one … and she left this earth on July 21, 2016, exactly 9 months to the day. I began writing a little bit that night, but took a break until now. (My oldest daughter has asked what I saw with numbers regarding Granny … because that’s just one of those weird things I do. My quick response was about the dates both being on the 21st, and that they were 9 months apart. I knew the number 9 represented finality/and ending, but looked it up again, finding this: The number 9 is mentioned in Scripture 49 times and 9 symbolizes divine completeness or conveys the meaning of finality. Reference:  

          July 21st was a Thursday. (The same day of the week sweet Crystal left a year and two months ago, and the same day my oldest daughter’s friend left two months ago …)
 My oldest daughter was home from college on July 21st and came into my room that morning before she left, speaking in a louder than usual voice to our dog while I was in a dead sleep. Of course, I was awake after that. I went ahead and got up, proceeding to fix my coffee. I was sitting on the couch when I received a voicemail notification, but my phone had not rang. It said “Aunt Shirley,” Granny’s daughter. In a matter of moments, a text came through from her. The only word my eyes saw was “Unresponsive.”
          I ran upstairs to change clothes and brush my teeth, thankful I had showered the night before, while dialing her daughter, “Aunt Shirley.” No matter what, I was going to wherever Granny was …
          Shirley’s voice was calm and direct. I assured her I was getting dressed and heading Granny’s way to assess the situation. She proceeded to call me her angel, as she always does.
          As I was trying to figure out how to dress myself, something I’ve done for quite a while … but seemed to now have forgotten how to do … I called Granny’s charge nurse. She was off and at home, but said she would call to see if I should go to the nursing home or ER. My spirit told me … but I waited for her direction, as I continued to dash out the door.
          Her call came, “Go straight to the ER.”
          I calmly told my sleeping youngest daughter I was leaving to check on Granny, in an attempt to not scare her in case my gut feeling was wrong. As I drove a tad over the speed limit in silence with the hazard lights on, my phone rang. It was Granny’s nurse.
          “Are you alone?”
          I responded, “Yes, but I’m okay.”
She simply said, “I’m putting my clothes on and will meet you there.”
I asked, “… Is she alive?”
She said “Yes,” but there was a hesitation.
I then called Aunt Shirley’s son.
“Please keep your phone on in case it’s bad. I will call you instead of Shirley.” Aunt Shirley's boys will certainly take care of their Mama. They are grown men, but both of her sons have very visible soft spots for their Mom and Granny.
He assured me he would. They were in Atlanta … 4-5 hours away …
I arrived to/at the ER while he and I were talking, and kept him on the phone until I saw Granny. She was indeed unresponsive.
I spoke, “Granny … it’s me ….”
Then said to him, “Head this way.”
I went straight to Granny’s side, telling her I was there, holding her hand, kissing her and assuring her that her daughter was on her way. It was a replay of a not-fond memory from a year ago.

The doctor said her responses to me were the most they had seen, though she did not speak or open her eyes. I suppose he meant by her body language and her vital changes. She was hooked up to several chords, wearing an oxygen mask, and the nurse inserted an IV needle in her left arm, though nothing was ever connected to it. My guess is it was for pain medicine in the event it was needed.
They took Granny away for a CT scan … or something … but wouldn’t let me go. So I stayed in the room … though I cannot remember what I did during that time …
Somehow, I knew this was the end. The end to our beautiful love story … not the typical one; but one between two humans. My ex-husband’s Grandmother/one of my dearest friends, and me. Two females. My best, oldest (97 year old) friend. The only person I could say, “Let’s go____,” and she would say, “Okay!” I did have one other spontaneous friend, but she too left a year ago. Spontaneous people are a rarity … In fact, the one year anniversary of my other friend’s death came in May. It hit me harder than expected, and for some reason, I just wanted to be with Granny. That night, I took my sleepover things to the nursing home just to sleep beside her because I needed a Granny. It was the only time I stayed the night with her for me instead of her. That was to be our last slumber party/sleepover …

They brought Granny back from the scan, and she was just as she was when she left. By this time, her nurse had arrived.
The next five hours or so were surreal. I turned on The Blackwood Brothers Pandora station … her favorite … and placed my phone so she could hear the gospel music, just as I had done during our countless nights together. No matter what, this always takes her to a happy place. Always. Then, I prayed out loud … just me, Granny and her nurse …
I stayed beside Granny. Holding her right hand, nested under her neck, speaking to her ... and sobbing. Not for her, but for myself. Preparing both of us for her transition from this life to the next. I apologized for not coming the night before to stay the night, thanked her for everything, and a few other things one says in such a situation. They say the hearing is the last to go … though I don’t know WHO would actually know that, or how. But, it didn’t matter to me, because in reality, I had already said everything to Granny before this grave moment. So, I knew she already knew. That helped …
Different loved ones came in. My ex-husband (her grandson,) Granny’s sisters, her daughter-in-law (and her sister,) her great-niece, as well as my youngest daughter and her boyfriend.
I told my daughter what was happening, and she chose not to stay. My oldest daughter was at college, but on her way.
By midday, I was still in my spot on Granny’s right side … suctioning her, holding her hand, wiping her sweet face and talking to her … still curled up next to her neck any chance I had. Her two sisters were still there, as well as her great niece, who is the age of my oldest daughter. By this time, her nurse had left and was texting to see how she was doing, but I couldn’t answer.
I watched as Mother Nature made herself known. Breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, skin color and temperature changes. For a while, I asked Granny to hang on until Shirley was there. Then, I could see it was too much and said if she needed to go, to go. We were okay. However, my permission wasn’t necessary, I know.
Shortly after I arrived that morning, I could feel PaPa’s presence … her beloved husband. I am not sure if he was with her, or she with him. Somehow, I feel there is a difference. I just know he was there, and I knew why. And that he wasn’t there to help or visit me … but for her. The best way I know to describe it is that he wasn’t all the way here, and she wasn’t either, but she also wasn’t all the way there. It seemed there was/is a space between here and there, and that’s where they both were. Though I couldn’t visually see him, his presence was not elderly and feeble, but not a super young man either. It wasn’t scary, but peaceful and demanded reverence … clearly beyond my earthly comprehension.

Granny made a grimaced face once or twice. I thought she may be in pain, but now believe it was her spirit/soul leaving her body. Her breaths became more and more shallow, making it difficult to know if she was still breathing. Soon, a doctor (or maybe nurse) came in and did an ultrasound of her heart. She was pronounced dead at 1:55 pm … surrounded by her two sisters, her great niece, and her ex-granddaughter-in-law: Me. There was nothing tragic or scary about the moment when Granny died. It was certainly 100% peaceful.
One of my greatest fears has always been to be in the presence of someone during his/her moment of actual death. However, that was never the case with Granny. It was an honor because we were a team. A powerful, ageless, dynamic duo who did life together … and we did death together too … I would have never left her side, and even asked her daughter if there was a chance I would not be allowed to be with Granny. She assured me that my place beside her mother was secure and there was no threat of me being forced to leave. Though I have only been treated wonderfully by my ex’s family regarding Granny and our relationship, all of a sudden I thought blood would be thicker than water … or whatever that’s called. Just a moment of fear and anxiety on my part, I suppose.

Anyway, at that time, my primary concern was what to do. Call her daughter who was traveling from Georgia? Or just wait. There seemed to be no words I could imagine in delivering a message over the phone to a daughter that her mother had died … and I didn’t want to try and find such words. Yet, NOT telling her also seemed very wrong. Obviously, IF Shirley was driving, that would have been an easy answer of No because it would be dangerous ... but I knew her son was driving, which caused confusion in defending my choice. I suppose in some way, whether it be beautiful or distorted, I also felt not telling Shirley would be a way of allowing her to have Granny/her Mother, for just a bit longer, at least in her mind and heart ... Like, giving her a few more minutes of knowing a life before it gets permanently changed. Once the mind "knows" something, all naive innocence is gone. I suppose that's a crazy concept ...
I asked the nurse what was proper and appropriate.
It’s not like she could get there any faster, or that the reality would change. I opted not to tell Shirley, which meant I could tell no one before her… So I stayed in my spot beside Granny, silent … minus an occasional sob. 
There are no words to describe the difference when a spirit/soul/person leaves the human body. Though I stayed with her just as I had when she was in her body, it was not “us” anymore … it was clearly just me now (and the others in the room.) Granny was totally and completely gone. Verbally talking to her seemed slightly senseless. Maybe a transfer of thoughts to her, but a normal conversation no longer felt as it had over the past four hours. It was a powerful depiction of life and death and an obvious reality to me that there is another place besides 'here' … this life that is all we know.

At some point, the same nurse I had questioned about what was proper to do, entered the room with a blue phone in her hand, “It’s her daughter,” she said, looking at me with deer-in-the-headlight eyes. I’m certain I returned the same look to her. Paralyzed.
I stretched my hand for the phone, while still holding Granny’s hand with my other one. This all happened in slow motion ...
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey, how are things going?”

All of a sudden, I couldn’t talk. I left Granny’s daughter on the phone in silence. She said my name. Maybe I said, “Yes,” I’m not sure. Finally, I said, “I don’t know what to say.”
She responded, “Okay. She’s getting worse?"
Time stood still. I pushed my voice out of my body with more force than I knew I had, “No ............................. She’s gone.”
Silence. Sobs. Silence.
I began speaking, “But I am here with her, Shirley. I will not leave her until you get here. I promise ... I am holding her hand. I will not move.”
I can’t remember what she said, only her sobs and my name along with the words, “My angel.”
I think of every part of Granny’s passing/death, that was the most difficult.
     For a moment, (or, 2 separate moments,) I couldn't understand (and kind of questioned) two things. WHY could I not have been with Granny the night before? To spend the night, because it would have been no trouble as it was my day off. I even felt a bit of anger ... not toward any person ... just toward life. And then, WHY did the minutes and hours have to go as they did? Only two or three more hours, and Shirley could have been there too. Somehow, both of those things were fleeting thoughts, removed as irrelevant. There was/is obviously a reason for both of those things, I simply cannot see them. Fretting over them would be a waste of time and energy, and I never once saw or heard Granny do that. So I mentally dropped it, seeing how easily it could have become a fixated focus, solving nothing.

I cannot remember what time Shirley arrived, or much about the time in between other than a few things. Granny's pastor came, and prayed again, I removed her nail polish and did a couple of other things … and the ER nurse unhooked the chords attached to her as well as removing her oxygen mask, and hugged me.
As strange as it sounds, my only focus was to keep Granny’s hand warm. Obviously, when the human body dies, it gets cold. Feet first, then the rest of the body. For some reason, I wanted her hand to be warm when her daughter arrived. So I held it with both of my hands, and laid over her … for probably over two hours.
Possibly, that sounds morbid, but it wasn’t to me. That’s just what you do when there is a connection such as ours. I recall my legs tingling and trying to reposition. An occasional conversation with those in the room … and talking to her …. Though I’m not sure why. 
             One thing that stands out to me was when I was removing Granny's nail polish and a few other things, requiring me to let go of her hand. Her Great-niece, the one who is the age of my oldest daughter, 21, and who is very dear to me ... referring to me as "Aunt," and I refer to her as my niece ... but in reality, she is my ex-husband's cousin's daughter. (That may take a moment to process.) Anyway, she is like one of my own children and I am so very impressed and proud of her strength during this time. She went to the store to buy nail polish remover and cotton balls, as well as going to her car for tweezers as I was doing things I knew I would do at the funeral home. She stood beside me, and I asked her if she understood why I was holding Granny's hand, and that I didn't want to not hold it. She said, "Yes." I proceeded to ask her if she felt like she could hold her Great-aunt's hand while I did a few things ... and she did, without hesitation. Understanding how difficult this would be for anyone, my heart beamed with pride and she became even more "mine" than she already was ... though I didn't think that to be possible. Somehow, I feel she is now a better person for her loving actions. Sweet baby girl .... I just love "love."

          Then, as I was texting her charge nurse from the nursing home, I heard sobs behind me. It was her precious daughter and grandson entering the room from what was likely the longest drive ever. That was painfully sad. I cannot imagine their feelings. I offered to move from my spot and Granny's grandson told me, "No. You stay there. You've earned your spot." Both her daughter and grandson had time with her, which was helpful and difficult for them, I'm sure. 
          Soon after, the funeral home people came. By that time, both of my children were there.
They fully covered Granny with a blue furry blanket, and took her out of the ER room to a car. I don’t think I cried, maybe I did … I just wanted her grandson to make sure they got her in the vehicle okay. He was a bit hesitant because once out the doors, there was no entrance ... and possibly he felt it improper. I sternly said, "You are her Grandson and you can do what you want." For some reason, I was afraid the lady would drop Granny ... which wouldn't hurt Granny, but would be incredibly traumatic for us. Her Grandson stood nearby and all went fine. Then, I went home …
I worked the next day, trying to seem normal.
All of my clients know who Granny is and refer to her as, “Granny.” I must say, the respect/reverence, delicacy, love, comfort, validation and acknowledgement of her and my loss of her, have been more than healing. Each one has shared and understood the loss and the blessing. Hence, another reason I love my job and my clients who have evolved into my dear friends and chosen family.
I am a hairstylist, and wanted to do Granny’s hair, and Shirley said I could … but the funeral home man asked me to come Saturday morning … However, I was booked. They kindly stayed late so I could come Friday night.
My youngest daughter went with me. We took her favorite dress, I did Granny’s hair, and my daughter did her nails. I played The Blackwood Brothers Pandora music while showing countless Granny videos to the funeral men who were already staying late. Not that all people are not important, but they could see she tipped the scales.
Me doing her hair, and taking my 17 year old daughter to do her nails has been a topic of inquisitive conversation for many, voicing “how strong” such a thing is for us to have done … and some obviously, silently disagreeing or questioning my mom skills. I have explained to those who have asked, what I have taught my girls. In short … No, it is not a comfortable thing to do. It is awkward, intimidating and can be eerie. BUT, I have explained to them that in life, we must weigh both sides. When placing our uncomfortable human feelings about such on one side of a scale, then placing our love and respect for a person on the other side, the love and respect always weighs more and wins. So we push through. It is called sacrificial love. 
         In death, that person is the most vulnerable and helpless, and we don’t want a stranger taking care of these personal things when we are more than capable of doing so, once we get past and overcome our anxiety associated with death. Not to mention, it gives us one-on-one alone time and somehow helps with the grieving process, giving a feeling of “doing something” in a situation which feels nothing can be done. Plus, it meant the world to her daughter and other loved ones. That is an opportunity to give a gift beyond one any dollar can purchase. The gift of genuine love and respect … something this stoic lady had more than earned.
My oldest daughter chose to do the same thing after the loss of her best friend. As difficult as it was, she did her friend’s hair for “one last time.” And, she doesn’t regret it one bit. As for my youngest daughter, I asked her last night if she regretted going with me to prepare her Great- Granny/BFF one last time, as we had done together so many times before. She responded, “Absolutely not. I’m glad I did.”
To each their own, but for me, as a parent, these are the things I feel most important to instill in my girls who are now young ladies. The inner power to overcome something as heavy as this and see the bigger picture. I have seen them become deeper people and more empowered within because of choices such as this … and it makes my cup runneth over. I am so proud they have trust in me to follow such an intimidating and scary lead as the path I have escorted them through.

Midday Saturday I went to the funeral home before visitation to make sure everything with Granny was okay regarding final touch things. In a nutshell, I was there to make sure her dress was the way it should be and that she didn't look like she had make-up on ... because she didn't wear makeup, and that would be weird. She looked beautiful, just beautiful. Both of my girls went with me. At one point, my youngest daughter stood beside me as I was adjusting this or that ... some because it needed to be done, some because I just needed to DO something. I told my daughter maybe we should have painted her nails a different color, that the iridescent(however that's spelled) pink should have been more coral to match her favorite dress better. She assured me, "No, Mom. That is Granny's favorite nail polish color ... and it matches her toes. It's fine and the one she likes best." 
I agreed with her, and complimented her ever-so-professional polishing job. 
We signed the memory board, then went back at 4:00 for visitation.
          Sunday was her service. A packed house, standing room only … FOR A 97 YEAR OLD WOMAN. Something many will never see, but a testament to the truth I have voiced about her awesomeness. It was a beautiful service.
          As close as she and I were, I sat in the back, because in reality, I am not legally part of the family. That was my choice and was okay, as I feel certain her family would have gladly made a spot for me with them. I had already been “in front” for the past ten months … and that was most important to me.
          After the service, we all went outside to the graveside service and burial, placing her physical body alongside of the love of her life. Again, I stood in the back. Not because I didn’t feel welcome in the front, just because I guess I wanted to be by myself. Truthfully, my time with Granny had been just me and her … and God. And since neither of them were there in body, it wouldn’t have helped me.
          Most everyone left to go into the dining hall for the dinner, but I stayed at her grave-site. Then I sat in the empty front row chairs as the two men continued placing dirt over her grave, but I didn’t cry. Possibly, 5 or 6 people were also standing nearby, but not too many that I felt I would be in a spotlight or do something a person may not understand. I removed my strappy stiletto heels and walked up the one of the men with my bare feet and fancy little dress, and asked if I could do it. He seemed worn out due to the heat and his age. “Of course,” he responded. So, I took a shovel and finished shoveling the dirt for Granny. It was only natural to finish the race and do all I could for her … all the way until the end. Taking care of her has been a joy in my life. Again, shoveling dirt on a loved one’s grave is not joyous, and may seem odd to another, but again, I didn’t care. Possibly, from my perspective, shoveling the dirt was a difficult/painful thing to do ... validating the inner difficulty and pain ... in some way, synchronizing the two on some level.
          Then, one of the men said, “It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
          With sweat dripping from every part of my 5 foot nothing body, and never looking up from my shoveling motions, I responded, “OH YES IT DOES.”
          He quickly cleared up that he was referring to the wagon thing holding the dirt. Glad we got that straight …
          I stayed until they placed the grass over the dirt, and made sure there were no bare spots. Then, the next day, I went back and sprinkled pink glitter all over her resting place … because that’s what she would expect me to do. Though she was never a glitter-kind-of-girl, she appreciated it because she loved me, and knows I happen to think glitter makes everything better. A sparkle could never be sad.

          Granny has been gone for almost two weeks now. I must say, I am a bit lost. I love how odd and unusual that is. That my focus for almost a year has been on an unlikely person who I view as one of my dearest, funnest, wisest, best and oldest friends … who happens to be my ex-husband’s grandmother. That just doesn’t add up to many. I will miss our precious time together and all that she has taught me. However, if given the option to have her back on this earth, I would choose, No.
          The past six years have held many losses in my/my girls’ lives. A precious 9 year old boy, two of my lifelong friends in their forties (all three taken by cancer way too soon AND endured terrible suffering) … and then my oldest daughter’s best friend, at the tender age of twenty-one.
Granny, on the other had lived a full, wonderful life. She kept her mind and dignity. I can ask for nothing more. Reality doesn’t whisper the truth, it screams the obvious. I’m not sure if you would call her would-be-possible future uphill or downhill. Both seem fitting. From this point, she could have only gone downhill health-wise. And her battle in doing so would only be an unpleasant uphill climb. Neither of which I would want for her. Therefore, I am at peace.
          Now, I watch the countless videos I made of her during our time.
 Her riding in the Jeep with the top off, laughing and smiling … and another favorite is the poem/letter I wrote to her and was blessed enough to have the opportunity to read it to her.
          Unfortunately, an untrue assumption walks with the loss of an “elderly” person, especially one who is 97 … one that it should be “easier” or hurt less. Not true. However, the blessing of seeing someone accept life and live it as she did, for as long as she did, DOES help.
          Many people came up to me during her visitation and service ... I assume after watching her videos online. (All have reached approx. 1000 views each.). Most thanking me with choked backed teary voices. I appreciate that, I really do. I appreciate someone taking the time to acknowledge our awesome relationship … but thanking me throws me off a bit. I get it, but the truth is … it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t her, it was us. Granny and I talked about it many times. We just clicked as people. As I’ve said countless times, if someone attempted an “Adopt-a-Grandparent” effort after seeing us together, they would be sadly disappointed. Most people, especially Great-Grandmothers, (or Grandmothers, for that matter,) won’t ride in Jeeps, sport a glitter walker, wear sunglasses while doing thumbs up and Motley Crue hand gestures, or pose for pictures while holding a huge shotgun. That’s just one in a million … and I was fortunate enough to be the recipient to have her as my partner in crime. Our Yin and Yang-ness was a fun run I will always treasure. And one day, if I am on this earth long enough, I will strive to mimic her awesome, amazing coolness … and hope someone will experience it with me.
          Much love to anyone who made it through this mini-novel tribute to Granny and a small excerpt of our story. Though, if no one made it to the end, it certainly was therapeutic to write and make tangible. Sometimes things are worth documenting.

Thankful and blessed,

Granny’s Granddaughter 


  1. Thank-you Sherry for sharing this with us. It's so hard to let go of our loved ones. I know Shirley had comfort on that long drive knowing you were there. Like you said Aunt Ellen could hear you and she knew you were there also. The part about Uncle Orval coming for his love was so special and love filled. I know all of this has been hard for you. We could tell that first time we met you at the nursing home you & Aunt Ellen had a special bond. We could tell you loved her & took very good care of her. I know it was a long drive for Shirley but knowing you were there was a comfort for her. Thank-you again for sharing this. I hope to see you again sometime. Love Kathy & Eric Hannah.

  2. This is a true blessing to read. What a special woman. I know they were so happy when Uncle Orval came to take his love back. Sherry I know this had to be hard. You & Aunt Ellen had a special bond, put love for each other. Thank-you for sharing. I couldn't stop reading. I hope to see you again someday. Love Kathy Hannah