Monday, May 2, 2016

Reflections on grief and the cycle of life

My grandmother (maternal) died last week. She was 89 and had lived in a nursing home for about eight years. The last number of times we had been there to see her (far too few and far between as we live 8-9 hours away) it didn't seem like she knew we were there. There had been a number of health scares in recent years. I'd get a call and hear, "this is probably it." But then she would bounce back against all odds. It's hard to see someone you love, who was once so full of life and laughter, decline like that. During the last few days of her life, my mom and her three siblings (one of whom lives in Arizona) were able to sit by her bed together. They laughed, cried, and was so healing for all of them, and I think even those of us who weren't able to be there.

I did my share of grieving and crying as they kept us updated on her progress. But when she died, just about all my attention turned to the logistics of making an eight hour road trip with an exclusively breastfed 8-week-old baby. Because it was such a crazy week, I didn't get to do much reflecting or have nearly as much quality time with family as I would have liked.

At the same time, we had already made plans to visit my home (a two hour drive if traffic is good) because my sister had just had a baby. So on Monday, we drove out to meet baby Aurora. On Tuesday, we drove home. On Wednesday after I took my last final and attended a school-related meeting, we drove out to Pittsburgh (about 5 hours) and spent the night at Josh's parents' house. Thursday morning my parents picked us up and took us the rest of the way (about 4 hours) to northwest Ohio. We arrived just in time to spend the afternoon at the viewing, and then go to the graveside burial. The next morning was the funeral, and immediately after that we drove back to Pittsburgh. Then Saturday we drove home. So for six days in a row, my poor little guy had to spend A LOT of time in his car seat. He took it like a champ, and both Josh and I said how much we wished he was old enough to treat to ice cream or something like that. He's definitely been off his game since we got home, but I'm hopeful that we'll settle back into a good routine soon.

But anyway, the purpose of writing this isn't to complain about a busy's to give myself time to reflect on my grandma's life.

It is strange and beautiful that I celebrated the beginning of a new life at the same time as celebrating the end of another. My mom held Max for a lot of the viewing, and I know it helped so much that she got to show off and talk about her grandkids during that time. My kids, even though they never got to know their great-grandparents on my mom's side, will forever benefit from the lives that they lived.

I loved hearing all the stories my aunts and uncles told about my grandma and her family. She left quite a legacy, and had a lasting impact on so many people. I think I most remember how much she loved to laugh. I have a clear memory of her and my brother stumbling around our childhood home with their arms around each other, laughing hysterically about something silly. She was an amazing baker, and loved to use those skills to show love to everyone who came within an arm's reach. Someone once told me that hospitality isn't just about hosting someone in your home. Hospitality is about making people feel at home whenever they're around you. That was my grandma. My mom inherited that quality from her, and I've been told I picked it up too. So many other members of my family did as well. My grandmother's family was famous in their little town for their musical ability. All of them sang and played instruments. I found out this week that my great-grandfather bought a piano for their home. Apparently at that time, this was pretty scandalous for a good Mennonite family to do, but he was insistent that his family would know how to play instruments.

I love that I share in the heritage my grandparents left behind. I love that they are together again in the perfect presence of Jesus. I love thinking that maybe they found Miracle, and she's getting snuggles from her great-grandparents.

My aunt read a story at the funeral, and I think the last few words will stay with me forever:
"A mother like you is more than a memory. She is a living presence."

This is my grandmother.