Goodbye Grandma

We laid Grandma H. to rest this past weekend.

For the most part, I help up well last week. I had work and my routine to distract me.

We had been preparing for this day for years, really. Since Grandma had her stroke in January 2012. Her health had been in decline ever since. Still, it was still something of a roller coaster as my parents provided my brother and me with regular updates of her ups and downs.

It was only in recent weeks that it became apparent her body was shutting down and her life was nearing its end. Two Fridays ago, Mom called to let us know Grandma’s death was imminent. She was not eating and her body was showing signs of shutting down. Even then, my mom said, it could be days or weeks before Grandma passed.

But less than 48 hours later, Mom called again – on what was a beautiful Sunday morning – just as I was beginning to get Phoebe and Faye out the door for church. Kates had already gone several minutes earlier, as she does every Sunday morning, to practice with the choir.

Grandma had passed and the plans were in motion to arrange the funeral.

The funeral was Saturday.

Our extended family gathered at the church at 9:30 a.m. to begin to say our goodbyes. … All of the men in the family had worn red ties – in honor of Grandma’s love for cardinals – with hardly any planning. It was only Thursday that Ryan messaged all of us grand kids asking how we planned to dress, and I suggested the red ties. I had no idea all eight of the male kids and grand kids would follow through. It was touching.

I was content not to spend much time around her. Grandma’s poor health in recent years had changed her appearance dramatically. Preferring to remember her during better days, I stood in front of the coffin and looked upon her for only a few moments before moving on and catching Faye twirling around by the back pews of the church.

“Why is she in there?” Faye asked softly as I held her and paced around the sanctuary.

“Because she’s resting,” I answered.

Soon guests began arriving for the visitation. Grandma’s children – my parents, aunts and uncles – stood in the sanctuary nearby the coffin. Us grandchildren were content to stay out in the narthex, conversing and allowing those family and friends who knew us to greet us there.

Some of my favorite images of the day were made then. We reconnected with family friends who we hadn’t seen in years. The Roedls, Vails and Sentis were there, and we reminisced about our childhoods growing up around their homes – sledding on the huge hill below the Roedl’s home, playing the piano at the Vails and baby-sitting with their daughter, cub scouts with the Sentis. I greeted pastor Shermer, too, and it occurred to me later there were four generations of pastors of our home church in attendance.

Kates’ mom arrived to take care of the girls for the afternoon and keep them occupied with Kates and I attended the funeral with the rest of the family.

I hadn’t yet shed a tear for Grandma and figured I’d made peace with her passing long ago as her health declined. Then the funeral service began and the opening hymn was “Hymn of Promise,” which we sang at Grandpa H’s funeral. The memories and emotions began pouring into my mind steadily and then came like a flood I couldn’t hold back. By the end of the hymn, I was sobbing.
Aunt Dana, on my left, patted my leg, and Kates, on my right, held onto my arm as we sat down and I calmed myself.

Emotions got the best of me again when we sang “On Eagle’s Wings,” another sentimental hymn within our family. And especially when Mom delivered a eulogy, during which she described Grandma’s commitment to our family. Let alone all of the family gatherings we were expected to attend, Grandma didn’t miss any of her grandchildren’s activities while we were growing up. All the school concerts and church programs, and I vividly remember her always sitting in a lawn chair under a shade tree across the gravel road from the first base dugout to watch our little league baseball games. Suffice to say, I had more time with Grandma H than any of my other grandparents. … When Mom mentioned our family’s move to Kansas and the impact that had on Grandma, the tears rolled down my cheeks again, triggering the still raw emotions and guilt I carry for my family’s move back to the region almost five years ago now.

Then there was Pastor Jane, a close family friend who led our church through the latter part of my childhood, married Kates and I – and was there the night my grandfather passed very suddenly. I broke down again, knowing the memories she would share. Of Grandpa dying and the hole left in Grandma’s heart – which was mended one day years later when my Uncle Paul found, tucked away under a basement trestle, the Valentine’s Day card Grandpa had purchased for her on the afternoon he died.

I hadn’t shed a tear for Grandma until Saturday. When I did, a dam burst and years – decades – of shuttered feelings pushed out.

The service concluded and my cousins and I took our places as pallbearers. Then we joined the procession to the cemetery and gathered at Grandma’s grave marker where she’ll share Grandpa’s headstone. After a short service there, we returned to our vehicle and headed back to the church for a meal – another tribute to Grandma who was remembered fondly for directing so many meals there.
Our extended family gathered at Uncle Dave’s and Aunt Mary’s for the latter half of the afternoon. The kids had a ball playing and running around the house while the adults sat around upstairs, conversing over a football game. I was exhausted and in a daze.

Saturday night, Kates, the girls and I were back at Mom’s and Dad’s place. We reminisced about Grandma, our moves, and Mom and Dad pulled out a box of their childhood photos albums and scrapbooks, which spurred more reminiscing, laughter and good conversation.

Sunday morning, our extended family – again with little planning but feeling the pull to do it – attended morning church together. As we’ve grown and scattered throughout the Midwest in recent years, I can’t remember the last time our entire extended family, which once was a bedrock of that church, attended a worship service together. But this time Grandma wasn’t there, delighting one of us were off-key singing.

The church’s annual Harvest dinner followed the worship service.

We had one more goodbye. It had been an emotional and special weekend. I sensed that Phoebe was feeling it, too, the tears welled in her eyes as we hugged and said our goodbyes to my parents at the church doors.

We buckled up and started the long drive home again.

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