Summer days in Atlanta are usually hot & humid. Perspiration runs down the middle of your back within minutes of stepping outside. The sky is often a hazy blue gray color, the color of mugginess
But not today. June 30th, 2009. Grammy passed away one year ago today. Today it's unseasaonably gorgeous outside. The sky a bright blue, not a cloud in sight, makes the green in the trees pop as they sway thanks to a cool breeze. A rare low humidity day.
Her last night at home, June 2008. We were hanging out with her & PopPop. I usually have a horrible memory, but i clearly remember she had on a pink cotton blouse. She always looked so pretty in pink. Funny thing, originally in my minds eye I can see her with a head full of grey hair, but in reality she was bald, having lost all that to chemo. We were watching the Braves. She always loved to throw around baseball jargin & players names. I grew up listening to ballgames, especially riding in the car with my dad. The sound always brings me a peaceful secure feeling.
The next day she would go to hospice. Never to return home.
June 24 Poppop wanted to celebrate her birthday. He had ordered a small cake & brought balloons. One of her bestfriends had called me to share that she & some of Lil's friends wanted to come to visit her. I tried to prepare her for what she would see. Prepare her that Lil probably wouldn't recognize her or remember the other ladies names. She had begun that sad spiral, whether drug induced or from the disease where familiarity is lost and the faces of loved ones are difficult to discern.
When they arrived Lil began to cry and seemingly didn't recognize them. Yesterday Poppop shared with me that in hindsight maybe he shouldn't have allowed any visitors. I tried to comfort him and tell him that he was only trying to do what seemed best to him at the time. It was so hard to watch him back then. There were days when I wondered if he really understood that this "was it". Short of a miracle , she was soon going home...her heavenly home.
Lil had spent most of her days in & out of consciousness, her eyes might be open but it seemed as if she were elsewhere. Usually the only lucid comments were in relation to comfort & when her pain meds were due.
Dan & Caroline had come one morning to visit. As soon as Caroline walked in she just lit up, smiled and said in a perfectly clear voice, "Caroline!". She clearly recognized & was cognitively aware that her grandchild was there. Later that morning Dan stood by her bed, holding her hand and reminded her how proud he was to be her son. She replied back to him how proud she was to be his mother. As far as we know, that decleration was her last clear statement.
Between Dan & his dad, someone was always by her bedside. The afternoon of June 30th I was taking Caroline up to Gainesville ( about an hour north of Atlanta) for a special art class. That evening while we were there, Dan & his dad had left to head home for dinner. Within moments of his arrival home, the call came. She had passed. Having spent the majority of my nursing career in oncology, I have heard of that happening many times. As soon as the particular family member arrives from far away, or as soon as the family members leave, its as if the patient feels the peace to let go and spare the loved ones of witnessing the last breath taken.
Today is bittersweet. In the twelve months since her passing, sweet Poppop has aged exponentially. He will turn 88 this year. He is a bright blue eyed, silver headed and perpetually tan man. Never smoked , drank, nor said a cuss word. Loyal to his love for over 50 years. A member of the coast guard, born of swedish immigrants. A man who at one time could do & fix anything. He has wrinkles along the sides of his face formed from years spent smiling and seeing the good in people. He tells us that he kisses her picture each night before turning in. He has spent a great deal of this year with his own medical issues. We thought we were going to loose him a few months ago.
As soon as we pulled into the cemetary, i was able to see Poppop getting out of his daughters car-so frail, having just had a procedure the day before. I instantly felt the lump in my throat and my eyes sting with tears. I've done this many times before myself. Something so formal, so official about going to the graveside. I'll be honest, when the girls were tiny I seldom went to Gregg's grave. He wasn't there I told them. I was afraid it might confuse them, but maybe my motives were for selfish reasons. Maybe I just didn't want to go and face the reality laid out before me in marble & brass, that i was alone and that all they had was me. But something different about watching sweet tender hearted Poppop walk over to her headstone. I sucked it up and thought I needed to pull myself together. Caroline had talked to Dan the night before about how today was special. I prayed without looking to the backseat, that she was doing 'ok'. As she got out of the car, her little black patent mary janes shining in the bright sun, Pop pop gave her the honors of placing the flowers in the vase.
As we stood there, Poppop talked about how we would see Grammy again one day. That he believes she was looking down from Heaven as we gathered . That 70 or 80 years seemed like a long time but it would be nothing compared to the forever that awaits us there. We circled around the grave, all 8 of us holding hands. Dan prayed. As soon as I heard his deep voice begin to crack the tears started. Pooling at the rims of my oversized faux Chanel sun glasses. With my head bowed, I opened my eyes. The breeze was blowing, I was again aware of this glorious unusually nice Atlanta weather. I was holding both Savannah's and Caroline's hands. What struck me at that moment was how Caroline's little shadow was cast over the marble headstone. Her hands outstretched on either side yet in the shadow she looked as if she were standing alone. Taking photographs allows me to capture & hold onto the memory of a moment. As I stood there I asked the Lord to help me store that visual photograph in my heart. The shadowed image of a spiritually sensitive 8 year old little girl, who deeply loved her grammy & who was equally adored by her. The image that Jesus asked that we have the heart of a child. Innocent and pure, uncomplicated, simple, and close to His. The image of the tender heart of a child.