Wednesday morning, I held the foot of a mother as she pushed her newborn son into the world. Thursday evening, I held the hand of my husband’s Grandma as she passed away. There was crying both days. Tears of joy and tears of pain at both. It is the natural ebb and flow of life.
In what was some amazing timing (or perhaps a mama and baby who were really wanting me there as their support) the baby came five days after his due date, the day after I returned home from vacation. Leaving on the baby’s due date was very hard for me as I had really hoped to be at the birth to support this family that I had come to know, not to mention complete the requirements for my birth doula certification. I hoped and prayed throughout our vacation, believing it impossible, that this baby would wait. And he did.
The labor and birth were perfect, classic second baby labor with very speedy pushing and birth. Everything went as it should with no complications. But birth is never a ‘blah’ event, no matter how textbook it is. There are moments of self-doubt, of anger even at having to go through such a struggle to bring this new life into being. And then there are moments of incredible joy, when the baby is placed lovingly on the mother and all is known to be well. When the tears of relief and wonder escape the eyes of all present.
Gram’s passing was similar in a way. She was 93, she had lived a long and richly blessed life. She passed her driving test almost a year ago and was still getting about mostly on her own only months ago despite her repeated wonderment at when it would be her turn to go. She knew her race was nearly done, she was at peace with going on to meet the Lord (she even quoted her mother, saying “Jesus doesn’t want me and the devil won’t take me”). She fell and broke her hip two months ago and recovered well from the surgery, even walking a bit right before returning to her own condo a few weeks ago.
But it was her time. In the last three weeks her congestive heart failure progressed more rapidly and she was unable to get comfortable rest at night. She still wore her beautifully radiant smile when we visited her only three weeks ago, she lit up when she saw the children. But we could tell that the end was nearing and she was struggling more and more each day.
On Thursday evening, Jeremy got home from work and I had dinner packed up to eat in the car. We had talked with his parents and knew that we needed to go and say our goodbyes. When we arrived his mother met us and told us we had just made it. Gram’s breathing was very labored and her breaths were few and far between. It picked up as we talked and as she listened to her other grandchildren talking to her on the phone.
Evie sat with grandma on the bed pulled up next to GG as Jeremy and I held her hands. Hannah and Eli came in to hold her hands and say goodbye and then Hannah made a friendship bracelet for GG. We put the bracelet on next to Gram’s rosary and Hannah started working on another behind me on the bed. Evie and Grandma moved to the floor to play with stuffed animals and conversation turned to the birth I had attended the day before.
As we talked, Gram’s breathing slowed more and more and then stopped. Mom looked up from where she and Evie were playing, noticing and came to Gram’s side. Aunt Peggy also came over from where she had been sitting and hugged her mother. There were tears. I sent Hannah to the living room and gave Gram one last kiss.
Then I found Hannah, GG Rosebud, in a puddle of tears.
Life, even when it goes as we know it should, is not easy. I guess that is good, but man it hurts. We moved here with the purpose of raising our children close to their family. I wanted my kids to know what I never felt I had - to have relatives at all their birthdays and all the holidays and even the in between days. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and by God’s amazing grace, two Great Grandmas that they would grow up knowing and then live their lives with the wonderful memories of them. And we have that at a cost. The cost of true sorrow over the loss of a loved one.
My own Grandpa died when I was six years old. I knew him and loved him but I had also spent a large part of my life very far away from him. I remember when he died. I remember my Mom being very sad but I also remember thinking that there was something wrong with me because I was not as sad as she was.
A year ago last week, my own Grandmother passed away. We had the fortune of being with her to say goodbye two days before she passed. I felt a different kind of sorrow at her passing, more a sense of wishing that I had gotten to know her better. I did have some great memories of times spent with her and her old cabin in Marquette marks the one place in this world that I truly feel connected to (being the one place I have returned to repeatedly in my life since I was a baby).
Gram Jennings I will miss more in the everyday. I had the good fortune of getting to know her well over the past fourteen years since Jeremy and I were engaged. I have always been impressed with her sense of style and her generously loving spirit. She made the best lemon cream angel food cake (which I tried making and failed miserably at - I’ll have to work on that). St. Patrick’s day has always been celebrated with corned beef and cabbage since I met her and I love it (being a non-red meat eating person these days I still allow myself some corned beef on St Paddy’s day). I have always loved that she likes silver as much as I do, she got the kids beautiful silver baby rattles. I loved that she loved my kids and enjoyed watching her eyes light up when the kids came to visit. I know they are going to miss the games of hide and seek they always played at her condo. All the family festivities will be a little less without her. One less place at the table for Christmas and Thanksgiving and birthdays and just plain old family get togethers.
So there are tears of sadness. And perhaps there should be tears of joy. Joy that she is finally in heaven where she so badly wanted to be for the past few months. The joy of her passing from this life on earth on to her eternal home, something like the joy of a baby being born. Once the baby is born, the mother begins her worrying, "is he cold? hungry? wet? hurt?". And now our worrying over Gram is done but our sadness remains.
It is as it should be, just not easy.