Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the death of my grandmother, Mimi. She died unexpectedly last year while I was at Mo-Ranch with my parents and kids, down in the Texas hill country on retreat with our church family. I say “unexpectedly” though she and all the rest of us had actually been expecting her imminent death for at least 20 years due to her many infirmities. We were all surprised when she outlasted her husband of over 60 years, my Gigidad, who died a year earlier. The year that we had her with us (at my parent’s home and often in mine) was both a challenge and a gift. None of us had expected her to last long after the death of Gigidad, and she had several hospital stays and illnesses during that time. But in July, she was better and well enough to make a trip to be near her sister and with her niece in Tulsa, so when we left for Mo-Ranch, we certainly expected to see her again.
So there were things left unsaid, kindnesses left undone, even a phone call left unreturned on my part. During our “Mimi-year”, I felt a huge responsibility (sometimes burden) of helping her emotionally and physically (feeding, hygiene, doctors visits), and I did my best, but I can’t help but think that I should have done better, that we all should have done better. But I was struggling through the stresses of raising two young children, starting a business, the challenges of marriage, and my own depression/ anxiety which had not yet been treated. It was a difficult year. I didn’t have the extra emotional reserves to take on her problems in addition to mine, and so I sometimes shut myself off emotionally from her. I didn’t often open up to her, giving her a chance to be there for me. I didn’t give our relationship much of a chance to deepen, though we did grow closer through shared proximity and experience, shared laughs and tears, shared chaos. There were wonderful “Mimi” moments for me and my children which I am grateful for, and I can only hope that she was, too.
In the months and year following her death, I have been surprised by how much I’ve missed her, dreaming once that she came back and had actually just been on a long RV-trip with friends – we were pretty irritated with her, but thanks to my subconscious, I did get to give her one last big hug. I’ve been surprised by how often I’ve found myself thinking of her and grieving again, and often still not believing that she actually is gone. When I see a handicapped space and refrain from using the sticker I still have in my car; when I open the door for an elderly person using the same walker that she had, that my children had races on; when the kids do something silly that I wish I could tell her about; when we have our “Mimi, Movie, and Milkshake” nights minus one key ingredient; when the movie “Up” was playing on the TV in the pediatric dentist’s office, a movie she had enjoyed with MJ snuggled up next to her; when Ellie puts on a second pair of socks over a first the way Mimi used to help her do; when MJ walks out of his room wearing a pair of underwear on his head (Mimi used to put panties on her head to protect her hair-do when getting dressed).
Recently, I accidentally called Mimi’s old phone number which I still have not erased from my phone. I quickly hung up before hearing the voice of whatever random person has replaced her in the cell-phone world. Later, I saw on my phone, that I’d missed a call from “Mimi” – no message left. If she’d left a message perhaps it would have said what I needed it to: “It is well with my soul. And you were good enough.” I have come to realize what a gift it is to get to say “goodbye” to a loved one. I got to do this with my other grandmother, Gammy, when I was in high school, and 2 years ago with my Gigidad. I looked back at my journal to see my reflection on that sacred time with Gigidad. He died the same weekend that my family moved from our apartment to a house, the same weekend of Dustin’s graduation from residency when his parents were in town. But despite the chaos, I made time to be where I needed to be, in that sacred space with my Gigidad – next to his bed in my parents’ guest-room, and with him between life and death. These were my thoughts…
Even as we are celebrating this new chapter in the life of our family, we are grieving the loss of my kind and gentle Gigidad who died early this morning at Mom and Dad’s house. Mimi and Gigidad move to Dallas only 3 weeks ago to live out his remaining days here, to be surrounded by our love, support, and chaos. Gigidad found great joy in watching MJ and Ellie play, and both grew more attached to him, Ellie leaning in to kiss him, MJ sitting outside and sharing a slice of watermelon with him. We are so thankful that we got to spend some really good quality time with him, and to help him through the passage of death in the last few days. It was such an honor for me to spend some time sitting with him, singing to him, praying with him in the last few days- such sacred time. In addition to some favorite old hymns, I sang “What a Wonderful World“, the song that we danced to at my wedding, and I told him that the world was a better place because he had been in it, and that we were all better people for knowing him. He truly was such a good man, such a kind and generous spirit, and I will miss his loving presence in my life.
I felt closure, and I hope I helped to give him peace. He had squeezed my hand, he had received my love. I always expected to get to do the same with Mimi, to get to ease her into death through song and touch and loving words. So, in addition to grieving her death, I also have grieved the fact that I did NOT get to do this with her, for her, for myself. What I know for sure….it helps to say “goodbye.”
Here is what I would have said: “I am sorry I couldn’t have done more for you during this lonely, difficult year. I am sorry for the times I got frustrated and lost patience with you. You were good enough – in life. I’m not sure you ever knew that you were, but you were a perfect child of God. I’m glad you were my grandmother. Thank you for always loving me just the way I am. Thank you for thinking that I deserved “treats” like staying up late to watch Nick at Nite with ice-cream and M&M’s as a kid, and always encouraging me to sit down as a Mom on-the-go and “take a break.” Thank you for introducing me to “I Love Lucy” and for helping me to laugh.”
She was on my mind on our recent trip to Mo-Ranch, so I sang a song in her honor. It is not a song I got to sing for her in life, but I did sing it at her memorial service, so it is what I have to connect me to her spirit, “Give Me Jesus.” The text has always struck me as hauntingly fitting for her final year, final hours: “…and when I am alone, dark midnight was my cry, and when I come to die…give me Jesus.” (She also would have liked the fact that Ellie thinks the song is “Give Me Geez Louise.“)
Watch the video of me singing it a capella at the Mo Variety Show…“Give Me Jesus”
(See my post from last year after she died, sharing favorite pictures and memories – Mimi Memories, I heard from so many of you about how it helped you to re-connect with memories of your grandmothers, even leading to some good family conversations about your memories – that is such a compliment for me as a writer.)