Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I miss my G'ma.

This is nothing new.  Missing G'ma.  I think about her every day in just about every situation that's going on around me.  I know this is normal and to be honest, it does not make me as sad as it used to.  I'm able to reminisce without tears, but sometimes those tears do fall.  Ella misses her 'grammy' a lot, too.  We talk about her a lot and we end up having dreams about her on the same nights.  I think that's neat.

I have never really been able to put into words exactly what G'ma meant to me or to our family has a whole.  G'ma and I weren't the kind of people who were too lovey dovey, we just knew how much we loved each other and left it at that.  Her passing came too fast and I was definitely not able to talk at her memorial service, although I had the opportunity.  Besides the fact that I knew I wouldn't be able to speak without sobbing, I just couldn't put any words together or memories in a cohesive thought.  I don't regret not taking advantage of that moment, but again, I think about her all the time and miss her like crazy and I try my best to honor her memory and make her proud.  I also want to be able to describe her to Annie when she gets older since she didn't really get to know her.  So, while I was finishing up "Bittersweet" this evening, one of the final chapters is called "Blueberries" and right from the beginning it reminded me of G'ma.  Now, the chapter is about the author's G'ma and clearly there are some differences in hobbies, etc. but the overall thoughts and memories that she wrote about her G'ma and how she will remember her are the exact words I've been looking for.  I guess I'm sort of plagiarizing her thoughts, but I've never been an original.  :)

Once again, I want to transcribe the chapter for you.  I hope you take the time to read it as I'm sure it will be uplifting for those who have had any type of loss in their lives.

An excerpt from "Bittersweet" by Shauna Niequist

My Grandma Hybels passed away on Sunday night with on of her daughters at her side.  Earlier that day, she'd been surrounded by all five of her children and her pastor, and they prayed together, kissed her, held her hands.  She was not afraid, and she was not alone.

At her eighty-fifth birthday party this summer, it was apparent to all of us that the cancer had returned and that it was overtaking her body, even thought she didn't want to admit it to anyone.  As the fall progressed, so did the cancer, and just after Christmas, she was moved to a hospice center.  Her last weeks were filled with visits from her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, until late one night, she passed way gently in her sleep.

When, in the weeks before her death, the cousins shared some of our childhood memories with Grandma, there were three things that came up over and over: blueberries, cinnamon toast and beach glass.  Grandma made the very best blueberry pie, and when my cousin Cameron learned that Grandma recently passed her recipe on to his little sister Melody, he told Mel that he expected Grandma's blueberry pie every time he comes to Chicago.  We all remember picking blueberries with Grandma at DeGrandchamp's in South Haven, which, for out-of-towner's, is widely known as the Blueberry Capital of the World, complete with a Blueberry Festival, Blueberry Parade and Blueberry Queen.

At Grandma's cottage we ate blueberries straight out of the bowl in the mornings, and in muffins all day long, but our favorite was her fresh blueberry pie, with a scoop of Sherman's Ice Cream - the second most famous export to come out of South Haven, right behind the blueberries.

In the last days of Grandma's life, she had no appetite and everyone who visited her worked hard to find something the sounded good to her - macaroni or pudding, something.  At a certain point, nothing worked.  And then my Aunt Marilyn found one last bag of frozen blueberries in Grandma's freezer and brought it to the hospice center.  Grandma said that she'd been saving that bag for her great-grandchildren, but admitted that they did sound good, and she'd just have a few.  For the last few days of her life, those frozen blueberries were the only things she ate, and for anyone who knew her, that doesn't surprise us a bit.

My brother remembers sitting on the carpet watching Dukes of Hazzard at the cottage, because the rule was that if you had already been swimming, you had to sit on the green shag carpet - no wet buns on the couch.  When we were done at the beach for the day, Grandma would line us all up in the front yard and spray us all off in one fell swoop, first all our fronts and then all our backs.  She was forever fighting against sand in the cottage, but with so many little feet, I think the sand generally won.

We fought over who would get to sleep in Grandma's bed with her, the big brass bed, and in the mornings, we all loved having cinnamon bread from Bunde's Bakery in the sunroom, the toaster and the butter dish in the corner always ready for us.

One of our favorite things to do at Grandma's cottage was to search for beach glass, because Grandma collected it in jars like a precious treasure.  Every few days we'd take out all the pieces and spread them out on the dining room table with her and she acted as though we'd found gold every time.

When we came to visit Grandma for the last time, she gave each of us a box, one for each child and grandchild.  In each of our boxes, she had packed up every baby picture, every card we'd given her, and an assortment of family memories and newspaper clippings.  Late one night I  spread the contents of the box all over my dining room table  - baby pictures of my dad that look just like Henry, an invitation to my parent's wedding, and another invitation to my grandparent's wedding.  I found a note that my dad wrote to his dad, who passed away when I was two.  The contents of that box helped piece together childhood memories long forgotten and bits of a past I never knew.

One thing that brought her great joy in the last several years of her life was the time with her great-grandchildren.  Grandma held them and soothed them, played with them on the floor, and collected pictures of them to show her friends and sisters.  It was a very moving thing to watch Grandma care for our children in much the same way she cared for us when we were small.

Luka was born less than two months ago, and my cousin Larissa and her husband, Matt, knew, in the first terrifying hours of Luka's life, when he was hooked up to  monitors and things seemed to change from moment to moment, that Grandma was praying consistently for Luka's health.  And even though she was very sick, she insisted on visiting Luka, and wanted to hold him every chance she got, even when he was fussing.

Just last week, after Grandma had moed to the hospice center, her health declining by the day, she was delighted to hear the my cousin Jake's wife, Sara, gave birth to a son named Logan.  While Grandma never wanted to bother anyone about anything, that morning, she wanted to make phone calls to tell people about the birth of baby Logan.  In many ways, that's all you need to know about my Grandma, that days before the end of her life, her greatest concern was not for herself, but for a child, and for the health and safety of her family.

Above all else, even above the blueberries and the cinnamon bread, what we remember about Grandma, what we knew was most important to her, was her faith.  She prayed for us consistently and asked us pointedly about where we were going to church and what we were learning from our Bible reading.  She modeled for us, more than anything, her deep belief that faith is the center of everything, the foundation upon which all else is built.

At the heart of Grandma's faith was servanthood.  She didn't want to be the center of attention and didn't ask hardly anything of anyone.  Even at the very end of her life, when she needed something from the nurses, she'd ask, "Would that be too much trouble for you?"  They teased her and finally started telling her, "Jerry, this is about you!"  Anyone who knew he knows that she never, ever thought it was about her.

On the last afternoon Todd and I spent with her, we talked about the importance of faith.  She told us that all she wanted at the end of her life was to know that each one of her children and grandchildren trusted Christ with their lives.  I don't think she cared a bit if we went to good colleges or not, or how we looked, or if we made a lot of money.  She cared about our spiritual well-being and prayed fervently and consistently for each one of us.

If you opened Grandma's refrigerator, t looked like and she ate was yogurt, cottage cheese and sour cream.  But if you took a closer look you realized that there were odds and ends of all sors of things in those reused containers - bits of casserole, leftovers, slices of pie all stored in rinsed-out yogurt and cottage cheese containers.  She also took crackers and sugar packets from restaurants, and used bread bags to store almost anything.  Grandma never wasted a thing and was never extravagant.  She didn't spend on herself and lived with great frugality, preferring to give to her church, to missions, and to her family.

Although she lived simply, she gave generously to us.  And possibly even more important, she modeled to us her deeply held belief that money doesn't buy happiness, that it isn't ours in the first place, and that wastefulness and extravagance lead to bad ends.  In a world where financial mismanagement and recklessness seem to be the norm, we consider it a gift to have learned another way from Grandma.

In my last conversation with Grandma, we talked a lot about heaven.  She told me she was so excited to go there and that she felt like it was taking a long time.  One of the reasons she was most excited about heaven is because there she'll be reunited with her husband.  For a woman who had been widowed for more than thirty years, I can't imagine the sweetness of that reunion.  She spoke in great detail about wanting to see her sisters and brothers and looking forward to a time when age and disease and pain are gone.

We'll miss Grandma terribly.  We'll think of her every time we eat blueberries or find a piece of beach glass in South Haven.  But we know, with as much certainty as we know anything, that she is in heaven, free from pain and disease, reunited with Christ, with a husband she's missed for three decades, and with sisters and brothers she loved dearly.  And for that, we're so thankful.

The best way to honor my grandma's life, I believe, is to live with the faith, simplicity, prayerfulness and kindness that she lived with every day.  When any of us - her children, her grandchildren, the many people she touched and walked with - live simply in order to give generously, when we serve without wanting recognition, when we put the needs of others above our own, when we pray for the people we love, we will honor the legacy of this tiny, lovely, godly woman, my grandma, Gertrude Hybles.

Well, if you've made it down this far, I hope that touched you as much as it did me.  I felt like I was talking with my G'ma again while reading this as we had those same conversations in her last days and faith was so important to her as well.  I miss knowing that G'ma was praying for me and my family every day.  I want/need to be like that...I want to be like her.  I hope when we see each other again that I will have made her proud.

1 comment:

Winning At Relationships said...

Very touching! She was a great lady, and sacrificed a lot so you could have a wonderful life! She raised a fine young lady!