My maternal grandmother, Ma as we called her, was the sweetest, most giving woman. She was an only child, who married a man eleven years older than herself, and then had thirteen children of her own. As a mother she was probably over whelmed. But as a grandmother she was perfection. She had very little, but gave all she had. She cherished each grandchild and each grandchild cherished her.
She gave out hugs and kisses abundantly. If you needed something, anything at all, she would sit and think and think and fret and fret until she figured out a way. She wasn’t stingy with praise or encouragement. I can still see her smiling face in my mind. I can hear her voice speak my name.
When visiting, her first question was always “Are you hungry?” She made her own bread. To this day all of her grandchildren will tell you about her bread. After my grandfather passed away and as she grew older she moved into an assisted living apartment. I would sometimes visit her for lunch. My favorite menu was homemade hamburgers on homemade buns and french fries. These hamburgers did not always have all the trimmings, but they always featured mustard and Velveeta cheese. She would fry the potatoes for me, because she knew I liked them. Once over lunch, I just mentioned how I liked McDonald’s shoestring potatoes. When I went over there for lunch the next time, she had painstakingly cut the french fries into slender pieces. That’s just the way she was.
I have lots of stories I could tell about my grandmother, but the last event she participated in was the week of her death. She didn’t have a lot of major medical problems. Just the usual stuff that occurs as you age. She began to get frail and she knew that her time was near. They brought in a hospital bed for her. I remember stopping by there one morning that week and she said to me while sitting on the bed, “This is the dumbest thing ever!” she slapped the bed with her hand, “Just a total waste of money.” That week she also got to where she couldn’t hear at all. We had to scream at the top of our lungs for her to hear us. I thought that maybe something was wrong with her hearing aid. So I offered to take it to the hearing aid place and have them look at it, maybe it needed to be cleaned. Reluctantly she handed it to me, (she was afraid I was going to spend money on it) and she told me “Don’t let them sell you a pack of batteries. I won’t be here long enough to use them.” She told me “I’m just ready to go. I’m tired.”
While sitting with her that morning she also told me “Don’t let those girls” (meaning her daughters) “spend any money on buying a dress to bury me in. I’ve got that blue dress in my closet and it will be just fine.” She had this blue dress that she had had for a very long time. I think she wore it to every graduation, wedding, or special occasion for several years. She was adamant about being buried in that dress.
Eventually that week, as her body began to weaken she was taken by ambulance to the hospital. I was told by someone that they were waiting at the hospital when the ambulance arrived. As the doors opened and they began to move her into the hospital, she was smiling and laughing as were the EMTs. Of course we all gathered at the hospital, like a band of gypsy’s, we took over that waiting room. That night as her children gathered around her bed, they held hands and someone was chosen to pray for her. But since she couldn’t hear, she didn’t know someone else was going to pray, so she just started praying firmly and loudly. She prayed not for herself, but for her children, her grandchildren, and a multitude of others. She prayed that God would comfort us. She prayed that her family would remain close and take care of each other.
She took pleasure those few days in the hospital, saying her goodbyes. Seeing some that she hadn’t seen in awhile. She told every one that she was ready. “I’m on my way!” she would say. When she did close her eyes for the last time, even her doctor was crying. He told my mother he had heard of “dying grace”, but this was the first time he had witnessed it.
Our family is so large that during visitation at the funeral home, they had to move her to the chapel to accommodate us all. I know it bothered some of my aunts that her casket was opened. She had stated in the past that she didn’t want people walking by peering down at her. But funerals are for the living and I’m thankful I got to lay my eyes on her one more time. That wasn’t the only wish we disobeyed. Her daughters bought the most beautiful dress for her. Yes she would have been angry that they had spent the money. But she would have been so proud. Proud of us all.