Goodbye, Gertie

Gosh darn it. I’m sitting here feeling a little un-tethered right now. In less than three month’s time, I’ve had to say goodbye to my last two grandparents.

The last blow came, initially, after my first week of teaching summer class (and the night before we took family pictures). My parents called to tell me that my grandma Gert’s nursing home had called them about wanting to have a meeting to put her on hospice care. They told me she’d been pretty out of it when other family members had been there the previous weekend, but Ben and I decided last minute Friday night to pack up the kids and hit the road Saturday morning post-pictures, so we could go see Gertie one more time.

Y’all, it’s a miracle those pictures are as good as they are because I cried a lot that night. This is all just so heavy heart making and also hit so soon after the loss of my Grandpa Cliff (just for clarity’s sake: Cliff was my maternal grandfather and Gert my paternal grandmother). And we knew it was a long shot that she’d be coherent enough to visit with us, but we wanted to try.

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The stop at the nursing home was tough. She had declined drastically from the time my dad had last seen her and we had allll the kids with us, so I was trying to keep my brave, light pants on even though I was shocked by her appearance. She was not awake but also not asleep, if that makes any sense, so we tried talking to her a bit with the kids, but then Ben and my dad took them on a walk through the facility halls so I could just sit with her for a bit. I put my hand on top of hers, talked to her a little bit, and cried. That’s really about all one can do in a moment like that. And I said my goodbye because I knew that if they were talking hospice, that meant the end was near.

Getting to do that was a gift, really, and it’s one I’ve never had before with any of my other grandparents prior to them passing. It doesn’t make the loss any easier but I am grateful that she got to hear from me my thanks and gratitude for all that she did for me over the years. I thanked her for loving me. I thanked her for giving me my dad. I thanked her for being my grandma.

I spent a lot of time with my grandma when I was younger. Their farm was always less than 10 minutes away from us (even when they moved to a different farm place) and I spent countless hours roaming around her house and yard (and outbuildings, which apparently my parents did not know about until a week ago) where she would let me pull all of the cans out of her cupboard and rearrange them (yes, I sometimes did extremely strange things for fun as a child) and was always sure to hide the Twix bars in the same spot so I always knew where to go to sneak one. She made me hamburgers and mashed potatoes for lunches (because, again, weird kid), and taught me the beauty of games like Solitaire and King’s Corner.

After I left for college, my grandparents moved to town, and on almost every trip home, I’d pop in to see them. When I learned, my sophomore year, to quilt, my grandma recruited me to helping her with various quilting projects when I was home for breaks and holidays. She was also forever trying to give us stuff from her house (I use that vague word because seriously, there’s no way to categorize the randomness of what she might try to get you to walk away with after a visit), and I’m convinced she continued to work night shifts as a nurse for years and years and years just so she could slip us some mad money whenever my grandpa wasn’t looking.

Grandma Gert was fiesty. I heard stories about her card games (oh my gosh. so many card games!) and her quick mouth from people decades younger than her who worked with her at the State Hospital and got such a kick out of her. I heard that quickness myself over the years, and I have to think that I learned something about raising a big crazy crew from her, the mother of five boys and one girl. If my kids get together and laugh some day as they tell stories like hers tend to do, my heart will in fact burst wide open.

Right now my heart feels cracked for a different reason. We know what comes next because we’ve been here before and really, not that long ago. We’ll gather our gear and load up the babies to make the trip to be with family and friends to remember and honor another life that was thankfully long but of course never long enough.

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Our last photo all together, from our SD travels last July. 
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