Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Grandma June


These last weeks have been exhausting. The kind where you run on pure reserve energy that comes from the spare tank you weren't even aware existed. You're the kind of busy where you forget to eat because you're so emotionally exhausted that even food forgets to cross your mind. That's what these weeks have been. Completely encompassing and right now as I head into this new week the exhaust smoke will continue to billow. 

On Wednesday we buried my Grandma. On Sunday we sat in pews, in a beautiful stained glass church and celebrated her life and entrance into Heaven. I say it so matter of fact because I'm still trying to convince myself of its truth, the reality of it all. 

It's not the fact that I have never lost someone so dear and close to me. In the last couple of years I have lost a few people I have dearly loved. I have known heartache and grief. But this time, with the loss of my sweet Grandma I think in some ways I've lost an intimate connection with my Savior. While I know in reality this is not the case, every time I was in the presence of my Grandma June she brought me into a deeper relationship with Christ. She ministered to me in ways that no one else has nor perhaps ever will. 

In life today there are very few constants. The list of things I feel I’ve been able to count on in my life is relatively short. I’m blessed that I even have a list and if I’m completely honest I know my list is really only Christ. However, for as long as I can remember my Grandma June has been a constant in my life. She’s been there for birthdays, basketball games, choir concerts, graduations, and my wedding. On every birthday she gifted me with a porcelain doll figurine that had my age on it that I proudly displayed in my room until I moved out of my parent’s house and each Christmas she gifted me with a special ornament and a gift certificate for a happy meal that she promised I’d use when we went on a lunch date. I practiced piano at her house and she is responsible for my favorite food being waffles because every time I spent the night she’d make me the best Belgian waffles and they were the most glorious things I had ever tasted. They are now my comfort food in every way. I treasured sleepovers at her house and loved her dog Rowdy. Even as a squeamish kid I’d sit with her and my grandpa and work on puzzles. She sewed me costumes (one year I even convinced her to make me a basketball costume) and blankets. And then there was the one time made me the most beautiful red coat with the red anchor buttons that she let me specially pick out on my own during a trip to the fabric store.  

The year my grandpa passed away happened to be the year all of my health problems started. My grandma joined in on the “fun” and went to all the doctors appointments with my parents and I so I had someone to keep me company in the waiting room when my parents had to spend time talking to the doctors and I was too young to hear what they were saying. This began a long and faithful journey that my sweet grandma would accompany me on through the next 18 years. 

As my health would continue to take hits and we would continue to find out one physical ailment after the other, my spirits would greatly suffer as well. My grandma recognized the toll it was taking on me physically and emotionally, she began instilling in me the mindset that giving up was never an option, that my strength was in Christ and that I had to lean into Jesus to get through every battle I was going to face. As a twelve-year-old girl she had me read books by Joni Ereckson Tada and I fell in love with them, wishing she had an endless supply.

We connected intimately over the health battles in each of our lives and I knew she was praying for me faithfully everyday with each obstacle I was facing head on. I often would send her emails pouring my heart out to her about my pain not only physically but the anguish in my heart and she would soon send a card with an encouraging verse or poem, reminding me that I was not alone-that God had not left me. As the years passed we grew closer and closer as life seemed to get harder and harder. I leaned into Grandma June and her spiritual wisdom because I wanted to learn everything I could from her journey with Christ and her deep faith.

After Nate and I got married we lived for a short time in San Jose and while we were looking for a place to live we got the amazing opportunity to live with her and Grandpa Jerry. As awkward as it was for newlyweds to be sleeping in two twin beds in the bride’s grandparent’s house it was a time I would never trade for anything. They counseled us in ways to make our marriage flourish, of how to live life together, and the four of us would sit together over dinner with no place to be or over a puzzle just sharing life.

With every health scare she had and every visit we shared there would be laughter and tears, sweet embraces and kisses and I’d beg her to keep hanging on as I told her I wasn’t ready for her to leave quite yet. I would always remind her that I still had things to learn. On what such visit, when we thought Grandma June might be getting close to death(but we were wrong) my Grandma gave me one of her bibles. For the last couple of years, as I’ve journeyed through a particular hard time in my life I have been reading through her bible, noticing the things she underlined and made notes on in the margins. Besides my wedding ring, I’ve never received a better gift.

Just over a year ago I found out the severity of my fertility issues and they crushed me. I literally have struggled in ways this year physically and emotionally that I have never experienced nor knew even existed. When I received the news and as each doctor’s appointment came and more news revealed, around every turn there was my grandma. Sending devotionals, emailing me verses,leaving voicemails to tell me she and Grandpa Jerry had just prayed for me. While I was doing everything on my end to hold onto my faith she was there to tell me she was holding me up with hers as well.

Two months ago when I received the news that Grandma June’s long, exhausting health battle was really coming to a close I came home to be with her. I wanted to make sure I told her how much she meant to me, how she impacted my life, and that because of her I knew Christ on another level that I may had never been able to experience because of how she had poured into me in the midst of my depression, poor health, and relentless pain. When I first arrived, she told me face to face that this time she would actually leave, and was in fact eager to get to Heaven, and then that lump caught in my throat. Ready or not I had to let her go and figure out a way to still learn from her faith without her physically being here.

I will say we had some hard conversations before her breathing deteriorated so intensely that talking was beyond what any of us wanted her to do. She challenged me, which was typical of her in every way, but she so sweetly spoke to me in love, showing her concern for my well being in life. I continued to visit her every few days and it wasn’t until the Sunday, six days before she went home to Heaven that I really grasped she wasn’t kidding, she was preparing for her last trip.

We had our last real conversation that day. The next day she would remain in bed and we’d only have little conversations with her as she began her hospice meds. I loved entering her room and giving her kisses and a squeeze- letting her know I was there. She knew it was me, would recognize me and tell me she loved me through mumbled words. I would relish when it was my turn right next to her head, where I would whisper that it was okay for her to go home, to go see Carl and Kevin, where I would get to rub her hair and pray for her.

On my last night with her, I think she knew I was there or at least that she wasn’t alone. We all knew it would be at any time and while all other nights that week I had left between 12am and 2:30am I couldn’t bring myself to leave. Her breathing was so labored and there were so many times when I thought a certain breath would be her last. In those times, I cradled her head oh so gently and I prayed for peace. I asked for the Holy Spirit’s presence to fill the room. I literally looked for angels to fill in the room around me. I sang to her her favorite hymns and told her how greatly loved she was, what a servant of Christ she’d been to all who knew for so long.

As dawn began to break I opened the window and cracked the blinds and put on a CD of her favorite hymns. I put it on repeat because I wanted it to continually play her favorite ones. Around twenty minutes after seven I prepared to leave because I knew my Grandpa would be there pretty soon. I told my Grandma I’d be back in a few hours to check on her but then thought twice and told her the last things I needed her to hear just in case those were my final moments in her presence. I texted Grandpa Jerry an update of all that had happened during the night, and headed to my car. Apparently we entered and exited through different doors because as I reached my car around 7:30 he had just reached her room, received my update and left me a voicemail. I decided to continue on my way home instead of going back to her room to see Grandpa Jerry as I was exhausted from staying up all night.

Shortly after returning home, I received the call that my Grandma finally got her lifelong desire to meet the Father face to face. With Grandpa Jerry by her side, she entered into Heaven at 8:05am and I know she was finally able to take a deep breath after having struggled to do so for these last two months. As a talented lifelong singer, I think she joined her most favorite choir with a heavenly host of angels.

Initially, I sat stunned that she was really gone. Even though I knew it would be any minute I had been in the mode of just taking care of her, being in that room, and perhaps thinking that’s what I’d do long term. Every night after work, I’d spend the nights sitting by her bed.

My grandma knew I had a big medical appointment coming up this week about my ongoing physical battles and she knew with it I would be faced with one of the biggest decisions of my life. As it approaches I feel a void where she’d normally be. Of course she wouldn’t be able to make the decision for me, but knowing her prayerful presence would be placing me at the foot of Jesus always brought me comfort.

This decision I face will most likely terminate my ablility to ever have children. My grandmother knows the great anguish I feel over this part of my life. The pain that has been eating away at me for so long and I so badly wish she was here to cry with. My desired plan for so long has been to have a daughter and for their middle name to be June. The namesake of my grandmother, my constant, a spiritual saint, and unwavering women of the Word. In my head I wanted her to come to the hospital and for me to hand her her great granddaughter. To present this precious baby to her, with a name that is a symbol of a tiny, tiny token of my massive gratitude for who she has been to me. Maybe with God’s grace there will one day be a child for Nate and I and he or she will know their Great Grandpa Jerry but until that time I feel the responsibility to carry on her legacy since I can’t do it with her name. I may not have her eyes, oh what I would give to see them open and sparkle at me with her smile just one more time, but I can pray to have a heart after Jesus which I so believe she had. It will take me a lifetime to achieve but I want to be like June. I want her intimacy with our savior because I always felt she had a better connection to Him than anyone else.

You may be gone, sweet Grandma June- but never forgotten. May I spend my days how you lived yours.- Pursuing Christ with everything in me and investing in others so they may come into a more richer, deeper, relationship with Him. I’m not sure where I go from here without you, but if I live my life like you did I trust I will be taken care of by our Father. I love you.

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