February is a HARD month for my family. Last year, my sister experienced life-threatening complications during a surgery. A few weeks ago, the youngest member of the Swigert clan, my sweet baby niece, spent a few days in the hospital battling RSV. There are not enough words to express how thankful I am to have these two ladies healthy once again.
Then, the February struggle reared its head once again. A few days ago, my grandmother was taken to the hospital and our worlds were forever changed. As soon as I heard that she was taken to the hospital, my mind began to race. I called my boss to inform her I may need to miss the following work day, and her words will forever haunt me: “Don’t say things can’t get worse.” I didn’t say it, but Someone must have overheard our conversation anyways. I can’t described the way my stomach dropped, my heart stopped, and my mind froze when I read my Dad’s text: “Grandma’s abdomen is full of cancer.”
By that evening, I was travelling to the hospital with some of my family. We found our precious grandmother, still in the emergency room, still in excruciating pain. My heart will forever be comforted by our brief conversations that evening. Grandma knew who I was, and we exchanged the typical “I love you” conversation. Later, I joked with her about dog-sitting and how I needed to get home to let the crazy dogs out. She gave me her best attempt at a chuckle, and I promised to visit again soon.
Less than twelve hours after that conversation, I did visit again. But Grandma had already deteriorated to a state of unresponsiveness. The Grandma I grew up learning to love and adore had already left us. I squeezed her hand, holding onto a thin shred of hope that she would squeeze back, and I kissed her forehead before I left for work. By the time I arrived to work, about 20 minutes after that goodbye kiss, she was gone. She was free of her chains of pain, and she was reunited with her beloved husband. She was free.
My mind is still working hard to process what has happened. Twenty-four hours before her last breath, she was f.i.n.e. Three days before her last, she was celebrating my brother-in-law’s birthday with the family. I have yet to fully grasp that she will no longer welcome us into her home on Christmas Eve or sip Pepsi from her favorite orange cup. She won’t sneak up behind me at family get-togethers and slip money into my back pocket. I will never hear her joyful laugh or see her bright smile again. She won’t show off her new earrings or pretty sweatshirt. I won’t tease her for being twelve feet shorter than everyone else.
While I list all of these “can’ts” and won’ts,” I am left with the words my boss spoke to me today: “They focus on what we can’t do, but I wish they would see all the things we can do.” While we were simply having a conversation about a program at work, I found myself drawing a connection from her words to my grieving process. There are so many things I can do to remember my Grandma and keep her spirit alive.
I can frost graham crackers with my nieces and nephews, and I can tell them how their Great Grandma’s house always smelled like frosted graham crackers. I can teach the Christmas Eve traditions she taught me to my nieces and nephews and someday, my own kids. I can keep a few of her bells from her giant (literally, giant) collection, and I can gently ring them from time to time, remembering how her laugh also produced a pretty sound. I can always keep my love for fun, something I am sure I learned from her.
While the next family birthday party or Easter dinner will be a little quieter, and a bit sorrowful, we have so many pieces of Grandma that we can always share and keep her spirit with us. She will never truly be gone. As I prepare to lay my Grandma to rest next week, I am finding great comfort in my final moments with her that dreary Tuesday evening.
My oldest sister and I visited Grandma first after she was settled in her ICU room. (I liked how my dad introduced us to a nurse the next morning, “my oldest and my youngest.”) The two bookends of the Swigert siblings, standing strong for our siblings that couldn’t make it in time. We loved on our Grandma, and we gave her hugs as she suffered through her pain. Our final conversation with her will always leave me with chills. We told her that “Andrew (our brother) will be here soon, and Becca (our sister) will be coming, too.” My oldest sister told our Grandma that she would be back, and, as I have already mentioned, I promised to visit soon. In that moment, my sister and I thought we were talking in terms of days or hours. But now, I believe we spoke those words through a Higher Power. I believe Grandma left this world knowing her grandkids would follow her one day… she knows we will be coming for a visit when our time here is finished. And I know that we are counting down the days until we get to have that Heavenly visit with our beloved Grandmother.
Until that day, I will love you, cherish our memories, and miss you to no end. As my mom beautifully wrote on Facebook the morning you left, “She liked her angel figurines… now she is with the angels!” Rejoice, Grandma, and, with time, we will, too. You will never know pain or suffering again, and, in that, I find great comfort.
Maybe February brings our family these moments of hardship not to cause pain, but to remind us what is important… more importantly, who is important.