Saturday, January 3, 2009

Heaven's Welcome

After a year of failing health and freak accidents, my Grandma Margie Wehler recently suffered a major stroke that left her permanently compromised. The doctors said she would never be able to have an intelligent conversation again, at least one that she remembered and her prognosis was grim. Days after her stroke, she miraculously became lucid for two days and had meaningful conversations with each of her three children. Stripped of any sense of dignity or pride, who she was at her core was revealed.

My Grandma, who is known to be a bit of a chronic complainer, spent her last lucid conversations focusing on gratitude. She was thankful to God for loving her, forgiving her and for his compassion and kindness. She was concerned that God would forget her and was comforted when she was reminded that He will never leave her. Years before she had memorized Psalm 121, so my Mom read it to her and she joined in on the parts that she remembered. She told my mom that she wasn't sure why she was "going back and forth," but thought God must want it that way so it was okay. A few hours later, Grandma's mind drifted away from this earth.

Grandma spent a good portion of her life caring for my Grandpa Whitey, who suffered with multiple chronic diseases and held on to life years longer than any doctor would have predicted because he didn't want to leave Margie, who he always introduced as "his bride." When he died, a part of Grandma died too. She floundered, alone and desperate to be needed. She married Ray immediately and trapped herself in a loveless marriage, the whole time pining for Grandpa. When Ray died a couple of years ago, she had a new lease on life. She left Arizona and moved into an assisted living apartment in Minnesota, close to family who could help her if she needed it, and ready to find a friend and travel the world. She met Joan and in spite of their differences, the two became fast friends. They both filled voids in each other's lives and the two of them became inseparable. I remember how excited Grandma was to have a friend who also wanted to travel to exotic locations like Branson, Missouri!

Grandma's promised land in Minnesota was short-lived because she was immediately assaulted with a serious of strange, fluke medical accidents that would cripple her every time she started to get back on her feet.

This September, Grandma and Joan flew to Portland to see the sights and visit family. Grandma's health was terrible, but her drive and determination were admirable. She fell down two flights of stairs, broke her collarbone and bruised her ribs, but insisted on continuing with their packed travel schedule in spite of being in severe pain.

My last memory of Grandma is the girls' morning we had that Saturday. We met at Artistic Nails and me, Mom, Grandma and Joan, lined up in pedicure chairs against the wall and chatted while we indulged. Joan wanted fancy pictures on her toe nails, but changed her mind when she found out it would cost extra money. Grandma was wearing a true "grandma" outfit - brightly colored floral patterned knit pants and royal purple "blouse" that looked like it was made from a spool of purple ribbon, wound into individual tiny balls and somehow stitched together. She was so proud of her outfit and told me where she had gotten the blouse and that it was one of her favorites.

Grandma struggled with short-term memory loss and her conversations were all over the board. We sat in the salon, she held my hand and said, "You're so pretty Jod. Such a pretty girl, but you've always been. Did I tell you what happened to my eye? Oh - where's Joan going? Did Joan leave? Where does she think she's going?"

I knew Grandma's health was failing, but facing it was difficult for me. As she clung to my arm and we shuffled down the sidewalk to the candy store I was overcome with memories from not too many years past. Of Grandma and I walking a two-mile loop in her retirement community. Me pregnant with my first child, Grandma in tip-top shape, waving to all the neighbors and complaining about the weather that seemed perfect to me but was either too hot, too cold, too sunny or too cloudy for Grandma.

Of coming to visit them on our one-year anniversary and being mortified as my mom and Grandma giggled over my hot new lingerie that was never meant for their eyes but somehow made it out of my suitcase and on display.

Of Grandma and Grandpa holed up in their dream home in northern Minnesota hiking miles through the woods in knee-deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, complaining about the cold, but loving every minute of it. Of their "professional" security signs that Grandpa designed and posted at the bottom of their driveway, even though they really didn't have a home security system in their house.

Of eating supper no later than 5 p.m. and subsequently watching Wheel of Fortune. Of crowding around their table and playing the most competitive games of Rummikub, Uno and cards every imaginable. Grandma and Grandpa had an automatic card shuffler that instigated many fights between my brother and I over who got to shuffle.

Of going out to eat with Grandma and wanting to melt into the floor when she'd send everything she ordered back to the kitchen to be re-heated for the third time because it wasn't hot enough.

And I couldn't remember Grandma without remembering her home-made candies. For years, starting in November, she'd spend days at a time in the kitchen making the most exquisite home-made candies. It would ruin her day if a batch didn't turn out EXACTLY as she intended. Conversely, she'd beam with pride as we all stood around the kitchen island, inhaling the candies and exclaiming about their goodness through stuffed mouths. My favorites were the chocolate peppermint crispy balls. They were to-die-for.

One of the last coherent things Grandma said before she had her stroke was that she was lonely and just wanted to die and go to heaven to be with Whitey. Her living will stated that she wanted no measures to prolong or save her life - no feeding tubes, CPR or anything that would prevent her from graduating from this world into eternity with her Savior and her husband who she missed so desperately. Grandma is in hospice care and I'm waiting to receive the call that her wish has come true. Her departure will leave a hole in the hearts of those she leaves behind, but we will always have our memories. When Grandma makes her final trip it will be to a truly exotic place, even more exciting than Branson. I wish I could be there to see heaven's welcome, Jesus and Whitey, waiting at the door to welcome her with open arms. Safe travels Grandma.

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