I feel a little like we ran a marathon. Tired but happy to have crossed the finish line. My family spent much of last week and all of yesterday in my 92-year-old Grandmother’s room at a local care facility. Grandma has had Alzheimer’s for the last several years. About a year ago she moved to Washington State to be near family. Over the last year we’ve visited Grandma, talked about the past, listened to a whole variety of interesting stories brought on by her disease and medications and generally gotten to know my mother’s mother. God has been so merciful to my grandmother and to our family. At times she thought she was getting married again, once she thought she was going to be crowned the Queen of the Universe. She was disappointed though because the crown they gave her was made of wood. However, she never lost sight of her faith, or of who her family members were.
About a month ago, on my mother’s birthday as it should happen, the doctors told us that Grandma was terminal. Part of me inside thought it was a silly thing to say, after all, we’re all terminal. But to know it’s imminent is a different matter. And so Hospice became a part of our lives and watching became our past time. It’s not a fun thing to watch someone you love prepare to die. Our bodies break down. But it is an honor to be present.
Yesterday, we spent most of the day in Grandma’s room at her bedside. She was comfortable, a combination of morphine and methadone will do that. She was not alert or able to communicate. However, if we sang to her, she’d raise her eyebrows. There is some debate about if it was because she was enjoying the music or if it was because we sing off-key. At any rate, we worked our way through an old Nazarene hymnal. We sang Old Rugged Cross, Blessed Assurance, Fairest Lord Jesus. At one point we got a little loopy and started singing children’s songs. My aunt laughed when mom and I broke into Let’s all sing like the birdies do. Grandma raised her eyebrows.
We ate trail mix and fruit and cookies. We looked through photo albums. We called relatives around the globe and they took turns saying goodbye to Grandma. We sat quietly and listened to her breathing. I’ve never heard anything like it before. One of the hymns talked about praising God as long as He loaned us breath. It made a lot of sense in that quiet room.
Yesterday was the 18th anniversary of my Uncle Ron’s heaven day. When he had his bone marrow transplant he had to go to Wisconsin. My aunt had to stay in Pennsylvania to be near their daughter Annie who was going through treatment for leukemia. My grandmother is the one who went to Wisconsin to be with Ron. I’m confident that Ron was among the greeters in Heaven watching and waiting for Grandma to arrive. Annie’s heaven day is April 6th. April 6th is also the day that my daughter (and my cousin’s daughter) was due to be born. I love the symmetry that God weaves into families. This is the same creator who made butterflies and buttercups. But He’s also the creator of calculus. I love that all creation fits into a pattern and that He watches and timed these dates to provide comfort and a reminder that He is the one in control of all of our days.
At six fourteen last night, Grandma took her last breath. Two minutes later, her pulse stopped. It was peaceful. No struggle. Grandma crossed the finish line and finished her race. I took a big breath. Grandma received a crown of glory for a life surrendered to the king. I promise you that this one was not wooden.
My Jesus, I love thee.
My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I love Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
(Oh my saviour) If ever I love Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
It is now (if ever I love my Saviour, ’tis now )
It is now (if ever I love my Saviour, ’tis now)
In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,
If ever I love Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.