I said goodbye to my (GrammaJ) last night. We laughed together.
GrammaJ has survived so very much. She lost half a lung to lung cancer years ago, I think it was before Joy was even born. She battled back from a temporarily paralyzing stroke and walked again. She triumphed in a round with breast cancer. She adapted her lifestyle to diabetes and shed a lot of pesky pounds, learned to speak in a whisper after her vocal cords were damaged in surgery, slowed her pace to accommodate heart issues.
But this time is different. GrammaJ is in a hospice facility, and her remaining time with us is likely very short now. It happened suddenly. On January 2, she and GrampaK hosted the family at their home for our fourth Christmas of the season. A week later, she went into the hospital for some tests. A week and a half after that, she was on her way to hospice, with the news that the lung cancer had roared back overwhelmingly, untreatably.
GrammaJ is GrampaK's second wife, with the longer of the two marriages: they just celebrated their 20th anniversary this past year. They married just a couple of years before JoyDad and I started dating. They were in Wisconsin, we weren't -- so I didn't get to know either of them very well until we too moved to Wisconsin in 1998. Then we discovered her warm hospitality and sweet personality and fun-and-feisty sense of humor, and we grew to appreciate how well she and GrampaK were matched!
When we had kids, there was no question that she would be "Grandma" -- not step-grandma or some other nickname, but really-truly grandma. JoyDad's mother passed away before the girls came along; Joy had just turned one when we had to say goodbye to my mother. The girls' step-grandmas ARE their grandmas.
GrammaJ has been so flexible and loving with Joy's needs. She carefully Joy-proofed their home when we'd visit (an extensive task due to many knick-knacks and collectibles!), made sure to serve food the girls would eat, and brought the most delicious cakes for their birthdays. In fact, Rose had me make lemon cake for her birthday party this weekend, with GrammaJ's special super-lemony recipe.
The chance to say a final goodbye is a difficult gift. Rose remembers the goodbye trip to Kansas when my mother was in her final hospice-weeks, so for her there's a familiarity to this. She has been processing this farewell quietly and somberly so far.
With Joy, I've had bouts of angst in the past about not being able to properly explain deep and momentous things, from the death of our bunny Phoebert to the birth of the Christ child. Somehow in this farewell, I'm not feeling that way. Not that I have a much better sense of what she does and doesn't understand. I don't. But somehow a few simple, straightforward sentences are enough this time. Maybe, put together with whatever she heard when her classmate's father died of cancer last fall, she is processing this on some deep level. Or maybe not, and these connections will come together another time. Either way, she is who she is, and it's going to be OK.
It was very important that our whole family get to be in on the visit to GrammaJ. We went mid-week, heading out directly after school. Rose had drawn a picture for GrammaJ, an early Valentine to hang on her wall. Joy had brought -- herself. And her giggles! GrammaJ was sitting up in bed, awake and happy to talk with us and exchange hugs. Joy entertained GrammaJ with a giggly sneezing-game, where Joy & partner exchange utterances of "ah... ahhh... ahhhh..." and then comes a joyful "CHOOOO!" GrammaJ shared her apple juice from dinner; we weren't sure what Joy would do, since she's been refusing apple & most other juices since last April. But Joy accepted the gift of apple juice with a smile, and drank almost the whole thing.
I so appreciated the chance to see GrammaJ, and give her a hug, and tell her what a magnificent grandma she is. And that I love her, and to share the message that I first told Rose during our last visit to my mother -- that a loving God is taking care of all of us, and will still be taking care of grandma, even when she's not with us any more.
We love you, GrammaJ.