Monday, February 7, 2011

Farewell Gifts

Joy's GoTalk communication device had a once-in-a-lifetime message on it for sharing time with her kindergarten class a week ago Thursday.

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.

GrammaJ's Elvis Collectibles

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.

Elvis - Can't Help Falling in Love


Floortime Lite Mama said...

in tears
sending you all a giant hug

Anonymous said...

I remember meeting GrandmaJ a few times, she was such a sweet lady! I'm glad you got to have some quality time with her! Sending hugs to your family! I miss Joy and Rose!
-Jessica the former barista :o)

AuntieS said...

I know that the visit from the JoyFamily was important to GrammaJ. She told me about it when I came up to visit. Since talking has become more difficult for her, it was even more special that she just had to tell me about the game with Joy. And GrammaJ was all smiles as she told me about it, as was GrampaK who added a few details. And Rose's Valentine picture is still hanging up on the wall amidst all of the pictures of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and other family pics.
Since my kids are older than Joy and Rose, they did know GrampaK's first wife who is my mother. I did not name GrammaJ as grandma to my kids but rather used her first name as my way to feel that I wasn't replacing my mother. But I always told my kids that they were so lucky to have a "bonus" grandma. And she always treated my kids in the same special way that she treated her grandkids from her own children. I have been fortunate, also, to be able to spend time with her even without the kids while she was recovering from her various illnesses. I especially treasure the memories of our shopping trip when she needed to buy some undergarments and prefered a woman's company in the dressing room rather than my dad! LOL!
This is a different experience for my kids to lose another grandmother because they are older (three of them are adults), but it isn't any easier. I am sad for my own kids who are losing their "bonus grandma" to the same lung cancer that took their GrandmaP. I am sad for Joy and Rose to also lose another grandmother. I am so sad for my dad who did support me and my siblings when my mom died, and now has to care for this woman that he obviously loves as he watches her slowly slip away. I am glad that we all have family to share this with, including GrammaJ's family that I feel are all part of our one big family.
Sorry to write such a long message. Sometimes, I just can't stop myself from typing and typing. Hugs to you JoyMama, my brother JoyDad, and my nieces Rose and Joy.

JoyMama said...

K & Jessica -- thank you so much for the hugs.

JoyMama said...

AuntieS - sometimes running-at-the-keyboard is exactly what is needed. Hugs right back to you, my dear. We are so blessed to have the "bonus" of GrammaJ and her family in our lives, and this kind of goodbye is so hard.

Anonymous said...

so beautiful. i thank God for the precious memorable moments you and joy and rose and joydad got to share with GrammaJ. you are in my thoughts and prayers, friend.

tracey (aka rainbowmummy) said...

I don't really know what to say, just know that our thoughts are with you all in this difficult time. Gramma J sounds like such a wonderful and delightful person.


JoyMama said...

rainbowmummy and rhemashope -- thank you both for the thoughts and the prayers. She is a mighty special lady.

Liz Coyne said...

Grace and fight in one perfect Grammy package — sometimes God sends someone wonderful to "step" in and so it sounds as if he did for you.

My bet is GrandmaJ made all the difference with this transition. She has lived and fought to live long. If we are as lucky as she, there simply comes a time when we're done and ready to move on. Do you think Joy could sense this in her, through a game and a giggle and a real sense of farewell?

JoyMama said...

Liz - "sometimes God sends someone wonderful to 'step' in"... what a lovely way to put it! We've been blessed this way on both sides of the family.

kristina said...

Gonna cry. That last paragraph was too beautiful, and Joy taking the apple juice from GrammaJ. We did the same for Charlie when Jim's mother was in her (sigh) last months in 2010---just said a few short sentences to him. I really think our kids understand much much more than many people grant them.

Anonymous said...

Your GrandmaJ sounds like a gem. So happy for you to have had such an awesome lady in your life for so long. And one who you know will be waiting for you one day with open arms in heaven.

JoyMama said...

kristina -- so recent for you & Jim & Charlie -- I'm sorry. I've been trying to follow a path similar to the one you set with Charlie, giving Joy credit for what she might understand.

blackknightsbrood -- it's a comfort, isn't it? Hugs!