Dear Georgie

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I remember Grandpa calling you that, “Georgie.” I can’t begin to tell you the countless happy memories birthed and held gently here in your room.

From the moment we drive up and park the car, my boys, your great grandsons, run up the sidewalks sneaking behind the bushes, beating me to the door. Always. They fight over who gets to push the button outside the doors to the building, then they happily argue over who gets to push the button on the outside and who gets to push the button on the inside. Oh, to possess the power to tell the elevator where to go. The coveted button pushing position. Floor Number 3? Yes, that’s your floor.

The elevator takes a little time going up, the boys hop around, bouncing all over the place until the elevator stops. When the doors open, they escape and start sprinting down the long hallway to your room. I can’t begin to keep up with them. So I just watch them excitedly chase each other. It’s a race to get to your door. I barely ever got to watch your face upon seeing one, two or the three of their faces. It always brought me such joy watching them and hearing their six feet pounding down the halls. I loved seeing the other residents smile and reach out to them. I wish every resident had as many happy, life-filled visitors as you.

“Hi, Grandma. How are you doing?” I always said, loudly, when I made it inside your door. You usually sat in your chair. “I’m doing pretty good.” You would often say. Or sometimes, “I’ve got the blues.” The boys would begin playing with toys or tell you something. I loved the time when Julian told you he lost his first tooth. The excitement you both shared melted my heart. You always told me how good my boys are, how sweet they are and how I needed to get a bigger lap. You always told me something kind about me, “you have really pretty legs.” Or “I like your hair.” Even though I have needed to get it cut for a year.

It was an honor to sleep next to you last night. I will always hold on tightly to the memories with you over the past few years. I loved our Easter egg hunt. I loved sharing a bottled coke with you on Christmas Day. I always loved hearing your stories of growing up on the farm. Your sister stories. I’m so thankful that my boys have gotten to know you, truly know who you are and how you love others. I will never forget the time that they picked you a flower and as you held it, a butterfly landed on it. The boys talk about you holding a butterfly. They have been trying to recreate that moment for years by picking flowers and holding them up in the air, in attempts to persuade a butterfly to land on them.

You have always had the magic touch.

I want you to die peacefully, knowing how enormously loved you are. As I have watched so many employees, nurses, techs, and waiters, come say goodbye to you, I have been overwhelmed with how many people have been touched by your presence, your kindness, your love, both young and old. Nobody wants you to die. But yet, everybody wants you to be free of pain. We all want you to get to Heaven.

We’ve cried, sang to you, held your hands, rubbed your hair, told you why we love you so much, sat next to you and shared stories. We’ve laughed with you, smiled with you, encouraged you, and truly cherished every last moment with you. It’s so hard to let you go. Because you’ve always been here. Before all of us. You loved us all. You loved the party. You loved the sounds of children playing, “Where are the children?” You said one day when it was too quiet.

You have shown others what a beautiful life looks like right up to your last day. You have inspired us to live beautifully. To notice and praise the tiny bit of the world happening right before our eyes. You’ve always chosen to fully engage with those right in front of your face. Thank you for humbly and happily teaching us all the most valuable lesson without even knowing it. That’s always how the greatest teachers do it. Your example of how to truly live has paved the way for all of us. We will remember you. And try our very best to honor your legacy in the ways that we love those around us.

I love you so much, Grandma.

Homemade Banana Cake

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Sometimes I bake when I’m sad. Or overwhelmed. It beats vacuuming or unloading the dishwasher. I really can’t stand to watch bananas turn all speckled and brown. Fruit injustice. My rotten bananas commanded me to make homemade banana cake with cream cheese frosting, in memory of Grandma Fritz. She always made some pretty amazing banana bread. Midway through cake making, I realized I didn’t have enough flour so my husband borrowed some from a neighbor. Because I wasn’t giving up easy on this sympathy cake. After I baked it, it cooled only slightly. Then, I slapped the frosting on it in the least pretty way. My youngest taste-tested the frosting. Then, we all fancied up our banana (cup)cake by adding a candle or two because you just don’t get to make enough wishes in life or blow out the candles either. It made it special. Like a celebration.

In lieu of visiting my grandma, every week since she died I have done something meaningful in her memory, something that would make her smile. And me too.

Tonight, before making the cake, I sat on the bench, tired and hurting as I stared out the kitchen window hoping to see the yellow finch. Or maybe a hummingbird swinging by for some dessert. Or maybe I just wanted to hear my grandma’s voice telling me everything is going to be alright. Instead, my sweet son came up and sat next to me. He saw my tears and asked me why I was sad. Ahhh. It was complicated. For me and a seven year old. I told him that I missed Grandma Fritz. He sat for a moment next to me and then asked, “what was your favorite pie that she made again?” I paused and wondered. I held back tears as I talked about her blackberry cobbler and her strawberry rhubarb pie. How can a seven year old be so sensitive and intuitive and say something so healing? He helped me talk about her. I told a few stories. And then he helped me realize she wouldn’t want me to be sitting around staring out the window, waiting on birds and crying when life is happening all around me. So, that’s what prompted us to celebrate by eating banana cake with candles, that my boys blew out several times. We sat outside with the birds chatting and the trees swaying and the mosquitoes bugging too as the late night summer sun set. It was a hidden sunset but the purple, orange and pink clouds ran together beautifully like watercolors do. My grandma would have loved all the colors.

I don’t want my boys to fear someone crying. I want them to reach out to others. Tonight, I am not happy I was missing my grandma but my son’s response stopped my grieving heart in its tracks. I learned that it helps in the most powerful way when a tender sweet soul stops and sits with you. Sees you. Feels your hurt and then asks a simple yet beautiful question. Then waits and listens. My boy unknowingly nudged me to get up off of the bench and love on those in front of my face. Just like my grandma would do. Over some banana cake.

A Week Later

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It hit me.

I looked into the mirror as I washed my face and all of the sudden, I felt like I could barely stand up. Tears automatically escaped. I can’t go visit my grandma tomorrow to make things better. She died a week ago. An emotion-filled, crazy, constantly moving week ago.

I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep.

I was short-fused with my husband, my kids and probably the dog today.

The sudden onset of the painful realization that I can’t go visit my grandma a heavy, emotional mess tomorrow and leave feeling better hurts so incredibly much. I knew it would. That’s why I had such a difficult time leaving her, touching her hands one last time. She was one of the few people that understood me and what it means to have an illness. Something forever, chronic, never going away.

I took one of my medicines and cried because life is hard sometimes. And life is harder on some folks than others. Tonight, I feel like one of the ones that just wants a little bit of easy.

I just want to go visit my grandma. I want to hold her hand and hear her sweet voice. I want to sit in the presence with a person whose frail body possessed such a beautiful strength that made it hard to leave. Her “leave-my-door-open” spirit welcomed others in. I want to chase my boys down the hall to her room.

I want one last visit.

Since the morning she died, I keep seeing beauty popping up around me and I know it’s God or her reminding me that I will always carry her love with me. A butterfly played crazily outside my kitchen window tonight. I thought of her. I noticed a woman’s hummingbird tattoo on her ankle while playing with my son. I thought of her. I am grateful to have a million memory triggers. I am grateful for the strength of her love.

I am grateful for all that I have in front of my face, but I wish I still had her too.

Ninety Four Years

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I sat there and watched the nurse wrap your swollen pink fluid-filled legs. And I hurt for you. You did what you’ve always done. You handled pain and aging and dependence on others in the most graceful way. You conversed with us, you smiled, and you playfully asked if we would like to sign your new “casts.” And I had to turn away after I told you that everybody loves you and wants to be around you. I didn’t want you to see my eyes fill up with tears. Because I already miss you. You said, like you always do, “those boys sure love their mama” as one of them tried to force his way onto my lap.

You’re so selfless and brave and graceful as you struggle to lift your coffee to your mouth. You always appreciate me coming and you act like a 99 cent McDonalds coffee or a few sips of Coca Cola are the kindest gifts. And selfishly, I want you to be here forever. Encouraging us, watching my boys grow, and reminding me in the most subtle unintentional ways of the amazing daily gifts right in front of my face.

I love to listen to you tell stories of the farm or the boy who had a crush on you in highschool. Or the time your big sister, Zella, saved you from drowning because you couldn’t swim. I want to hear stories of my mom growing up in your house. I want to tell you how much I love you. How I know it had to hurt to leave the house you lived in for 59 1/2 years. I want to tell you how I loved sitting at the kitchen counter as a child watching you make fried pies and how I know that you always saw me eat more than my fair share. More than my siblings. I want you to know that I purposely washed that perm you gave me out of my hair because I looked like a poodle. Sorry for lying and saying it was an accident. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. You always think I look beautiful. I want you to know that you make the best everything, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, cobbler, sugar cookies and pies to name a few. I want you to know how much I am going to miss our visits. I don’t think I can tell you all of this because I would cry. And I don’t know if I could stop. I don’t want you to hurt for me. You’ve taken on the weight of the world for the past ninety four years. And you need to know that you deserve a break. You deserve Heaven.

I want you to know that we will be okay without you. We will miss you terribly. You should know that you have inspired us all. Your humble, grace-filled beauty lives on in every single one of us. We will continue to make you proud. We have learned about living life and loving others from the best. You are one of the most gentle, kind-hearted, selfless, unbelievably strong, smart and brave women to ever walk this earth. Thank you, Grandma, for all that you are, for all that you’ve sacrificed, for living so humbly and aging so beautifully. Thank you for leaving an impression on every person who has truly known you. We are the lucky ones.

I love you, Grandma.

And as you always tell me, “I know you do, Amelia. And I love you.”

Sacred Hugs

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Recently, I’ve had several beautiful and painful moments with my arms wrapped around someone I love. Or with their arms wrapped around me. They’re unforgettable moments: sacred hugs, a holy exchange of unconditional love. Holding each other. Not wanting to ever let go. Pillowed in between the feelings and raw emotions of it all. Feeling the weight of a painful illness, a shitty day at work, a difficult goodbye, an overwhelming sense of appreciation, acceptance, or recognizing our humbling dependence on one another.

I held my grandma in her bathroom today. The best that I could. I apologized for not being as graceful or skilled in maneuvering her as I would have liked. As I held the delicate skin and bones of one of the strongest women I’ve known, I also held back tears. I know a little of what it’s like, as a strong-willed independent adult woman, to be half naked in the bathroom. Fully dependent on another to help get to the bathroom or shower. I don’t know what it’s like to be a grandmother and to need your granddaughter’s help. So I hugged her. I wanted her to look in my eyes and know that it was an honor. A beautiful moment for me.

A sacred hug.

I wanted her to not feel like a bother but for her to know that it was a privilege that I could help her with an admiring granddaughter’s love. I lifted her towards the back of her wheelchair. I told her I loved her. It was a sacred moment that I will never forget. Her voice. Her eyes. Her arms wrapped around me. My long arms holding her frail body. I will never forget the love. The pause in time. Our two hearts beating next to one another. As long as I live.

I wished that every employee that helps with her care could see what I saw when I looked at her. A woman whose body ached most likely every day of her adult life but you would never know it. A woman who cares deeply for her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. A woman who could cook enough food for the masses. Made from scratch. Food that never had tasted so good before. A woman who always served every one else first and rarely sat down at the table. And if she did, she quickly got up to help serve someone seconds. A woman who tenderly loves the beautiful innocent creatures in life. A woman who can smile and appreciate the beauty left despite all that’s been slowly taken from her. A woman who shares humorous, meaningful and difficult stories of growing up on a farm. A daughter. A sister. A mother. A grandmother. A great grandmother. A kind, self-sacrificing and loving friend to all.

Usually when I’m leaving and tell my grandma that I love her, she says, “I know you do, Amelia.” Today, when I told her I loved her she replied,

“I love you too. Not just cause you help me.”

I don’t know how many sacred hugs I will get in my life. The ones I’ve given and received have held a glimmer of this indescribable kind of hope and love and this raw beauty that connects two human beings. In a hospital, on a driveway, in a bathroom, stuck in a moment with each other. Needing to feel loved and understood. No matter what.

We arrive into this world dependent on one another to survive. We need each other throughout our lives even when we can disguise our dependence. Even if when we can walk, talk and do things on our own, we always need each other’s love. Always. From the very beginning to the very end.