My Grandma Sugar, Doris Hammon, passed away on Friday at the age of 91. I had the honor to be present for her last breath. We heard word, last Wednesday evening that she had taken a turn for the worse. So Thursday morning my sister, Lindsay, Kestan and I loaded up the car and headed to Minneapolis.
We had no plan in place, yet we simply knew that we wanted to be there for her. On the way up we reminisced about our childhood memories.
Like how every time we'd go to visit grandma in Des Moines she'd be waiting for us at the door. The moment we pulled into the driveway she'd run out and we'd have to take big breaths in because we knew she was about to squeeze us so tight into her bosom that we'd have to come up for air! Or the fact that grandma spent most of her life in the kitchen. She cooked the most amazing meals, like chili sauce, corn casserole and pumpkin pie. And we laughed about how funny grandma is. She's the queen of one-liners and anyone who knew her would simply laugh because she always had them in stitches.
Or the time we surprised her with her first limo ride on her 85th birthday. The limo picked her up and we all piled out of the car. She was so excited; in fact, I remember she was glowing all day. The first thing she said once we all got back in the limo was, "Where's the champagne?"
We arrived at her nursing home around 5:30 in the evening and spent some time with my cousin Molly and her daughter Mariah. They left to make dinner and we stayed in grandma's room for a few hours just sitting by her side. Her eyes were closed, her breath was heavy, and she had a washcloth on her head to help bring her fever down. Luckily, my mom's friend is a hospice worker and she shared some wonderful words of comfort with us. She reminded us that the hearing is the last to go. So we knew what we had to do. We had to tell grandma all the things we wanted her to hear before she left.
We played her favorite music like, Danny Boy and Ava Maria. We held her hands. We rubbed her shoulders and head. We kissed her cheek. And then, we talked. We told her how much we loved her and how much we'll miss her when she is gone. We thanked her for all of her love and the amazing things she's done for us over the years. And we told her to let go. We told her she was safe. We told her to trust. We told her grandpa was waiting for her. We told her it was time to fly.
Although she couldn't open her eyes or speak, we knew she heard us. She'd squeeze our hands from time to time, her eyelids moved back and forth, and her arms would move slightly.
My mom wasn't going to make it in time, so we called her to let her speak directly to grandma. Hearing my mom talk to her mom, while we held grandma's hands, was so touching and special. When my mom said, "We will all miss you so much," grandma let out a huge sigh. Of course, both my sister and I lost it. Kestan grabbed the Kleenex box and went to each side of the bed, first to me, then to Lindsay, handing out tissues and dabbing our noses. At one point he said, "Blow mommy. Get your boogers out." Just the comic relief we needed in that moment.
We returned to her side Friday morning. As we left for lunch, my cousin Brian and his boys came for a visit. The priest and an old neighbor friend stopped by. Molly, Mariah, Lindsay, Kestan and I returned in the later part of the afternoon and were so happy to hear that she wasn't alone once that entire day. We also enjoyed being there for visitors, especially the nursing home staff. They were so loving and so kind, and we could tell grandma played a special part in their lives.
A hospice worker came to pray with us. She told grandma that she has planted many wonderful seeds in the world, and reminded her that these seeds will continue to grow without her. She told grandma to trust that the spirit is with her, and she and her family will be taken care of.
At 6 p.m. grandma took her last breath, and her 3 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren, were there surrounding her with love. It is an experience I will treasure and will never forget. I feel completely blessed that I was present during her last moment on earth. I saw grandma make the transition from being unsure to being ready to leave. She looked so peaceful and it was just beautiful. I felt so proud of her, that she found the courage to let go. She has made the journey home, and I know she is happy. She is at peace.
Photo borrowed from Flickr Creative Commons.
Later that night, I walked outside alone and looked to the clouds. I saw the most amazing flock of geese flying overhead. They were flying free, just like grandma.
Your Personal Reflection: Witnessing my grandma's spirit leave her body has reminded me that each of us will have a last day on earth. Thank you, grandma, for letting us be part of your life's journey, and for reminding us to live each day as if it were our last.
How can you live more presently, more boldly, more fully and more freely, starting today? Go through your day with the awareness that life is a precious gift, and see what goodness comes your way.