Often I sit and remember a strong woman who I admire a great deal, and though she is no longer with us. She has a permanent place stamped in my heart. The following is my last complete memory of her. Her touch, the curl of her graying almost white hair, the shallow breath, and the bright blue eyes that looked into my soul.
My Grandma was a beautiful woman in her right. As I write these words, I realize it’s the first time I have shared this experience. I feel especially close to her today. I know she watches over all of us still and as I repeat the words again I find comfort knowing she is in paradise.
I stand over the peonies, looking down at them with a smile on my face as I recall the conversation. “Tracy, look at this, I planted this peony here twenty years ago, and it has never bloomed. You should dig it up and take it home. Maybe you can get it to bloom.” I nodded obediently. I went to the garage and took out the shovel that sat in the corner covered with cobwebs. I then returned to
grandma who stood by the peony near the back door. I smiled to myself as I followed her direction while digging up the plant. We placed it in a small garbage bag, and I took it to my car. We returned to the house where we enjoyed our afternoon tea and raisin toast. Some days it was toast, other days it was shortbread cookies. When the visit was over, I hugged her and took her peony home where I planted it in my backyard. I knew would be a temporary home. I would find the perfect place once I researched the peony habitat.
I had to move the peony three times and divide it multiple times before I could get one peony to bloom. It only bloomed once in the years that followed. It disappointed me I couldn’t get it to bloom again.
Now as I admire the blooms of many peonies, all of which came from that spot by the back door of grandma's house I can’t help but remember.
I tiptoed into the room at the nursing home as I approached the bed my heart sunk deep into my chest. I watched my grandma’s labored breathing as she lay silently on the bed. I tried to be quiet, but she sensed my presence as I approached her bed. She smiled at me with bright blue eyes to mask the pain she felt. I could see it on her face though.
I returned her smile as I knelt at the side of the bed. I reached out and gently took her hand as I asked if I could get her anything. She closed her eyes as she struggled to shake her head from the left to the right to respond. I looked into her eyes as I patted her hand and tried to comfort her. The morphine was no longer working. Grandma then closed her eyes and leaned back into her pillow. I saw a tear escape down the side of her face and disappear into the same pillow that supported her head. I felt helpless.
I continued to kneel at her side as I watched her pass in and out of restless sleep. She was so small and frail lying in that bed, a complete contrast to her life only months ago. Who would have known?
It was then that a feeling came over me. I lowered my head to the bed and prayed. I realize people today would scoff at this gesture, but I have a firm belief in the “Divine Mercy” of Jesus, and it was that prayer I recited on my grandma’s behalf. About fifteen minutes had passed when I lifted my head and looked at her. She was looking at me with bright eyes, and her face was glowing. I felt so overcome with emotion, yet I couldn’t look away. I struggled with my desire to look away and the feeling of bliss as I looked into the eyes of what I believed at that moment to be Jesus Christ. The moment did not last though. I watched her expression go from what appeared to be complete bliss to total agony.
She struggled now in her pain. It was at that point I recalled something she said about a year ago. She said, “I
just want to die. Everyone I know is dead except my family. I just can’t die; I need to make sure everyone will be all right.” At that moment I stood up and leaned over her and hugged her gently as I tried to be considerate of the pain she would feel. Tears welled up in my eyes as I whispered in her ear. “It’s okay Grandma; you can go now, you have done everything you can for all of us. We have all grown up and are successful in our lives. It’s okay to go; we understand it is your time.”
As I stood up, I brushed away the tears and took a deep breath. Grandma looked up at me and smiled one last time before falling into a restless sleep. I sat with her for a while longer struggling with the desire to sit with her and the necessity of my responsibilities. I stayed as long as I could, but time got away from me, and I had to go. I had a business trip I had to leave on the following morning and duty called.
I left the room that night and life continued as it always does. Grandma’s face a constant in my mind. The echo of her laugh and the lessons in her stories a continual reminder from where I came. I was sitting in the airport in
Philadelphia when my sister called with the news. Grandma had passed in the night, escaping the pain of her body and embracing the light of eternal life. Sometimes I wonder if she held on as long as she did waiting for someone to tell her it was all right to let go.
Grandma died in August. I miss her dearly; the conversations, card games, and tea. When I walk through my gardens, and I approach the peonies, I know it is she who blooms in my garden and shines down on me. It is her face I see as I look at the petals so full in the sun. Her memory lives on in the peony, and the tea, and the raisin toast, and the many stories shared during her life. I will hold her close to my heart hoping she will always be with me.