I arrived to her room at the hospice house that night holding the innocent, naïve hands of my daughters. As a family we had decided that maybe it was time for the grandchildren to see her for the last time. She was declining by the hour at that point and I wanted to make sure that my girls, the oldest of the 9 grandkids, would be able to see her one last time in a way that was recognizable and not frightening. The last 11 weeks had been so hard on them, especially my first born, who was just old enough to understand the finality of it all. I knew after our visit tonight, my little girls would enter into a new phase of life, one that knew pain and loss in a new and profound way. Just when I didn’t think it was possible, I hated cancer a fair measure more.
Hannah held my hand tight, tears welled in her blue eyes but none escaped to her cheeks, and she walked with the stoic grace of a woman much more mature than her 9 years, to the edge of the bed, but it was too late. The transformation had already begun and their Grandma would never be the same. I could see it and Hannah could see it. Hannah laid her body against the side of the bed and stretched her tiny frame as far as she could, wrapping both her arms around the Grandma who had rocked her to sleep so many times. Rachel timidly came from behind and joined her big sister. Their brown hair blanketed her bed as they buried their faces in her chest.
She became lucid for a moment, aware of the embrace of her beloved granddaughters and touched their hair. She spoke, partially profound and partially nonsensical, of her love for them and for Jesus, and for peanut butter and Cinderella. All the while her body made random twitches that made the scene even more surreal. A few moments passed and she had drifted back to sleep. With tears on her chin, Rachel whispered, “Goodbye Grandma.” and my heart broke again into a million pieces.
As we walked to the waiting room I wondered how much my 7 year old would remember about her Grandma. Would she remember her voice, her laugh, the way she talked with her hands, the certain strut in her walk? How would I be able to keep these things alive for her when they seemed to already be fading from my own memory? Even though her body was still with us, the disease and the drugs had stolen her from us by now. I missed her already. It was just so wrong that this beautiful woman, grandmother to 9 (at the time and now 12) would not be remembered by most of her grandchildren.
Six years later, I still struggle with this. I look at my children and see glimmering pieces of her in all of them; Hannah with her walk with that ‘certain strut’ and the same ‘old soul’ maturity beyond her years, Rachel with her ‘swimmer’s body’ and her natural cooking ability and Rylon with his dimples and the way his memory is so keen like hers was. I tell them stories, the good, the bad and the down right hilarious, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough. We look at pictures, use the things she gave us and the things she left us, bake her recipes, we even have an old bottle of her perfume. Something always seems to be missing. And the stories, the things, the smells don’t quite do her justice. And then it hits me, “Oh yeah, it’s her… We can’t recreate her…”
But, we can keep telling the stories. When I point to my son’s dimple and say, “That’s cute! Where’d you get that?” he readily knows and giggles back, “Grandma Crum!” and I believe it gives him just a little bit more of the sense of love and pride about from where he came. It is like a little connection to his past and maybe to his future. Who knows, maybe one day, as he lovingly rubs his finger into the indent of his own child, he will say, “That’s cute! Where’d you get that?”
So I’m asking you. Not because I don’t remember her, but because sometimes I feel like my memory just isn’t quite enough. Tell me, Tell us, Tell them your stories, so that her legacy of love all the other stuff can live on with them, and so that they can get to know the incredible woman that was their Grandma Crum.