Nola Faye McDaniel became my grandma by marriage 29 ½ years ago. My bride, Kelly, was her first grandchild. In many ways, Nola was as much a mother as a grandmother to Kelly. Our daughter, Kishia, who will deliver Grandma’s first great-great-grandchild in seven weeks, was her first great-grandchild.
Today’s post is a very personal reflection by Kelly. She wrote these thoughts six months ago when it seemed certain that Grandma Nola was going to enter Gloryland at any moment. At the time, Kelly was taking turns with his sisters staying overnight with Grandma in her home, until it was painfully obvious that she needed around-the-clock, skilled nursing care.
Kelly paints Grandma’s nails Sunday morning at Frene Valley Healthcare in Owensville. The close-up is Kelly’s reaction to Grandma’s request for “bright red” next time. Grandma never was fond of red.
We had Grandma for six more months after Kelly wrote this. She passed into Heaven at 12:41 a.m. Wednesday, with 12 family members surrounding her bed, singing a hymn. Just 10 minutes earlier, Kelly was lotioning her sweet grandmother’s feet, legs, hands and arms.
Our youngest, Natasha, arrived from Warrensburg just four minutes before Nola’s final breath peacefully carried her into the arms of Jesus. As Grandma’s spirit soared, Natasha softly sang “Blessed Assurance.”
Here’s Kelly’s reflection, “How do you let your hero go?”
HOW DO YOU LET YOUR HERO GO?
I never envisioned a world without my grandma. It just wasn’t something I would or could ever imagine. She has always been there. My grandma’s name should be included in the definition of “unconditional love.” Oh, yes, Grandma scolded and shamed you for doing things that she considered not right. But all through that scolding, you knew she loved you and her love would never change.
Some say it is a blessing to be able to know when your loved one’s time is drawing near. I still don’t see that blessing. I guess I’m just selfish because I don’t want to give up my grandma. I know she will be better off in Heaven, but I guess it’s like she is the walls of my house — without her I feel like I can’t continue to stand.
Staying with her while she is so ill is so difficult. I keep grasping for a sign of grandma: A spunky look or sentence. An order to do something the right way, cook an egg right, make green beans right, eat enough … on an on.
I lotion her legs and she has to put lotion on my face. How do you give that up? Grandma says, “Kelly, we really know each other, don’t we? All those years you lived with me — we really got to know each other well.”
“Yeah, Grandma, we really know each other.” She grabs me and cries, I cry — why are we crying? I don’t know. I guess because we know in our hearts it won’t be much longer. We won’t be able to hold each other much longer. We won’t be able to sing songs to each other much longer. We won’t be able to talk about all the cool things I did growing up. We won’t be able to talk about all the ornery things Grandpa and I did to scare her. We won’t be able to talk about recipes or gardening.
Who will tell me my hair looks good or bad this way? Who will be brutally honest with me in a loving way? Who will remember all the scary times, the funny times, the desperate times, the celebrations with me? Who will I visit and have slumber parties with, eating cookies and laughing and drinking hot chocolate with whipped cream after 9 o’lock just because we can? Who will keep reminding me of all the old songs we have sung together?
When I’m not with Grandma, I’m constantly scanning my mind for memories. Once I find one I hold it close, so close as if it is necessary in order for me to take another breath; it is what will keep me from dying from loss. Memories of holidays, the many nights when I lived with her, her teaching me new recipes, the two of us sewing clothes for my next school trip. I’d find an outfit I liked in the Montgomery Ward catalog – and she would just make it. No pattern. We’d spend the whole weekend just sewing an outfit for me. I was so proud of my designer outfits, because they were “Grandma Originals.”
Who will call me when I’m having a bad day just to tell me a joke? (Sometimes a dirty one). Who will tell me she knows I can do whatever I set my mind to because I always have, and if I don’t, she will whip my butt?
Each evening I tuck grandma in just like she tucked me in so many times. I kiss her forehead and I tell her I love her so much, she reaches up and grabs me, looks right in my eyes and says, “I love you so much, too.”
Grandma reminds me sometimes of when she and Grandpa drove all the way to Alabama to save me from an abusive situation. She reminds me of all the times she and Grandpa saw the marks that were left and how it hurt her so much to see them. My hero – how can you let that go?
Will I always keep grasping for a sign of Grandma? I still grasp for a sign of Grandpa? How do you let your hero go?
Grandma has always been so strong. When I lived with her as a teenager, she would work in 100 degree heat in the furniture factory, come home, fix supper, till the garden, weed her flower beds and still keep moving until the moment we sat down in the living room together to watch “The Jeffersons.” She’d laugh and laugh and slap her leg and laugh some more. When we went to bed, she lay in her bed — and I in mine — and she’d talk on and on for another 30 minutes or longer. Sometimes I fell asleep listening to her tell stories into the night. Then she’d get up before daylight and do it all over again. Nothing could stop my grandma, and if you thought you could, she would let you know real quick that you couldn’t and better not even try. How do you let that go?
Who will tell all those old stories to the little great grandchildren? Who will sing them songs? Who will cook their favorite pie, cookie or cake like Grandma did?
Grandma will tell you the greatest thing she ever did was give birth to my mom. She and Mom have a bond like no other. I know Mom will continue to tell us the stories and cook all the favorites when she can, but I won’t have Grandma. How can I let go of her?
Grandma and Grandpa were the only grandparents I ever really had, and oh boy did they spoil me! I regret now all the times I didn’t appreciate Grandma for every tiny little thing she did, even the many times she spit-cleaned my face or threatened to spank my butt. Even now I won’t argue with her, even though I know sometimes it is best for her to do what I need her to do. She taught me you always respect your elders. She taught me so much: How to plant the perfect tomato, how to get an ornery stain out, how to make the perfect biscuit, pie crust, cookie. How to turn a nickel into a quarter if you had to. Never waste anything. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Wastefulness is a sin. So many lessons, so many values, so many memories.
How can I say goodbye to my hero?