All is calm, all is bright, sleep in Heavenly peace

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On Sunday I had the pleasure of singing carols through the halls of our local retirement residence with some lovely people from church.  We sang all of the traditional songs and passed out homemade cards and clementines as we wandered through the building.

The most touching moments were seeing people smile, listening as residents joined us in song and hearing stories of their memories brought back from either the song or the clementines.

The most overcome I felt was when we sang Silent Night to two separate residents, both of whom were bed-ridden and could hardly, if at all, open their eyes.  I never realized how fitting that song is for the end of life.

Silent night, Holy night

All is calm, All is bright

Round yon virgin, mother and child

Holy Infant, so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace

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Losing a Grandparent

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GrammyVandMe

This picture is of me, Grammy, and my cousin Vanessa about two years before Grammy passed away.

Losing Grammy just before my 15th birthday was the hardest thing I have ever been through to date. Knowing that someone you love so much will never be around again was something especially difficult for me to overcome in my teens. I know that I am fortunate to not have lost a parent or sibling, child or spouse, and that this is the “natural order” of things. However, it was no less significant to my life or any less of a feeling of hurt for my grandmother to die.

If I put myself back into my mental state at 15 years old, I remember feeling so empty. In fact, for a long time, I never felt quite as happy as I had when Grammy was physically present in my life. My brother and I were on a ski trip with our youth group and our parents took us to the hospital as soon as we returned home because Grammy was dying. Her condition had worsened while we were on the trip. We saw her around 8pm that Saturday night for an hour or so. Hospice said that we could leave, she would likely make it through the night. She died at midnight, not long after we left.

We went to church the next morning. The minister, a wonderful man, did the sermon on Grammy and her life. When I first got to church a longtime parishioner saw me and just opened her arms to me. I did not want to cry but that gesture brought the tears flowing hard. My Sunday School teacher brought me into the church for the sermon, so that I could hear about my grandmother’s life. As I am writing this I am emotionally put back into that day and I find I am feeling the same heaviness that I did at that time.

Since that morning at church, I cried every day. At night I would put on my *NSYNC disc and listen to “Sailing” and think of Grammy. I cried myself to sleep each night, wondering if this is how it would be for the rest of my life. I remember after my Granddad died five years earlier, I felt like an angel was in the corner of my room, and I felt peaceful. But as I lay there mourning my Grammy, I felt nothing. No comfort. Only loss.

At school, friends and teachers said they were sorry for my loss. I felt nothing. My basketball coach, Cindy, asked me how I was doing. She was a tough coach, always pushing us, so when she hugged me and said to let me know if I needed anything, I felt comforted and like she, too, had experienced the same loss. That week of school was such a blur. I just remember coming home, doing my homework, eating dinner, and crying myself to sleep. My parents helped my brother and me by having us remember good times with Grammy. It helped in the moment, but I was still so sad.

The memorial service approached that Friday. I was to read Psalm 23 (“yea though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…”) in the middle of the service. As soon as the eulogy started I began to cry. I really wanted to keep it together and read the Psalm to honor Grammy. We were so close and I wanted to do this for her. My brother asked me if I wanted him to read it and put his arm around me for the first time in our lives. I sniffled, composed myself, and took the podium. I read the psalm clearly, and was so glad I made it through, and as soon as I took my seat, I began to cry again. After the reception and hugging everyone who had come (a LOT of people, by the way), we headed home. That night was the first night that I did not cry myself to sleep. I remember my dad telling me about funerals and how they can give people closure and peace, but I didn’t really believe him until I experienced that sense of peace myself. From that point forward, I was able to move forward. I was still sad to not have her with us and I felt her loss more on some days than others, but I did move forward.

My dad told us one morning that he had a dream of Grammy when she was around 50 years old. She was entertaining at her home and making everyone laugh. He said she looked beautiful and vibrant and happy. It gave him peace to see her like that because his last vision of her that he couldn’t get out of his head was seeing her dying. He felt that she sent him that dream to help him feel at peace, and I believe that. I was so happy for my dad that he had that experience because he was so close with his mom. I remember thinking I wanted her to come to me in a dream.

Fast forward six years. I am in college. I am working three jobs, volunteering at three places, playing hockey and in school. I am overloaded. I am dating someone new (who now happens to be my husband). I am feeling pulled in every direction but I fear that if I leave any of the above things that I will be letting others down. I don’t know what to do. My boyfriend suggests that I give a few things up to have more time and be more balanced. I shrug. I just can’t make that decision. I don’t know what to do, but I do know that I am falling apart at the seams. That night, I had the most powerful dream of my life. Thinking about it, even now, seven years later, it overtakes my body and I have no choice but to feel what I felt that night, and I am thankful for that because I never want to forget.

In my dream, I was walking toward Grammy’s house. I was carrying four bags. One stuffed duffel bag was on each shoulder, slung across my body. I also had two large old-fashioned suitcases in my hands. They were so heavy. When I found myself on Grammy’s street I thought, What are you doing? She doesn’t live here anymore. Yet I walked on, toward the door. I was on her porch telling myself, Seriously, she’s not here. A man bought the house and you are trespassing on his property. But my body pressed on, despite my thoughts. I walked to the door and it just seemed to open up. First the screen, then the wooden door. I remember pushing myself through the wooden door and expecting to find an angry man wondering what I was doing in his house. Instead, I turned right so I could see down the faded blue carpet in the hallway. I saw the bathroom at the end of the hall, the two spare bedroom doors on the right and her bedroom door on the left. It was open and I could see light coming from the room. I could smell the familiar smells of her home and I could HEAR her puttering around in her bedroom, muttering under her breath. My senses were exploding, my heart was pounding and I was frozen in that moment. My thoughts were telling me it couldn’t be, but I was there, it was happening. My thoughts went silent when she spoke, “Just a minute honey.” Heart pounding, I stood in the hallway. I could hear my breathing. It was like I knew deep down that it wasn’t possible, but it was. It was real. It was so real. I was completely conscious in this dream. When she appeared from the doorway, she came toward me, but it was like she was floating. There was a glow behind her and everything was quiet. She was wearing flowing clothing, like a nightgown and robe. I remember it being soft blue in color. She had on her glasses and her hair was worn like it always had been. As she came toward me the bags on my shoulders that were slung across my body faded away. I looked down and the suitcases were gone, too. She hugged me into her chest and said, “Why don’t you just stay a while.” And so I did. I had no worries about being late for appointments or getting assignments done or missing being the places I was supposed to be at. I just was. I was in the moment with Grammy and it felt ok. The rest of the dream is blurry. Little snippets of her in the kitchen and me sitting on the blue sofa in the living room, of her sitting in the chair in the living room and me on the carpet – it was like snapshots of memories I had with her from our time together but I was an adult instead of a child. I felt so at peace, I could have stayed there in that dream with her forever.

When I woke up, it felt like I was transported. I didn’t feel like I had awoken from a dream. I felt like I blinked and was back in my apartment, in my bed. I was not groggy. It was like I had been awake, just somewhere different. I had clarity. Grammy had given me the answer I needed. It was ok to step away from some of the responsibilities I had given myself. When the bags fell in the dream, she was letting me know to let go and gave me the light peaceful feeling I had been craving. She showed me that the important thing in life is to just be in the moment with those you love and I think she wanted me to know that those we love are never lost. I felt her with me and felt that she had been with me. She was watching over me and stepped in when I was truly lost and needed guidance. That moment of being with her again, was all I ever wanted. All I ever wanted after she died was to have one more moment with her. She gave that to me. I will forever believe that this was Grammy, with me. It was no dream. We were together and I am so grateful to her for giving me that. I hold out hope that she will show herself to me again in my life, but I know for certain that she is always there, whether I can see her or not.

Just last week my cousin, Vanessa, and I were sitting outside on her patio with her new baby, Charlie. Vanessa also held a very close relationship with Grammy and felt the immense loss of her death. We are her only two granddaughters and she loved us very much. As Vanessa, Charlie, and I were sitting outside, the church bells began to play a hymn. Vanessa looked at me and said, “Is this Grammy’s favorite hymn?” I listened and sure enough it was “Onward Christian Soldiers” that was playing on the church bells for Vanessa, Charlie, and I to listen to. There Grammy was, with us on the porch, letting us know that she is never far away.