Last Sunday I got a call that I never wanted. I was in Indianapolis for a winter retreat with students who volunteer for my office when I received news that I was not expecting. I first got a text telling me that my Grandma was not doing well and then a follow-up call to inform me of how pressing the situation truly was.
My Mom told me that Grandma was not responding well and would most likely pass away sometime over the next few days. I was in shock when I heard this but did my best to figure out what I could do. I wanted to be with my family during this time, but I wasn’t even home in Ohio when I got the news about Grandma. I ended up talking to the coworkers who were with me in Indiana, and they were adamant that I needed to get back to NY as quickly as possible. So in a whirlwind, we drove back to Ohio, I packed some clothes, and I hit the road for New York.
I arrived at my family’s home late on Sunday night and made plans to figure out what to do the following morning when I wasn’t so sleep-deprived. When the morning came, I learned that Grandma had been able to recognize visitors, so I suppressed my fear of facing death and headed to the nursing home with my Mom.
I was shocked when I entered the room and saw how frail Grandma looked. Gone was the color in her cheeks and the smile on her face. It had been replaced by pallor and a grim look. Tears welled up in my eyes as I sat next to her bedside and rested my hand on her shoulder. It seemed unfair that such a vibrant woman was reduced to such a state.
Thankfully, my family was told that she was not in pain, so that made it easier to see her like that. Unfortunately, she was no longer able to recognize visitors, so I won’t ever know if she knew that I was there. That at first made me wonder if the trip had been in vain, but I soon realized the real reason for me being there.
My time at the bedside of my dying Grandma showed me the powerful connection of family. Throughout the week, various extended family members came to her room to visit, and it was during these times that I became closer to my family. There was occasionally an air of sadness at the reason for why we were gathering there, but more often than not, the room had a joyous feel. Stories were told, memories were relived, and plans were made for the future.
I wondered at one point if it was hard for Grandma to hear the happiness in her room but quickly realized how impactful it must be. Throughout her life, Grandma loved to bring the family together, and she took such delight in seeing familial relationships strengthened. Hearing her family drawing close together because of her must have filled her with joy. I am not sure how much she could hear during the few days that her family was nearby, but I know that whatever she did hear must have filled her with peace.
Grandma ended up passing away on Thursday, January 11th, and I miss her so much already. I miss our shared love of the Cyrus family (her for Billy Ray and me for Miley), the times when we would watch Dancing With the Stars together (arguing over which celebrity deserved to win), and swapping book recommendations (she was a voracious reader who put my reading to shame). She was a vibrant woman who radiated love and compassion, and that legacy will live on long past her death.
This week was especially hard, but I cannot get over how blessed I am to have been able to be with family throughout this process. Even though the circumstances were by no means ideal, they were used to establish a deeper family connection, and that is something that I will be forever grateful for.
Rest in peace, Grandma. [Betty Ellen Case ● January 1925 – January 2018]