(This post is dedicated to Anna Wilson, my grandma. She died March 2nd, leaving a large hole in our family.)
Elise had a great-grandmother with whom she shared many things. The most obvious was their birthday. September 8. One born in 1919, and the other in 2004. As I watched my grandma progress through the last 10 years of her life, I was continually intrigued to see the many similarities emerge between these two females who have held permanent places in my heart.
In her last few years, great-grandma and great-granddaughter...
Both used wheelchairs to get around, and both needed to be pushed. Grandma never did get used to wheeling herself around.
Both found it hard to communicate. Grandma had her better days, but even on the bad ones, she could definitely get her point across, right up until her death.
Both spent lots of time in a bed. Although Grandma enjoyed getting up in her wheelchair for BINGO and eating in the dining room, she eventually became bed ridden, unable to summon the energy to get up. Over the last few years, the bed has increasingly become where Elise is most comfortable, as opposed to her chair, a beanbag, or a mat on the floor.
Both were stuck in bodies that didn’t work well. Neither could walk, and
they both brought out the creativity in their caretakers for good and comfortable positioning (pillows, blankets, padding, adjustable hospital beds…).
Most importantly -- Both depended on the love and care of others to make it through each day.
I know that Grandma prayed for each of my children, but she always spent extra time on Elise. As she lay in a body that was failing her more each day, she would think of Elise and inquire about her well being. Sometimes Grandma would get confused and offer to watch Elise for me while I went to an appointment or ran errands. In her aging mind, she was still able to care for her great-granddaughter, even though in reality, she was stuck in a bed in the nursing home. I would always thank her graciously and try to steer the conversation in another direction. My grandma adored Elise, and I know that Elise will love her just the same as soon as they meet again in heaven.
Watching my grandma die forced me into thoughts of Elise’s future. It is certain that she will not enjoy a long life. The probability of her living past childhood is small, although not unheard of. I have been told by several of Elise’s doctors to expect her to live around 7-10 years. That’s typical for a kid like Elise. With good medical care and a supportive family, her life span can definitely be stretched out. With the types of seizures Elise has, and with her extent of brain injury and all that comes with it, we just can’t deny the fact that we will most likely outlive our daughter.
In the first years of Elise’s life, I thought about this subject constantly. It was hard to get those cryptic words spoken by her doctors out of my mind. I became obsessed with pinning each doctor down. No matter what their specialty, I wanted their opinion. For some reason, the unknown really bothered me.
“I know you can’t see the future, but tell me -- how long do you think Elise will live?”
Some doctors gave me straight answers, others pled the 5th. One would predict a longer life span, another saw it as shorter. After several years of this maddening guessing game, I decided that it just didn’t matter. It’s a precarious spot to be in--knowing that she could die today or live many more years. We are fully aware that any morning of the week, we can walk in to Elise having passed away in her sleep. Seizures are curious things. They can steal a life silently, like a thief in the night, or wildly, like a roaring lion. Elise is also at high risk for developing pneumonia, which is deadly for kids with her issues. The flip side of all of this morbid talk, however, is the fact that she could also surprise us, and live for many years past what is anticipated, even into her teenage years.
I am well aware that I cannot choose the way that Elise will go. I don’t know when, where, or how it will happen. My husband and I can say that we are as prepared as we can be, but what does that really mean? Obviously, no parent on earth is emotionally equipped to see their child go before them. Unlike my grandma, Elise won’t leave behind a life full of the typical memories and life experiences. She won’t be surrounded by her children and grandchildren. This is a sadness that only I will bear. She knows no difference. She will pass on into eternity in the exact same way as everyone else who dies.
Whether the life is old and gray, or young and innocent, death comes for us just the same. Our methods of passing on vary widely. A prolonged process, or a tragic jolt out of nowhere--lying in bed waiting, or taken by surprise. The one thing that all deaths have in common is that whoever you are, wherever you live, and whatever you believe, you will be held accountable by God. You will take your last breath here on earth, and start new again. Where you start new is entirely up to you, but start you will. Hearing my grandma take her last breath after spending several days staring at her chest rising and falling at an increasingly slower rate, I found myself picturing that very meeting. Not between the Lord and myself, but between the Lord and my daughter.
I’ve written about the subject of eternity for children like Elise here before, but that first meeting between her and God is what I picture most. Hopefully, alongside the Lord, Elise will also be greeted by those who knew and loved her here on earth.
That last visit I had with my grandma wasn’t about catching her up on what my kids are up to. I wasn’t there to ask if she went to BINGO that day, or share with her our typical treat of Sprite and chocolate. I was there to say goodbye. More importantly, I was there to hold her hand and paint memories from our past together, mainly from when I was a child. I talked to her about my recollections of her rocking me. I remember the squeak of the old rocking chair as she would sing lullabies until I succumbed to sleep. I decided that afternoon, that the best way for me to comfort my grandma in her last lucid moments on earth was to give her lullabies back to her. I sang “Hush Little Baby”, “Amazing Grace”, and “You Are My Sunshine”. Although she couldn’t respond vocally, she showed her understanding by nodding and squeezing my hand.
Most every time Ty and I visited my grandma in the nursing home over the last few years, we enjoyed singing lullabies to her. It started several years earlier, when Ty was just an infant. To break the silence that would sometimes fill the air during our visits, I started singing to Ty. It ended up being enjoyable for Grandma as well. She would sometimes sing with us in a small voice, clapping along when feeling energized. Other times, she would lay with her eyes closed, still listening, but too tired to join in.
Chances are, Elise will reunite with my grandma many years before I will. As I held her hand for one of the last times, I asked my Grandma Wilson to do me an important favor. I asked her to be there for Elise when she is introduced into heaven, whenever that may be. Could she watch over her until I got there? I wanted her to feel an importance in Elise’s life well beyond gazing at her from behind the bed rails, and touching hands from wheelchair to wheelchair. I wanted her to feel secure in the knowledge that her job wasn’t over with this little girl once her life ended.
Whether the end of an old life, or the passing of the young, death forces us to look back at life. For me, as Elise’s mom, her life means way more than just being cared for day by day, and dealing with the challenges that come along. That is why I find great importance in being eternally minded.
1 Peter 1:13 says...
“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.”
I don’t put my hope in having another girl...
I don’t put my hope in Elise’s progress or cure….
I don’t put my hope in an easy, comfortable life here on earth...
I put my hope in the knowledge that Elise will meet her maker face to face, just
as my grandma did only days ago.
In order for Elise’s life here on earth to be useful to the Glory of God, I look to
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is
God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Too often, we put way more importance on the goodbye to life than we do on the hello to eternity with our one true God. My grandma, Anna Wilson, had her turn to say hello, and I am sure that she is waiting patiently for when it is her great-granddaughter’s time to join her in a place where they will both be made whole once again.
Having my hair dried by Grandma as a little girl.
Showing off my new bike with Grandma Wilson.
Easter Sunday with Grandma
Lane made himself at home walking the halls of the nursing home in just a diaper!
Great-Grandma (Mimaw) and Elise
Both Lane and Ty called the nursing home “Mimaw’s house”. In this pic, Grandma feeds Elise as Lane takes a nap in her bed.
Sharing a birthday party!
Grandma loves Elise
Great-Grandma (Mimaw) and Ty
When Ty was little, I would take him to Grandma’s to share breakfast from McDonald’s. She really enjoyed that.