My grandma died last week at 90 years old.
She lived a beautiful, full life.
She was married 65 years, was a heck of a lot of fun, was incredibly loved, and served as the foundation that enabled my grandfather to build a successful business.
She raised two wonderful children, impressively spoiled her three grandchildren, and most recently, spent time making cookies and filling a toy drawer for her great-grandkids… my two little ones. Even at 90 and not able to do much on her own, she found a way.
And yet, I can’t imagine her last few years.
Beyond seeing her body deteriorate from Parkinson’s and a whole host of other related ailments, it was this that I’m about to tell you that was the hardest. That I cannot even begin to fathom.
She outlived her son.
My dad died two and a half years ago.
My grandma saw her son — her baby — go to the hospital for stomach pains, and two weeks later, stand by his grave.
Any mother (or father) that outlives their child…. I can’t. I can’t imagine that pain.
I know this happened when she was 87 to her 63 year old son. But the reality is that no matter how old they get, if you’re a mom, they’re always your baby.
As much as she hid her physical and emotional pain from me, her granddaughter, I saw glimpses. When she’d let me in, I’d simply listen and say the only thing I knew to say… yes, it sucks and it’s unimaginable.
I said it without comparing (or letting her compare) her pain or journey to anyone else, in any capacity. It’s irrelevant because sometimes optimism is better suited for another day. Some days reality just f’ing sucks.
I get that death is inevitable. We all need to figure out how to cope. And, we will. My grandma did; it’s just one of the many ways that reminds me of the strength of her character.
Yet, that heartache put so much in perspective for me.
Thousands (maybe millions?) of moms deal with this every day.
It’s that first-time mom who went to an ultra sound and discovered her baby — her sweet beautiful baby she never got to hold — no longer has a heart beat.
It’s that six month old who suddenly and without reason stopped breathing in the middle of the night.
It’s the mom whose child bravely fought cancer until the very end.
And, it’s the mom who lost her child to addiction, a drunk or distracted driver, depression or a myriad of other reasons.
There’s no comparing any of it.
It’s not fair of me to pretend I can imagine that gut-wrenching pain they (maybe you) carry as they go about their days, eventually feeling compelled to “move on” with life.
Before we brought home Evan, adopted at birth and who is now four, we lost a baby to a failed adoption three weeks before the due date, and 26 weeks after we committed to loving that baby forever.
It’s phenomenal the way your heart magically expands when you have a child, in fact, the moment you hear you’re expecting.
You love fiercely, unconditionally and even when you don’t think you can handle one more argument or picking up one more dirty sock, string of spaghetti or dirty towel, you love these kids with every fiber of your being.
You mama, are STRONG. Yup, all caps, STRONG.
Over the past two years since my dad passed, I’ve thought a lot about death in the wrong order because I’ve also thought about the opposite.
I’ve connected with far too many peers who are part of the “club” of younger children without parents… even though I suppose this is “death in the right order.”
A friend of mine shared a beautiful quote by Elizabeth Edwards… “she stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.”
If you feel a hole in your heart, if you know someone who does, give it time. My gram did. It didn’t end her pain but she learned to live with it, learned to smile and laugh and enjoy time with those who mattered most. She adjusted her sails and her view of her life so she could enjoy the life she still had.
This grand-daughter is eternally grateful she had the capacity to do so.
Because, while death happened in the wrong order, her love absolutely went in the right direction.
The last two years brought so many memories for my children with their great-grandmother… so many in fact that my daughter, Sarah, asked if she could speak at her funeral.
I was hesitant, but she was sure.
And in the end, it was the most touching and perfect tribute.
An eight-year old girl simply wanted to share how she loved every moment she had with a 90-year old woman who found a way to adjust her sails and continue to love beyond measure.