Gifts of Healing
My grandmother, Mary, was a beautiful woman who always had time — time for her children, friends, and grandchildren (all 26 of them).
When I was with Grandma, I knew I was special to her. I just may have been her “favorite.” After all, I was the first grandchild. (I used to say “oldest” when being the oldest was a good thing.) It wasn’t until her funeral 10 years ago, after hearing all of my cousins’ stories, that I realized she made each person in her life feel special. She made each one of us her “favorite” when we were with her. Her presence. Her undivided attention. We knew we were loved by her, and we all loved her dearly.
Grandma was very young when her father died of tuberculosis. Her older sister died shortly afterward, and her two brothers moved from Kentucky across the Ohio River to the city of Akron, to work in the tire industry. When Grandma was just 16, her mother died of tuberculosis, too, leaving her an orphan. She lived with Catholic nuns until she finished high school. She suffered so much loss in her life, but she had such faith. She would get through her grief and go on to Akron to be near her brothers; meet my grandfather, a butcher and grocer; and raise their six children while working side by side with my grandpa at the store. My grandfather died at 54, leaving her to live almost half of her life as a widow. Two years later, her youngest child died at 18, very unexpectedly, only compounding her grief. But she found joy in helping her family — especially her grandchildren.
Grandma knew about goodbyes. She knew that life was full of them. When she said goodbye, she would put her hands on our faces — one on each side — pull us close and kiss us farewell. Every goodbye. As if she may never see us again.
I dreamed one night, 10 years ago, that she called me and was in distress. The next morning, I had a call from my aunt saying that Grandma had suffered a small stroke and was in the hospital. From there, she went to a nursing home. She was in the facility for two years. She never fully recovered: her physical health declined, and she became confused. But each time I visited, she grabbed my face and kissed me goodbye. Until the last time. She died a week after my last visit. It was my birthday. The very same night she died, a new great-granddaughter was born. I like to think Grandma’s and Anna’s spirits met during that night.
Six months later, I met my cousin’s little Anna for the first time. As we were getting to know each other, I could not help but see a familiar look in her eyes. Her chubby little hands reached up, and she grabbed each side of my face. It was overwhelming. A precious gift. I felt as if I was able to say hello to this lovely child for the first time and, at the same time, I was able to say goodbye to my grandmother.
In my work, I hear stories all the time about comforting visits, dreams, sounds, and experiences. Grandma told me many stories from her life and loss. I believe these are gifts of healing. Living means saying hello and goodbye over and over again. Overwhelming spiritual gifts of peace and comfort come to us in many ways. I am sure you know what I mean.
~ Mary Beth Wood, Director of Palliative Care and Transitions
This article originally appeared in the September issue of The Next Step.
Tags: Grief Support