I have experienced God orchestrating beautiful moments, moments where all the people are exactly where they need to be, when they need to be there. And when it all converges my thoughts swirl, “How did that even happen?! That was a miracle.”
My grandmother, Mema to the grandkids, Mimi to the great-grandkids, passed away on the 24th of July and her last breaths were one of these orchestral instances.
My mom fed Mema breakfast and got her ready like every other morning. The girls and I had come home from a camping trip the night before, so that morning I sat at my computer - which I moved into her room - so I could catch up on emails and get a few things done. I heard her whisper, “Thank you.” I thought, “Did I hear that correctly?” I turned back and saw she was gazing up to the left above the window. I thought, “That’s interesting…” Just then I began to hear her struggling to breathe, her exhales loud and inhales strenuous. It was around 2:45. Her brow was furrowed, very unlike her cheery disposition. I grabbed my mom from the other room and said, “Something’s wrong.” My mom and I hurried back to Mema who was having a difficult time. Her coughing was abnormal and her breath heavy and difficult. My mom left the room to call Hospice (who had graduated her and couldn’t send immediate help) and I tried calling Mimi’s kids — Cindy first with no answer. Next, David, who said he was on his way. My dad also headed home (but we live in the hills and it takes time to get here…) My mom and I crouched around Mimi’s bed, holding her hands, kissing her face, saying as many I Love Yous and Thank Yous as one can muster at a time when no words do any feelings justice, the girls pouring over each side of her bed caressing her arms. My mom raced to make more phone calls while I sat next to her trying to be strong but crying and saying, “You’re doing great, Mimi! I love you! Go get Ma and Pa! Go home, Mema! You were the best grandma, Mimi! Thank you for perfect birthday parties and buying our favorite cakes and for taking care of all of us. You did everything for us! We love you, Mimi!” My mind was racing with, “Tell her happy things. Tell her all the good things” followed by “I can’t handle her in pain. I feel helpless. How am I sitting here doing nothing while she cannot breathe? Keep talking, tell her you love her…” (She had a DNR, her wish to pass at home.)
The thought came to me to FaceTime her only sibling, her brother Bob, who lives in Utah; she and Bob have been best friends their entire lives.
Looking back this is where I see the miracle begin. Our house was silent and still. Bob’s kids had just walked in the door to his house when I called. Through tears they immediately began to tell Mema how much they loved her and how wonderful she was. Bob comforted and talked to his sister including their inside jokes, “You’re my favorite sister,” and “you were such a good sister.” This is how the next 15 minutes passed, until she graduated mortality and her spirit slipped through an ever so thin veil, reuniting herself with their mom and dad, her husband (our Bacca who passed 20 month ago), and family and friends from their past. Those 20-30 minutes could not have been more tender, sacred, or perfect. She took her last breath around 3:14 pm hand in hand with people she cared for and comforted her whole life — I still have the letters she wrote to me while in college and on my mission, easing my fears, calming frustrations, sending hope.
The next few hours passed in a bustle of paramedics, fireman, the chaplain, and the mortuary in and out of the house. Mimi’s kids, grandkids and great-grandkids all arrived. We chatted, played, reminisced, snuggled babies and ate. Even one my best friends and her kids showed up within minutes of her passing. She and I were heading you Tahoe the next day so she took a Pitt-stop at our house. Our home was exactly as Mema showed us: friends become family and everyone’s welcome all of the time. All of the people and babies and laughter and tears was the ultimate gathering, a reverberating crescendo, in celebration of her brilliant life.
My mom and I both commented that if I had not moved my computer to her room (where I would work and chat at her while she rested or slept) that no one would have gone back into her room; she normally would have napped a long while requiring no assistance. She would have passed alone.
In a very short amount of time her passing converged in perfect harmony, specifically the piece of her brother and his family comforting her as she finished her mission on this earth.
These moments of glorious orchestration don’t happen often, but when they do I am reminded that it was not anything I did — they are gifts, tender mercies from the Savior to His children, who He loves perfectly. His arms always are “outstretched still.”
I had so many thoughts that afternoon, evening and into the next morning:
Her room felt cold and empty when she was no longer in it. I realized that one of Mema’s spiritual gifts was The Gift of Comfort. She made you feel warm by her words and actions. She even warmed the room she sat in. Now that she is no longer here, the void, the cold, is palpable.
Our life on this earth is nothing more than a blink in an eternal plan. The joy, the pain, it happens in a millisecond compared to our eternal destiny. When Mema was suffering every breath hurt my insides. Her scrunched body, her quivering lips, her loud breaths, I wanted it to stop! But there was a moment after she passed that only my mom and the girls were sitting in her still room and I felt, how did that happen so fast?! She was just here, and now she’s not, and it happened faster than I can comprehend. She has struggled with Alzheimer’s for years! She lived in my parent’s home for 8 months where they have fed her, bathed her, chatted with her, teased her, laughed with her — where every day feels like a marathon and you want her suffering to end, but then when it does you have a clarity you didn’t have previously:it happened so fast. When it’s over you remember: carrot cakes from Costco for my pool parties every July, her taking me to the store and buying me three new pairs of shoes, “it’s just money, don’t be scared of it” she’d say as my sister reminded me. She and I would eat frozen ho-hos and chat at her dining table almost every night when I lived with her. She’d whip up some New Mexican enchiladas, replete with a fried egg on top, for whoever came through her door. And now she’s gone home and those things were nothing more than a blink. When the struggle is over and the clarity comes, it was only an instant.
Endurance. In April when my parents went to Europe for two weeks I took care of Mema. One night she almost died. She kept saying, a little frustrated, “I see this place but I can’t get there, I can’t get there!” The night before she passed my dad was feeding her dinner and she said to him, “I’m ready to go, can you help me?” My eyes have been opened to the word “endure.”
If you endure, however ugly it might look or feel to you, however much you don’t like what’s happening, if you endure, you win. “Enduring well,” to me, means enduring period.
“Enduring well” doesn’t mean I do all the things and am joyous and “love every second.” I got teary-eyed listening to this sincere clip from Elder Hales about deep depression and physical pain that didn’t let up.
Our mission won’t look like, or compare to, anyone else’s. Mema didn’t live to post —nothing she did was for anyone else to see. I still have lessons to learn here but my thoughts brew and I feel change coming that I hope feeds more souls.
I love my family and the grandmother who bore us. She was a woman who spent her entire life laughing and comforting. She was a leader, teacher, school counselor, wife, mom, grandma, great-grandma and when she was with you you felt you were the most important person in the world.
One day a few months ago all of her children and great-grandchildren arrived at the house. These images come from our impromptu shoot.
We know you are partying and loving and teaching and caring even now, Mimi, but we still miss your laughter, warmth, counsel and comfort.
‘Til We Meet Again, Mema. We love and thank you for spending your life making each of ours lighter and brighter.