I’ve been mentally writing about this for the past 8 months, but haven’t gotten it on paper until now. (Actually I spent 3 hours writing it last night only to have my 6 year old accidently delete it… so here I am again, sharing our hearts about my grandma.) Shortly after Zeke was born, I took all seven children to visit Great Grammie Eve. She was living at the assisted living facility in Holyrood and had recently recovered from a case of pneumonia. I had planned a rather lengthy visit, so the kids brought their Bibles to read to her and some school work to pass some time. Grandma was 103 and not the most communicative person anymore. The visit went well, but the Lord used it as the beginning of a blessed journey that our family will never forget.
Grammie had progressed to the point of being beyond the level of care that the assisted living facility was licensed to provide. She had probably been past that “point” for some time. But none-the-less, plans had been made to move Grammie into a nursing home in April. As we sat in our family room the evening of our visit, the Spirit brought to our minds several scriptures concerning caring for the widows, honoring your father and mother, laying down your life, self sacrifice, storing up treasures where moths and rust cannot destroy, and loving your neighbor, etc… He also brought up Haggai 2:9 – “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.” We prayed and continue to pray this verse throughout the building/remodeling process and for our (now finished) home. Our desire was/is that it be a gospel outpost and would be used to glorify His name through the raising of our kids, serving others, Bible studies, home groups, and whatever else He would place in our path. It became quite clear that the LORD desired us to bring Grammie into our home to care for her.
We prayed for wisdom and discernment, but God didn’t really leave any room for doubt in our minds as to what He desired us to do. Our decision was easy to make. I sat on the couch and started writing out notes about the logistics of conforming our home into something more user friendly for Grammie. I looked around and I could imagine Grammie napping in her chair in our family room. I thought about what our office would look like with her bed in it. I did some internet research on products that would make our bathroom suitable for her. I also tried to think about every possible scenario that might come up. I made a list of pros and cons that would affect our family: what would we gain, what would we have to give up? (Every “con” was a direct result of selfishness.) The verse from Haggai continued to fuel our preparations. What would glorify God more: a picture-perfect office and bathroom that look like they came right out of a magazine or a rearranged office with a hospital bed and a bathroom with a stool riser, transfer bench in the tub, and denture container sitting on the sink? After all, we value life and so does God. It doesn’t matter if that life is “pre-born” or 103 years old. If you are pro-life, you also must be pro-elderly. At any age, we are still created in the image of God and He values life, whether or not that life is (by man’s definition) a productive member of society or not.
On March 31, 2014, Grammie Eve became a permanent member of our household and took her place as our 8th and oldest “child”. Not every family can say that they have a 103 year age span between their oldest and youngest children! Just like when you add a new baby to a family, there were a couple of weeks where we felt like we were juggling and spinning plates at the same time. Our family got a crash course on hearing aids, wheel chairs, dentures, depends, hospital beds, transfer benches, walkers, etc… But we soon figured out our new normal of having Grammie around. We adapted to the routine of providing for the needs of an “adult-sized toddler”. We learned that we rarely could do spur-of-the-moment things without finding a “Grammie-sitter”. But, in a way, it was kind of nice to be forced to simplify things, stay home, and really integrate her into our family.
She loved hearing the kids play their piano, having the toddler give her toys (which she sometimes didn’t give back), and listening to the kids read their Bibles and books. She was a part of our school day too. This year we are studying modern history and the kids were always calculating how old Grammie was when: the Titantic sank, WWI happened, the Lusitania sank, the stock market crashed, WWII occurred, etc… She was a walking history lesson! We just wished that she could have told us stories!
Grammie had her days where she was very interactive, and those where she wasn’t interactive at all. Sometimes she stood up, clapped, and told the kids to play their piano more. Other times she just slept through her personal concert. When she was interactive, the kids enjoyed getting her to write and draw, fold clothes, and play with play-doh (though she kept trying to eat it). We looked at books, photos, did pedicures, she watched us clean house, and she got lots and lots of baby holding time. She and Zeke took many naps together.
She was a part of our daily family worship. We prayed for her and we prayed with her. On my Sundays to stay home with her, we watched many sermons by Joe Morecraft. I would sit her right in front of the ipad screen and crank up the volume to make sure she could hear. When we tucked her in bed, we said the Lord’s Prayer together and many times she said it right along with us. I would tell her I loved her each night as I tucked her in. Sometimes she said “Uh huh”, other times she said, “I love you too.”
As the weather warmed up she enjoyed seeing and smelling the fresh lilacs, irises, and wild flowers. We brought in the new chicks for her to hold (though I seriously thought she was going to pull one’s head off)! She held the kittens, saw the alpacas, and watched our tomato seedlings grow into strong, vibrant plants. We spent many evenings on the screened in porch watching the kids play. She watched me process and can dozens and dozens of quarts and pints of garden produce.
We came to appreciate that she was far more than just a “shell”. Her personality would definitely shine through when she was feeling spry. She would tell the kids to get their shoes and socks on, and zip up their coats… typical things that Grandma would be concerned about. If the kids weren’t around, she missed them. I’m sure she came to appreciate the inherent noise level in a home with 7 kids… or maybe she thought that being hard of hearing was really a blessing!
A week before she passed, she had several really good days where she was chatty, getting around well, observant, and interactive. One morning I had been putting clothes in the dryer and I stopped by her bed to say good morning. She grabbed my hands and said that they were cold. She cupped her hands around mine and rubbed them, then she put my fingers to her mouth to blow on them to warm them up. (Just like any mom would do.) Later that morning she said to me, “When are they coming to get me? I’m ready to go!” I told her that we weren’t going anywhere that day. She asked me the question again.
We’ve been told that often people will rally right before their time is finished. That seemed to be the case with Grammie. The next day she was a “rag doll”. She didn’t seem to know what was going on, she was weak, and not very interactive. The next few days continued on the same path where she became less and less responsive. She wasn’t sick at all, but just coasting through the last days that the good Lord had ordained for her. She died so peacefully while Keilah and I were holding her hand and caressing her head, telling her that we loved her and praying for her. In retrospect, I wonder if she had a much deeper meaning in asking me, “When are they coming to get me? I’m ready.”
When we took Grammie in, we did it in order to be a blessing to her. We knew it would help teach our children about true love, self sacrifice, honoring the elderly, and valuing life. Although we knew she would be a blessing to us too, we had no idea how much of an impact she would have on our family. She gave us far more than we gave her. What we would give to still have our “oldest child” with us again: to have an opportunity to serve her longer; to serve her better. But we are so thankful that the Lord gave us the time He did. We are grieving, but are comforted by 1 Thes. 4:13: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We have hope.
We now sit in our home where 8 months ago we imagined what it would “look” like to move Grammie in with us. Her chair is gone, her bed is gone, her wheel chair and walker are gone, her bathroom supplies are gone. And now we get to figure out what our “new” normal looks like since (as Keilah puts it), “Grammie Eve has gone to glory, and is clothed in white with a crown, worshiping Jesus.”