Thursday, May 1, 2008

Death, Near Death and Feeling Thankful

It is amazing how time can get away from you when you are grieving. I am sorry for taking so long to post to the blog again. It's been a little too painful for me to write, but today I feel the need to write.

The beginning of the year started the way it did last year -- with the completion of Robotics season and heavy-duty swim season. The District meet for swimming is in February so January and February are full of practices, meets and time spent making hotel arrangements and trip arrangements. This year was no different except that Grandma was sick and we kept spending time at the hospital in addition to our already-full schedule.

Joey was actually at his Regional meet at the University of Houston when I got a call from my dad. Grandma was being admitted again. She was not feeling well. I was a little relieved. Alex, Frank and I had visited her that week and she didn't look good. When Frank saw her, he felt she was doing fine and didn't need to go to the hospital, but I was worried.

My sister was supposed to come to the swim meet to cheer on Joey. He was the only swimmer from our whole county who made it to the finals in Houston. When she heard Grandma was being admitted, she drove to Temple instead. I was glad and eager to get on the road myself. Joey didn't know what was going on; I didn't want the news to interfere with his swim. He's hoping to make it to Junior Nationals sometime this year.

By the time I got home from Houston, things were not looking good. My aunt and uncle came from Mississippi. The week was one long roller coaster ride. Things wouldn't look good and then Grandma would rally back, giving us hope that she'd make it out of the hospital and back home with us. She started dialysis. That was brutal. Because her kidneys were in such bad shape, they had to do a series of dialysis treatments. She seemed to do well with the first two, but the third one seemed especially punishing. It was just too much and she had no reserves. She was nothing but skin and bones. A doctor told us that she wouldn't be able to come home to live because it would be too much for one or even two people to take care of her with her needing dialysis several times a week. We knew Grandma would not be happy about that, but still she fought.

They moved her to the floor and we were all relieved that she was in a private room and seemed on the road to recovery. We left for some much-needed rest. When the phone rang at 2 a.m. Frank was the one to answer it. He told me not to worry about anything, he'd go to the hospital to check everything out and call me if I was needed. At 2:30 the call came. I woke up Aunt Terry and Uncle Dean. We rushed to the hospital.

Grandma held on until my sister arrived from Houston. We had a priest come to deliver last rites. He was wonderful and did a beautiful prayer service over Grandma. She would have been pleased. It still seems hard to believe that Grandma left us on February 16th.

Family came from all over the United States. Some stayed with me, my sister and her family stayed with my dad and some stayed at Grandma's house. That was hard for them. I don't know how they did it. When I went to Grandma's house, it felt kind of weird. I kept expecting to see her or hear her voice.

The whole family gathered at my house where we used our pool table to spread out Grandma's generous number of photo albums. The funeral home gave us some 16" x 24" display boards we could use for the visitation. Each of Grandma's children had a board where they put pictures of their branch of the family tree. Then we fixed up two more boards of nothing but Grandma, Grandma and her friends and places she had traveled. How she loved to travel!

In addition to that, we gathered some little momentos to put on display in the visitation room. Grandma played the harmonica and we found some of her old harmonicas to put out. I had a blank book I had used when I was doing a genealogy unit with Grandma and the boys. We each had our own blank book where we shared some stories about our life. Grandma had only written two, but I thought people might like to read something written by her about her life.

My sister, Aunt Terry and I did the readings for the funeral service. The pallbearers included my father, my husband and my son (Joey) as well as Uncle Dean, my cousin Chris and my brother-in-law, Jesse. Uncle Gary and Aunt Susie sang. Grandma would have been proud. It was so unbelievably beautiful.

Near Death

We've all been in a state of grief since Grandma's passing, but we've also tried to focus on positive things. Dad is the executor of Grandma's estate and that is extremely time consuming and challenging. One of the things to be decided was what to do with Grandma's car. Finally, my aunts decided that Dad should have Grandma's car and that Joey really needed a car to drive, so Dad gave us his 1999 Honda for Joey (and eventually Alex) to use. All of this took time, so Joey didn't get the car until sometime in March.

Last Friday, April 25th, Joey called me after school to let me know that he'd have to miss swim in order to work on a film he was making for his IB film class. The money for the swim fund raiser was due that afternoon, though, so Alex and I headed for the swim center with Joey's envelope of donations inside. On the way to the swim center, Joey called me again. This time he started the call by saying, "I'm okay." The sound of his voice quickly conveyed to me that while he was okay, something was NOT okay. "The car," Joey said, "the car is not so good." When he handed the phone to a police officer, I knew things were not good.

Thank goodness for my GPS unit! Joey had been out in the country scouting for a good location to shoot a picnic in a meadow scene when he lost control of his car and ended up on a guard rail. Angels surely took care of Joey and Trent who believed the car was going to flip over. Instead of flipping over the guard rail into a ravine, the car stayed put, on top of the guard rail, allowing the boys to scramble out of the car, completely unharmed.

As if Joey's guardian angel(s) hadn't worked hard to save him during his car accident, more work was needed still. I barely had Trent safely home before noticing that the skies were darkening quickly. "We're in for a storm," I said to Joey. It was much more than a storm. I was barely home before the phone rang. "Anna -- are you listening to the radio?" my father asked me. "No. I just got home," I replied. To my amazement, my dad told me that a tornado had just touched down not far from his home. More were expected in our area. Minutes after Dad's phone call we heard hail on the roof. Luckily for us, no tornado came through our neighborhood.

All of this leaves me feeling so thankful. Thankful my son and his friend were spared, thankful that the tornadoes that did touch down in Bell County didn't do too much damage and no lives were lost, thankful for another day.

Living with Alex, I've come to appreciate the beauty of every day. Having a child with a congenital heart defect means knowing that each day is a blessing and a gift. Sometimes I witness that through my heart-healthy son, Joey, too. I can't help but wonder if Grandma wasn't one of Joey's guardian angels on Friday. I know I feel her presence and I miss her very much.

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