That’s my Grandma Stone (obviously in the middle) with my brother Nate (left), my sister Heidi (center), and me (right). You may recall my prior post about Gran (from 2008). It was around that time that she had been diagnosed with “dementia of the Alzheimer’s variety.” And, age in general was starting to take its toll on the strong and vibrant woman I knew from my youth.
Instead of just jumping into this post, I want to set some background for those of you who may not know me or my family. I come from a large family. And, we’re a relatively tight-knit one too. I can generally equate my family to the Waltons – we’re a back woods, country folk, with big hearts and deep family ties going back generations. My grandmother and grandfather had 7 kids. Those kids had 22 grandkids. Those kids had 38 great grandkids. And, those kids had 11 great-great grandkids. In addition to all the blood relatives, we had many “adopted” relatives too. When I got to high school and found out that “Uncle Dick and Aunt Marie” weren’t really my “uncle and aunt” it didn’t matter. They had been my uncle and aunt since I was a kid. And, for all intents and purposes, their kids are still my “cousins.” We would all gather for holidays (upwards of 70 people crammed into Grandma’s living room for Christmas some years), birthdays, babies, weddings, and funerals. Growing up in a small community (I graduated with 52 people my senior year of high school – and that was due to my school district merging with the neighboring school district my sophomore year of high school) it’s one of those areas where everyone knows just about everyone. Heck, I had come home from college over break one summer and a woman stopped me at the grocery store. Her comment was “You’re a Stone. Which one do you belong to?”
To put things into even more context – Of my grandparents’ 7 kids, 6 live within a 5-mile radius of my grandmother’s house (only 1 aunt set her roots across the country – in California). I was lucky enough to grow up living right next door to my mother’s parents. Some kids get to see their grandparents once or twice a year. I got to see mine every day. And it was the greatest thing as a kid, because with my aunts and uncles having kids (or grandkids) the same ages as me and my siblings, we often had family hangouts when people would stop by grandma’s house for a cup of coffee. The grown-ups would have their coffee at the kitchen table while the kids would all play a game of kickball outside when the weather was warm, or build a snow fort when the weather was cold and there was enough snow. It was simply how things went.
I started each school day getting up, dressing, and getting breakfast at home, and then going next door to grandma’s to see her and wait for the school bus. When I got off the school bus at the end of the day I would sit at grandma’s kitchen table and do my homework. Grandma was a part of each and every day for me growing up as a kid.
Grandma was crafty. She was known as the “doll lady” to many people. She and my mom sewed cloth dolls with dresses. Grandma crocheted afghans. She and my mom made both of my prom dresses in high school, as well as my wedding dress and bridesmaids’ dresses. She was there for all of the big things that happened in my life.
Now that we have the back story, you get the idea of just how integral a part my grandmother has played in me becoming the person that I am today. And, it’s the role that she played that I knew would make it hard when it would one day be her time to go. I wouldn’t be missing a once-in-a-while grandmother that I saw a couple times a year. I would me missing the equivalent of a second mother.
In the short period of time from when that picture above was taken in 2008 to now, my grandmother’s health and mental acuity sharply declined. The most drastic changes have been over the last 8 months to a year. My mother and I would often talk on the phone about how she was doing and what changes were taking place. I tried to make it a point to get home as often as I could so that I could spend as much time with her as I could. This past Christmas was difficult. Grandma was still able to get around on her own for the most part. Although she needed guidance and was using a rolling walker, she was still able to walk. She could carry on a bit of conversation, but she had noticeable difficulty with memory recall. It pains me to say that that was the last time I saw Grandma. Due to a hectic schedule and living 4 hours away, I hadn’t made the time to make it home.
My mom texted me Sunday night (4/29) asking me to call. Unfortunately, I had already gone to bed and didn’t see the text until the following morning when I was getting ready for work. The text simply read:
“I don’t think grandma will make it through the night.”
Talk about seeing that when your alarm goes off for work and you reach over to check your phone. My heart sank.
I texted back and got no response from my mom. So I called her. She let me know that grandma had in fact made it through the night, but that things didn’t look good. I asked mom if she had a timeframe. Mom told me that I could go to work, I didn’t have to come home right away. She said she would call me if that changed. I immediately woke Mike up and explained to him so he could notify any clients that he might have to up and leave unexpectedly given the circumstances. In the meantime, I got ready for work. Just as I was getting ready to head out the door to the office, my phone rang. Mom told me it wouldn’t be long. My heart sank that I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye. There wasn’t much point in rushing around to get home right that moment, but I definitely needed to get home as quickly as I could.
I hung up with my mom, with tears in my eyes and a quaky voice, and called my boss.
My husband drove the entire trip home Monday morning. Even thinking about it now, I don’t recall most of the trip. I just recall walking into my grandmother’s house. I hugged my mom, and I could tell that she was relieved I was there.
The rest of the week has been a blur of emotions, thoughts, should haves, glad I dids, and a general state of ups and downs. Self-admittedly, it hasn’t been a good week. And, I’m having a really hard time dealing with things at times. I think that may be one of the reasons it has taken me so long to formulate cohesive enough thoughts to write. In the same vein, I can tell that I’ve “needed” to write to help cope, and not being able to write hasn’t helped with the coping. Today for instance, has been a horrible day full of mood swings, anger, depression, and general helplessness. No matter what, I already know that I will be a hot mess tomorrow as well. I’m not even going to try to sugar coat that one. All I know is that there is a large hole in my heart at the moment and no matter what I try to do to make that hurt go away, all I want to do is cry. And since I keep having to stop writing to wipe my tears away, I’m simply going to wrap things up with this: Although I know that my grandma is exactly where she should be, I know that this world (including me) has lost an amazing, vibrant individual. And she will be dearly missed.