She Built a Life She Loved

Bettye Lou Hiltibidal Smith was Jake's maternal grandmother. We called her Meemaw. She died three hours after I arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 3rd.

Cancer isn't even a little part of what defines her to me, but she had been treating it for the last six years, including an initial early remission. She was so brave and optimistic. You would almost never know she was battling anything. She was busy continuing to live her life. After several rounds of chemo, the doctors said there was nothing left to do on May 23rd, my mother-in-law's birthday. The end was swift, but not swift enough when one you love is suffering. 

There's something wonderful about becoming part of another family in early adulthood. Meemaw was certainly a grandmother figure, and I've spent a good deal of time "growing up" around her, but she was also my friend. She and I were bosom buddies; we shared several lived experiences. We knew each other inside out in certain ways. Having someone who understands and responds to specific experiences with compassion is a blessing.

She was light. And speaking about her in past tense doesn't feel right. She loved fiercely. And it seemed to come so easily for her, but her early life was not easy, and it was not full of love. She truly built a life she loved. And I know it was hard for her to leave it. 

One summer, not long before Jake, Cora, and I moved to Chicago, she and I  got together and canned salsa. Afterward we went on an adventure where she showed us all of the places she thought we should know around Holdenville: cemeteries, where her mom was born, where she went to school, where she lived, Friendship Corner. Being with her was easy. Being with her was fascinating. She had so many layers.  
I was sitting on a bench near the dinosaur fountain in the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. A street musician had just started playing a new track of music. I looked down at my phone when I received a text saying Meemaw died at 12:15. As I was reading the words, the musician started singing... 
I'll be seeing you...
I took a second, trying to catch my bearings, letting it sink in. It was expected, but I wasn't expecting it just then. Our girls were with Jake's mom and dad. They were in and out with their great-grandmother during her last days. I hated being so far away. I was working hard to keep it together on that bench on a perfect Sunday morning.

When I met Meemaw, I always thought it was so funny that I had an aunt older than she was. She was 60 then, and 75 when she died. My great-grandmother was 97 when she passed away, and Grammy was almost 94. I'm trying not to be really sad about the difference between 75 and those numbers. Sad that there wasn't that much more time. My attempts are not working very well yet.

She is a once-in-a-lifetime person. If you ever met her, you would never forget her. She was undeniably and unapologetically herself. There was nothing standard or uniform about her. She marched to the beat of her own drum. But rather than marching, it was more of a fast walk with an intensely swinging arm. I love her. So many people did and do. I will probably never put my love for her in past tense. It will be present for as long as I'm alive.
I'll be seeing you
In every lovely summer's day
In everything that's light and gay
I'll always think of you that way
I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you

A Prayer

It goes something like this:

Dear God,
I'm talking to you, but I'm really trying to find Grammy. I'd like to talk to her. I once asked her to find me after she died, just to let me know she was all right. Can you help me find her now? And not in a sign kind of way, in a God exists and heaven is real kind of way. I just want to feel her from wherever she is. Magnolia asked me the other day what happens when we die. My honest-to-God-who-I-hope-is-there answer is: I don't know. I said, "I'm not sure; I haven't died yet. People believe all kinds of things about it, and while I don't really know, I hope there's a heaven where we all get to go." She said, "And if not, it's just like falling asleep for a really long time?" "Yes, it would be like that." She seemed okay with that. I think I am too. Knowing there was something more - a heaven - used to be such an easy story to tell - a happy ending story that could make it all better. Knowing isn't really part of my vocabulary any more, despite still regularly engaging in prayer. I really hope you're there. Thank you for all you've loved me through and all you've blessed me with.
Amen.

••••••••

After Dan died, I read a book, the name of which I can't remember, and it talked about all of the energy that we create and continues on forever in the universe. I was determined to tap into that energy. His energy. It still exists in some form somewhere. Communication through time and space and plane. I'm still working on it. Still wondering what's out there - what's beyond this realm of being. Tonight I am just trying to find my Grammy. Desperately wanting to reach my heart out and feel hers reaching back to mine. 

Peanut the Elephant

I was browsing through Facebook this evening after making a menu and grocery list for the week. I came across a post from a local baby boutique, Green Bambino, asking what product you bought first after finding out you were pregnant. I couldn't remember a product, but I quickly remembered Peanut.

We found out we were pregnant for the first time the Saturday before Thanksgiving in 2006. I went into the health clinic at OCU on Monday to confirm because I didn't want to wait the extra weeks to get into an OB. I took another test at the clinic. Positive. I had blood work sent to the lab at Saint Anthony. It came back on Tuesday. Positive, and my hormone levels had me right in line with all of the dates. I was right around seven weeks. 

I went to Target to get a little gift to give to my brother-in-law to break the news over the holiday. Peanut was the first thing I picked out - a plush green elephant. It was perfect, so small and soft, and I imagined little hands would love to hold it. I left with that and a package of pacifiers, thinking a stuffed animal might not be obvious enough. 

We told everyone on Thanksgiving. It was so fun, and everyone was so excited. We spent Christmas in Arizona that year, and it was fun to be with my family while it was still new.  

I ended up starting the miscarrying process on New Year's Day. By then I had a few more baby goods, clothes, a blanket or two, an ornament for the tree. After I finished miscarrying (it took about a week and a half), I put those things away, but the thing that broke my heart a little was Peanut. It just wanted to be held and loved. 

[I just wanted to hold and love someone.]

About six months later, I got pregnant with Cora. I didn't buy anything. I kept the news mostly to myself and close family. I thought I was miscarrying her around 10 weeks; I fell apart. Making it to the 12 week mark didn't feel safe, but that's when I broke the news. I was excited, but guarded. We all know how that pregnancy turned out. Despite all of the wild complications at the end and the few in the beginning, she arrived safe and sound. She was here and she was mine. 

When Cora was about six months old, I walked into her room to check on her while she was napping. She was holding Peanut's trunk close to her face. I couldn't help but cry. It was her little hand I'd been waiting for. I could have never imagined that a stuffed animal could be the symbol of so much pain and later so much joy for me. That silly, sweet little elephant.  

I can hardly believe this baby will be 10 in less than two weeks.

The Day Magnolia Fell Down the Basement Stairs

Once upon a time, on a Sunday morning in January, I had just finished showering and was standing in front of the mirror putting moisturizer on. Before I got in, my daughters were talking about building a fort in the basement and Jake was sorting laundry. A quiet Sunday morning, indeed.

And then I heard the loudest rolling tumble. It went on for too long. And then screams. It was Magnolia. I grabbed my towel from my hair to wrap around my body, and I ran downstairs. Nothing on the first floor. I jumped off the step into the dining room and rounded the corner to the basement stairs to see Jake coming up with Magnolia in his arms. There was also a dining chair at the bottom of the basement stairs in three parts, with one of the leg caps still sitting on the landing at the top.



Magnolia was holding her nose with both hands, screaming, "Am I bleeding?! Is there blood?!"

I grabbed her hands and she released them from her face. No blood. "You don't have a 'blood face'," I said.

Blood face. Ever since Magnolia was two, 'blood face' symbolizes the worst kind of injury to her. She was jumping on the bed one day, fell off, and face planted on the wood floors. While she wasn't actually bleeding, she looked in the mirror and saw her red scrape and said, "I have a blood face!"

The warning for any kind of "dangerous" activity since then has been, "If you do that, you might get a blood face."

As soon as I let her know she didn't have a blood face, some of the terror left her eyes. I looked at her arms and legs, no noticeable breaks. I looked at her nose, it looked straight. I looked at her back. Lots of scrapes.

She screamed again and grabbed her head, saying that it hurt so much. I looked at Jake and said, "Let's take her to the ER." He replied,

"Let's just watch her for a minute."

I went to the freezer and got an icepack for her head. It wasn't very flexible, so I switched and got a bag of frozen corn. The only thing better than frozen corn are frozen peas for an icepack. We were out of peas. She held it on her head and grew calmer.  After a few more minutes, we were putting her emoji bandaids on her back, even though she didn't really need them. Bandaids make everything better. After she was covered up, she told us what happened.

She had moved a dining chair to the top of the basement stairs so Cora could come and get it and carry it down for fort building like she had the first three chairs. We have old dining chairs with chrome legs, so we put white rubber caps on the bottom to avoid scratching the floor. When Magnolia moved the chair to the landing, one of the caps fell off. She was standing with her back to the stairs trying to replace the cap when she fell backwards. She grabbed onto the chair to try and catch herself, but it fell down too. There was a minor sense of relief that the insanely loud sound I'd heard from two floors up was more dining chair than Magnolia hitting the stairs. Thinking about it still makes me want to throw up.


My initial irrational mom thought was to call the realtor, put Joan on the market, and start the search for a one-story house. I think I'm over the initial panic.

We got so lucky today. So very, very lucky. When I put her to bed this evening, she said her nose hurt. I'm going to keep an eye on it. No bruising or swelling on her nose so far. She legit fell down a whole wooden staircase and landed on a tile floor, all while tumbling down with a dining chair. The stairs have a few gouges, Magnolia has a few scrapes and bruises.

Grateful, grateful. Truly grateful I am.


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