I believe we definitely have souls. And I really like thinking they're made of the love we share. At least in part. Or maybe mostly. At any rate, it makes sense to me.
I've felt those connections. There's certainly the love I feel for all humankind. Every person I know. And most living things...I'm not all the way there on reptiles and arachnids. But there are those few, precious connections, where I know my soul was bound to another - I feel them. Their presence is palpable even when they aren't near. My soul is drawn to theirs, despite any resistance my life's experience has built up for me.
This summer has been quite the experience. I was away from home for 6 weeks and 1 day. And in that time, I was stupid sick and healed, Jake and I attended the funeral of one of his former students, Cora learned to ride a bike, both girls are officially swimmers, we spent wonderful time with family and friends, I took my girls to stay at their [great]great-great-grandmother's home, I helped walk a loved one to another life, and I was with a dear friend when she welcomed her first child to this life.
Today I want to talk about walking with a loved one to her grave. It all happened so fast. I was in Colorado with my little family and Jake's family. We were staying at our friend's cabin in Estes Park. My mom called and let me know that my paternal grandmother was in the hospital with pneumonia, and her kidneys were operating at 10%. After a biopsy of her lungs and kidneys, they determined Vasculitis was the culprit of her organ failure. She had a bit of an upswing, but then the biopsy site on her kidney started bleeding, they spent two days trying to get it to stop, and by the time they did, her kidneys and lungs were shutting down. Mix that with pneumonia and congestive heart failure. She decided that she didn't want to undergo any more treatment. On Tuesday, June 30th, my mom called and said that Verda was being released from the hospital on hospice.
(Verda with Baby Magnolia, 6 months)
I cried, and struggled with whether I should stay with my family or go be with her in her final days. The moment it set in that she was still alive, and I could see her, and hear her, and talk to her, rather than just wait for a call to come for a funeral, was when I realized it was a really easy decision. I booked my flight, and 3 hours later, I was on a plane from Denver to Phoenix.
The next four days were busy, I helped my family with things most of us had never done in caring for one who is dying. We mastered changing sheets with someone still in bed. I learned that a wet washcloth across one's face can be the most luxurious treatment. Chapstick, ice chips, a red sippy cup, so many pillows, the hum of oxygen, swollen hands, talking to people who aren't there, her moments of lucidity, her "I love yous."
My mom, Aunt Teri, and I left for a bit on July Fourth to watch some fireworks. I drove up to an area close to my old Think Spot. We saw several fireworks shows with the whole Phoenix metro stretching out before us. When we got back, my grandpa was giving my grandma a blessing. The mood was very different from when we'd left an hour-and-a-half before. I silenced my phone and stayed until 11:30. I wanted to take Alice home so my Aunt Connie's dog could come out of the bedroom she was in. Her dog, Lucy, liked to bark at Alice, and I didn't want any chance for abrasive barking to shatter the peace. I hugged everyone. I went over to Verda and told her I loved her, and that I'd see her in the morning. She told me she loved me in her muddled voice.
(A little panorama of what our days looked like. Taken July 4, 2015)
She passed away at 4:30 AM on July 5th. My mom sent me a text at 4:43. I didn't look at my phone until 6 because I hadn't taken it off silent from the night before. I quickly got ready and drove to their house. As I was nearing their house, I saw a white van coming from their driveway. It turned in front of me, and I knew the body of the one we'd cared for and loved on was in the back. I paused before turning into the driveway to watch the van for a few blocks.
I arrived to family who had just seen her be taken away. It was very tender. I walked around and hugged everyone in the yard for a few minutes before heading inside. I went straight to the dining room to hug family there. When I walked into the living room, it was empty, the hospital bed she'd been in for 4.5 days was empty. That's when I cried.
By the end of the day, her obituary was written, and most of her service planned. The next day, Monday, we went to the mortuary and made the final arrangements, picked the casket, finalized the program. Jake and the girls met me for lunch after the mortuary. They'd made it down from Colorado. On Tuesday, Jake rehearsed a musical number for the service with a flutist, we finalized family luncheon plans, and Jake and I went to buy him some pants that he could wear to a funeral because all we had were vacation clothes. (Luckily, I had some dressier clothes than Jake.)
(The Chesnut Family Group Shot at the luncheon)
At 3 on Tuesday afternoon, I went to the mortuary with my mom, Aunt Brenda, Connie, Teri, and Terri. (I have three Aunt Ter[r]i's on that side.) It is customary for endowed members of the Mormon church to be buried in their temple clothes, and for other endowed members of the church to dress the dead. It was a very surreal experience - the whole week prior had been - but this in particular. I was present in the moment, but also having a sort of out-of-body experience. There was respect and reverence for what was happening, but also a sort of detached, "I have never done this before" feeling. I'd never touched a dead body before, let alone tried to maneuver one into stockings and a dress, and every other piece of ceremonial clothing. Her perm was a little too grown out for her hair to lay just right, so we curled her hair. As I was curling, I took all precautions not to pull her hair, and I shielded her eyes from hairspray. On a very random note, I had to ask if we could borrow a small curling iron from the mortuary to curl her hair. After Shawn, the worker who was waiting in the wings to help us, returned with the curling iron, I went to plug it in and saw two little grey hairs still attached to the barrel. I wondered how many other grandmas that little curling iron had help prepare for their final resting place.
When trying to decide how to describe the feeling of my grandma's limbs during the dressing, I couldn't think of the perfect thing. I sent an email to my friend, Mary Bliss, several days after the funeral telling her what had been happening on my side of the world, and she sent back the perfect descriptor: "Made of clay."
I was up late on Tuesday night writing Verda's life history. I'd spent the evening interviewing her children and a few of her grandchildren for material to fill the pages. I ended up going to bed at 4AM on Wednesday morning after I emailed a draft of the life history to my Aunt Connie. Verda's viewing started at 9AM. The service was at 10. The music was lovely. We walked into Jake playing Don Williams's "You're My Best Friend," which was Don and Verda's song. My Aunt Teri (one of them!) did a fantastic job reading the life history. Jake and the flutist, Laura Friar, played a lovely duet of "O My Father." When it was time for the family to leave, we walked out to Jake playing George Strait's "The Chair," one of Verda's favorites. We left the church for the cemetery and dedication of her grave, then returned to the church for the family luncheon.
(My parents and siblings and our children. Candid, just the way I like it.)
I hadn't seen a lot of that side of the family in over a decade. I loved every second of my time with them. Don and Verda became my grandparents when I was 12 and my mom married my [step]dad. With them came an amazing family. I got to see a lot of them over Mother's Day weekend when we were all in Arizona for my [step]sister's wedding. I had missed them. Don and Verda had become great confidants in the last few years. I loved sitting in their living room talking with them. I could tell them anything, and they always had good advice. I still expect many more years of good advice from Don, but I will miss Verda. So very much.
And that leads to where I am right now. Everything was so busy before and after her death. It's just been in the last few days that I've started processing the grief. I can't think about her without crying. She had this unique combination of tender and feisty. When I was in Arizona a few years ago, I went to Sacrament Meeting in their ward. (Sacrament Meeting is the hour block in the three hour church service where Mormons are together as a whole congregation and they take the sacrament (communion).) I sat next to her, and she softly rubbed the back of my hand for the whole hour. She also never minced her words. She kept it real. And because of that, it was easy to be real with her. Grief is such a funny thing. I feel like I've said that exact same thing in previous posts. I mean it.
But it's that love that our souls are made of. That love that makes my heart sing in connectedness and sting at loss. It transcends lives.