“God will cover me with his wings; I will be safe in His care…” Psalm 91:4-5
I was setting my keys and purse onto the kitchen counter while our phone practically fell out of its cradle; it was ringing off the hook. I blurted at Jim to not answer it. Gut instinct told me not to and I’ve learned to listen to it over the years. We had just returned from dinner and my grandma Margaret (also known as GG for great grandma) was supposed to have met us there, she never showed up. She would never have missed our date. I knew in the depths of my soul that it was devastating news on the other end.
“Why don’t you want me to answer the phone?” Jim stopped his reach for the landline and the answering machine kicked on.
“I have a really bad feeling about who is on the other end. I am too scared to answer the phone…” I looked over at my intuitive Sophia who was kicking her shoes off by the front door. She was incredibly bright for a four and a half year old.
“Don’t worry mommy. It’s about GG, but she’s okay.” My stomach fell out and hit the floor. Sophia has been correct on several situations like these. The caller was leaving a message.
“Darla, its mom, pick up the phone…” she was choking on tears, I was barely able to understand what she was saying, “Darla, are you there? Pick up…I have some bad news…Are you there? Please call as soon as you get this…” I didn’t have to call her back to know what was wrong. Sophia was right, GG was already gone.
During my senior year of high school I had started a waitressing job that I kept all the way through college. I loved having cash from my tips but I mostly loved the relationships I built with the regular customers throughout the years. My heart especially went out to the senior citizens, I’d watch them come in at the exact same time every night, still married and enjoying each other’s company. Over time, a spouse would pass away and I became their only conversation that they’d have in a 24 hour period. I can still remember specific details about them, like how my good friend Dick McCray would order, without fail, a filet mignon, medium rare, baked potato (dry with sour cream on the side), a tossed salad with two blue cheese dressings and a glass of red wine. My other favorite couple would always order two salad bars, two glasses of water with extra lemon and kindly add their senior discount. Besides learning their preferred food choices, they told me all about the careers they had prior to retirement, places they’ve traveled to, their past hurts and broken relationships. I’d take my lunch hour and sit down with these folks, fascinated with their stories about how life was before television. I often wondered how day after day and week after week could go by without any of their children or grandchildren stopping by to share a meal with them. I could see the hurt in their eyes, the longing for human interaction and love, the need for companionship. The bible says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18 I saw truth in this verse during every shift I worked.
Six years had passed since I had been a waitress. I frequently took my family back to the restaurant I had worked at. One evening my hubby and I were sitting in our favorite booth and I was watching a little old man eat all alone. It brought back an avalanche of memories and conversations I had from the past.
“I don’t understand how these grandmas and grandpas can have family and yet they are all alone.” Jim glanced over at the table I was staring at and he nodded his head in agreement.
“People just don’t have time for anything besides work and immediate family responsibilities.”
“Well, I just hope that my kids aren’t too busy for me when I get old.” Just as the words left my mouth I caught site of a little old lady walking through the front door of the restaurant. Another lonely soul. She stood all alone, waiting to be seated with her purse clutched by her side. I looked down and then back again. Her rose colored glasses looked just like my Grandma Margaret’s.
It hit me like a semi-truck crashing into a brick wall; accelerated to 100 mph and then losing its brakes. That little old lady, the lonely soul, was my very own grandma. She had become what I vouched I’d never let happen. What a hypocrite I am! How could I be so blinded by my own sanctimonious ways that I never saw what my sweet grandma had become? Why didn’t I call her and invite her to dinner? She only lives 3 miles away. Feelings of guilt and embarrassment clouded my conscience and it took everything in my power to keep the tears of shame from falling down my cheeks. How could this have happened? I immediately got out of my seat to go greet her and lead her back to our table.
“Oh! What a nice surprise!” Her face lit up like a kids in a candy shop and she reached her arms around my neck to give me a giant bear hug. Her warm embrace only made the feelings of guilt multiply faster than rabbits.
“Yes! Gramma! It’s awesome to see you too! Come and join us at the table.” Sophia scooted over and claimed that she would be sitting next to GG and GG happily accepted the request.
“From now on, every Thursday night, we will meet for our weekly dinner date.” A smile spread across my grandma’s face and agreed that that was a wonderful idea.
We met grandma that following Thursday, and then again on Sunday, three days later at a family gathering.
“Now, just because you saw me one extra time this week doesn’t mean you get out of our dinner date…” She was hugging me good bye and then kissed me on the cheek.
“I know, I know, Gramma. We are leaving for the river but will be home in time for our date. Should we meet at the same time and same place?”
“Yes, dear and be careful at the river. Come back over here and give me one last hug and kiss for the road.”
I did as she asked.
It’s almost as if she knew. The extra hugs and kisses. The hours of holding our newest bundle of joy, Amaya; she was just four months old. I had repeatedly asked her if she wanted me to take her and she resisted. I can still hear her saying, “This is as close to heaven as you can ever get…” followed with a giant breath in, absorbing the beautiful newborn smell and faint hint of baby powder. My grandma smiled and posed for pictures that day, something she would usually put up a fight about. I am so incredibly grateful for that gift now.
That following week we took a 3 day trip to the river and headed home in time enough to meet grandma at our restaurant. I had two identical nightmares two nights in a row. Actually, it wasn’t really a nightmare, more of a dream that left a gnawing sickness in the pit of my stomach. The kind that was very similar to the dreams I had just before I had lost Machaela. The familiar uncertainty of the certain fate I was being forced to meet.
They must’ve hit the doorbell three or four times in a row. Hold on! I got up from my organized mess, my knees were sore from stooped position I had been in for two hours. I was trying to organize a bunch of junk at my mother in laws house, we were planning a garage sale. The doorbell was ringing. Ding dong. Ding dong. Ding dong. Ding dong. I could sense the impatience and urgency of the ringer.
I opened my mother in laws front door and a city worker was standing on her porch.
“Are you Darla?” I was perplexed. Why would this man be looking for me at my mother in laws home?
“Yes. How can I help you?” A little hesitation slowed my voice, I wondered if I was really dumb for I telling this stranger who I was.
“I work for the city. You can’t have a garage sale until you get the corpse removed from the area. It’s been waiting for you and you need to clean it up…” How did he know we were planning a garage sale?
“What Corpse? What in the world are you talking about?” But before I could finish my sentence, he was gone. Simply vanished.
I woke, suddenly, sitting erect in my bed with one thrust of my abs. Beads of sweat lined my brow and upper lip, my brain was definitely rattled. I instinctively reached for Jim. My grip on his thigh had woken him and he jolted up too.
“What’s the matter? Are you okay?”
“I just had a crazy, creepy dream…I’m okay.” I guess I could chalk it up to whatever TV program I had before bed, but my stomach’s reaction let me know that I was wrong. Learn to listen to the voice. I didn’t want to believe what I had suspected. I didn’t want to believe the next night, when the exact same dream happened and a weight of guilt suffocated me. My instinct told me to call my grandma. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. I chose to not believe it. Denial, it’s one of grief’s best friends. The first thing a grieving person yells is “NO!” at the moment of truth. It’s so familiar; it’s what you read about in all of the “grieving guides” that the hospital sends you home with when your loved one dies. Your first look at a ‘what’s normal and what’s not’ grief handbook complete with a number to call if things start getting dark, really dark.
The confirmation of what I already knew was just minutes away. All I had to do was call my mom back. I did. She cried. I cried. I wasn’t really sure what to think and I had no idea what to do.
The coroner’s office thought that she died on Sunday night, the last day any of us saw her. It was the day that she doubled my kisses, laughed out loud and posed for pictures. She enjoyed her delicious dinner that night surrounded by friends and family, laughter and love. Her day was intentional. She planned it that way and now I know that I have to make every day that I live intentional too.
Thank you, Grandma Margaret, for teaching me to see the fault in my own life through yours. A lesson that could never be learned from a textbbok, one that will be taught from one generation to the next…Even when I thought I’d never take another person for granted, I did. I am guilty of the very thing I despised. I feel horrible for that. I hope you can forgive me. I thank God for giving me you, for the lessons learned and love gained. I miss you every day and every night. Until we meet again…XOxoXOxo