As I begin writing this I am entering the first anniversary of the last full day of Rhoda’s life on earth. I don’t remember much of that day. I think it must have been one of relaxation and rest after a busy week with a number of family gatherings. Phil and his wife Amy and son Ethan had come from Denver to be with us. We now think their coming was providential for it was to be their last memories of Rhoda.
Amy wrote to me today, “What I remember most is . . .Phil and I had lunch with Rachel and Eldon and then came back to the house and we spent the afternoon sitting at the kitchen table chatting, looking at old pictures, looking at the china in the china cabinet. Talking about who might get what. I know we were up and down the stairs several times looking at other items and grandmama was right there with us and participating in the discussion. That day really sticks out in my mind because grandmama was so present with us every moment, more present than she had been during other visits. I know with her hearing loss it was hard to be as involved as she wanted to be. I feel like Phil and I were given an amazing gift that day.”
We had two Christmases that year separated by a week. The first was on Sunday the 25th. The second was on New Year’s Eve when the whole family gathered for the traditional feast. The gathering was in Dan’s home with gift giving. Dan has shared family pictures from that day, and this evening Rachel and I enjoyed those pictures. A special memory is Rhoda playing boggle with her grandsons that evening. New Year’s Day Rhoda and I attended Sunday morning communion service at our church.
Between the Christmases Rhoda and I went shopping for gifts. I remember buying an orchid for our family to enjoy. That week is full of special memories and Rhoda seemed to be regaining her strength. We went to Waterford Mennonite Church for the longest night of the year. Others went forward to light candles in memory of a loved one. We sat quietly in our seats to indulge the joy of being together.
It occurs to me now that the readers of this blog comprise a large grief support group to hear me tell my story. For that is what we do at grief support groups, we tell stories of great personal loss. So, I invite you to listen to me in my grief, and to listen to others. For partings face us, each of us, everyone. And telling our stories is an important part of our healing. If you don’t know it now, you will learn. (Forgive me for being so sure about that; I am after-all, only an Old Fool.)
In the year before we left Florida the doctors had controlled Rhoda’s atrial fibrillation by carefully balanced medicines and inserting a pace maker. Since our arrival in Indiana we had other concerns. Rhoda developed a serious hiatal hernia causing some blood loss and requiring surgery. She had a intestinal stroke and abdominal blockage requiring more surgery; and then an infection which meant another surgery after which she struggled to recover.
Between those crises, there were months of slow but steady recovery. She never lost spirit. Once I was asked to tell the medical caregivers what they should do in the event her heart stopped. I knew her wishes and said that in that event we would “let her go.” Later, I told her what I had said, and she smiled, and affirmed my words.
Once when Rhoda awoke from a long period of sedation she lifted her eyes to the clock that said, 9:30. Thinking it was morning time she said, “I think I’ll have cream of wheat for breakfast.” Though it was beyond meal time, the nurses found some of that childhood delicacy for her. Every morning after that, that was her standard order in the hospital and Greencroft Health Center, and after she came home, I cooked it every morning to serve as a breakfast in bed.
Another time the doctor convened the family in the ICU to discuss the seriousness of her condition. He said there was one thing that he could do that might help her. Assured that it would cause her little dicomfort, we gave our consent to do it. With a nod from the doctor the nurse in attendance rushed off to prepare the instruments she knew the doctor would need. In a few days, Rhoda left the ICU for the ICCU, and the doctor said, Lady, You have been given a new life.” And so it was, but like all life, her life was limited.
Exactly one year ago, at this very hour, I was at my computer writing a Highlight of our past week to share with our friends. Rhoda was seated in the chair behind me. As was our custom, I gave her the finished article for her correction and approval. Then we observed that it was 10:00 p.m. and past her usual bedtime. She immediately went to our room.
An hour later I noticed that she had not called me to the room for our bedtime rituals as was her custom. I went immediately and found her slumped against the bed, still breathing, her heart still beating, but unresponsive. Immediately I called Rachel and Eldon, and we called 911.
At the hospital we were told that she had a massive bleed that was pushing her brain to one side. It would soon encroach on the part of her brain that controlled her breathing. She would live a few hours or a few days. Rachel and I soon saw that it would be only for a few hours. She and I were at her side when she breathed her last, and we released her spirit.
We were soon joined by Eldon, Dan, Philippe, Conrad and Diana and Zach. The hospital staff allowed us to grieve quietly until we were ready to leave, still grieving. Sister Nora, the hospital chaplain we had learned to love and respect, drove through snowy weather from Elkhart to pray with us. At home I had a “Highlight” ready to send to our friends. I sent it, and the next morning sent another that I called a “Necessary Highlight” to inform family and friends of our loss. Thank you all for joining this grief support group.