Sunday, May 20, 2007

Too Much

This post was originally written 3/29/07. It's heavy material caused me to postpone publishing until I could edit it a little. It really is sharing my heart. I hope you understand.

Dear Friends,

I know if we want people to check and read our blog often, we have to update and add to our blog often. Once every six months or so does not cut it. However, some months seem to be blah months with not much happening while others are packed with way too much to tell or even completely handle. March was a too much month. But, in order to start something a little more reliable, I will try to wrap my words around it and share some of what happened.

This month has been characterized for me by an uncharacteristic amount of tears. The first batch were the best kind when on February 24, when I was home from the Anchorage Ladies' Retreat, my dad called from Virginia where he and my family were visiting his mother. "Andrea, I called to ask for your prayers," he said (causing my heart to quicken), "Your grandmother has asked to be baptized." The fresh torrent of tears after so many prayers (30 years worth) had been answered were soon replaced by happy smiles as we called friends and family for their prayers. We rejoiced with them again when she was indeed baptized the following day by her happy son. I could hardly believe it was true, but I've seen pictures and heard all the details: the cold water, Isaac leading singing, and Grandma's peaceful heart. After 88 years, Grandma obeyed the gospel. Praise God!

One week later, March 5, Dad calls again. "Andrea, Grandma has been admitted to ICU. She's stable now, but she is not doing well. I think you should come to Virginia." A new shower of tears. This time the phone calls were to travel agents and bosses. Four days later, Brady, Aspen, and I fly out of Anchorage for Minneapolis on our way to see Grandma (they had already been planning to go). James was to join me a week later. What a week! Grandma came home from the hospital the next day. She ate well and slept well. We joined her while she sat on the side of her bed with her swollen ankles crossed and sipped her coffee. We talked about memories, she offered advice, we told her of ourselves. In the evenings we watched Jeopardy or old movies on cable and enjoyed butter pecan ice cream with her. Before bed, we gathered in her room for a few songs to God and a prayer. She loved it. Each day that we were there, she was able to do a little less. We brought in a hospital bed and a walker, she fought them, then she loved their support of her independence. One awful day, the medication was particularly high and she was not herself and able to talk or reason clearly, which made us even more aware of her amazing lucidity the rest of the time. I wanted to weep and storm, someday we were going to loose Grandma, I did not want to loose her early to mind altering medications. She came through most of it by that evening.

I loved my role as one of many caring for Grandma. She had a little bell which she rang and we ran to see to her needs: ice water, ginger ale, or coffee. I enjoyed finding softer pillows to put around her, new comforts for around her bed, and preparing whatever I could to make her life a little easier. My mother and Aspen were good role models. It was hard at first to see my grandmother needing any support, but once I got started I found peace in being able to do something. My mother especially was an amazing nurse, untiring, sensitive, but matter-of-fact, gentle, and doing what needed to be done before the rest of us realized the need.

In all this time we did not hover constantly around Grandma's bed. She slept often, and we took a few days to go experience some of the special things Virginia has to offer. We visited (in various combinations over two weeks) Williamsburg, Jamestown, the Williamsburg Pottery Factory, Richmond, and Norfolk. My mother's parents from Ohio flew down (in part to pick up their car which my parents had driven down) to see us. The temperatures soared in the 70s and 80s, and although the trees were still brown, daffodils and crocuses and other signs of green sprouted everywhere. My friend Melody and her boyfriend Dustin drove up from North Carolina. Mom, Aspen, and I went to Goodwill and brought back arm fulls of "new" clothes. We laughed, joked, and smiled. Life was good and active and real, and I think that helped Grandma too, in a way.

Wednesday night, right before James flew in to be with us, Brady, Aspen, and I sat in the family room watching a movie, but our hearts weren't into it. Grandma not doing well. Instinctively, we all knew that things were not the same. She wasn't able to eat, and, for the first time, she seemed to be in pain. However, when Dad called hospice workers for help and advice, they said from their records and his descriptions that she couldn't be in any danger. I sat on the couch crying with Brady and Aspen, but softly, not wanting to disturb Grandma in the next room. As Mom and Dad worked to comfort her through instructions from the nurses on the phone, we sat in the family room and prayed.

Before going up to bed, I went into Grandma to tell her goodnight. Seeing my teary face in the dim light (and perhaps having heard my crying), she held my hand and said, "Your hands are cold." And then, "It's going to be alright." I knew she was comforting me. Knowing that she was my now sister in Christ, from the depths of my heart I said, "I know, Grandma, I just wanted to tell you that I love you. Good night." I bent down and gave her a kiss. I didn't know that was the last conversation I would have with her.

It was an awful night. No one could sleep. Mom and Dad didn't sleep because they were keeping vigil administering pain relief, calling nurses, updating family. After tossing in bed for a few hours, I gave up and sat and read Psalms in the living room. Psalm 139:16 brought comfort.

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

God knew how many days Grandma would live even before she was born. It was in His hands whether she stayed with us another month or another hour. A little before dawn, my parents and I sat on the family room floor reading old letters and looking at pictures of ladies wearing hats sitting in open buggies and men in ancient uniforms. It made us marvel and smile.

At ten, the hospice worker finally arrived. She was shocked that the cheerful lady full of life who had sat in the family room during her last visit was already not able to talk and having difficulty breathing. She warned my parents that Grandma probably only had another week with us.

Brady, Aspen, and I left to get James from the airport. Our nerves were frazzled. I shook with anticipation of having James with me again. It was a joyful reunion. On the way home from the airport, we decided to stop at the PX to get something to celebrate my parent's 27th anniversary (it was March 15). James got a quick haircut, Aspen called Oklahoma to learn about her brother's surgery, we browsed around for a suitable gift and card. Finally, we returned to the house.

The family came out to greet us when we pulled in the driveway. Papaw, Grandma, Dad, Mom, Isaac, and Adam. One look at my Dad's face told the whole story. "It's all over," he said. "Grandma died at 1:20." We circled up to pray, but the phone rang. I turned to the nearest arms, Brady's, and sobbed. Another hospice worker pulled into the drive to fill out the death certificate. It really was over.

* * *

At that point as at so many along this journey, we saw God's blessings and His hand in everything. I praised God for letting me be there with Grandma the week before we lost her, even though to all appearances she was perfectly healthy. I praised God for her time of suffering to be so brief and her time of health so long and blessed. I praised God for putting my husband beside me when I heard the news of her death and through the grueling days full of family and funeral arrangements afterwards. He is good.

Family came to town. James and I moved out of the house to a hotel near by. People came. More food came than we knew what to do with. I met family members I didn't know I had. The day after Grandma died, the skies wept with a torrent. The day of her funeral was the most gloriously sunny day we had seen thus far. One week later, we flew home.

It is hard. I am sad that the house in Virginia where I spent so many vacations and holidays is being dismantled and sold. I am sad that cards and letters will never fly back and forth from our house to 1845 Pender Ave. I am sad that the matriarch, the hub, the heart of our family is not there anymore, leaving the rest of us to fly off into our own separate orbits. I am sad that my father no longer has a mother, I no longer have a Grandma Kuenning, and I will never give my grandmother great-grandchildren. I will miss hearing her voice on the telephone and receiving her spidery handwriting on my birthday cards. Sometimes memories come to me so clearly of seeing her face screw up in playful concentration over a Skip-Bo game, or hearing her genuine surprised laughter, or smelling her feminine scent, or feeling the soft skin of her hand on my arm, that I gasp and momentarily choke with loss and sadness.

But God is good. Even in the last, Grandma was teaching me about dignity and grace in dying. As much as my young mind cannot grasp it, we do not live forever here on earth, and I was so blessed to know and be with my wonderful grandmother for 25 beautiful years. Sweetest of all, I know she is with our heavenly Father now and will be there to greet me when I too go home.

God bless you.



  1. I know what you mean about having a hard time grasping death. I firmly believe in Gods word and all He tells us about it but it is still so hard when someone you love and has been with you for so long, is there one day and gone from the earth the next.

    What a blessing that she came to God and was finally baptised so close to her death. And I'm glad all of you were able to spend her last days with her.

    Love you tons.

  2. I do hear you. It was about 4 years ago that I held my grandfather's hand while he left.

    Just look at how beautifully God orchestrated that though - so many details; from her baptism, to James being there, to the fact that she was lucid while you were there! Wow.
    love ya,


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