Life is for the Living

The last voicemail I received from my grandmother was when she read my blog about running into the mountain lion. I tend to call her so when she calls I usually let it go to voicemail just because they are pretty funny. In this voicemail she told me how scared she would have been and was glad that I was so brave and then added, it’s a good thing you don’t have a lot of meat on your bones because when he looked at you he probably realized how much work it would be for such a little reward and didn’t think it was worth his time. She had no problem delivering these lines when I was on the phone either. Two weeks ago I was going to meet a friend to ride on trainers. I called her on her on the way to chat and she asked what I was doing that day, I told her I was going to ride my bike but inside because it was pretty windy and I didn’t want to have to fight with it. Oh that’s good, you don’t need any help falling off your bike. 

One of the many things she taught me.

I was lying in bed last Wednesday morning contemplating going for a run when my mom called. I swear hospitals have a very distinctive background noise. My grandmother had suffered a massive stroke earlier that morning and was taken to the hospital by ambulance, they were still in the ER waiting to talk to the neurologist but they did know the next 24-48 hours would be critical. She said she’d call again after talking to the doctor. I had a lot of time before going to work and was planning to stay in Boulder that night so packed everything up that I would need for the rest of the day and the next. My mom called again and after getting off the phone I still wasn’t sure if I should go home. I called my dad on the way to work and discussed  if I should go home today or wait until my next day off, Sunday. He conferenced my mom in and it only took him a minute before he said “just come home today” which is all it took. He asked me if I wanted to fly home but at that point logistically it seemed too complicated, I just wanted to get on the road. I stopped by work and told them I was taking a sick day and they told me to go and take care of family. I took off, and what should have taken me close to 7 hours took me closer to 5. 

I think it helps that a few years ago my grandmother stuck a ‘Children are a Gift from God’ sticker on the back of my car so at least people think I’m a good person when I speed past them. Always looking out for me!

I made it to the hospital while she was still responsive, I held her hand and cried and told her she had really bad timing and that I thought we had talked about Save the Dates after my grandfathers funeral. All my aunts and uncles were there, a few cousins and family friends. We decided around 6 that we’d all stay at the hospital that night, as most of us live about an hour away.  Luckily one friend was a physician and was able to realize that she was having longer intervals between each breath.  Watching her die was the hardest thing I have ever witnessed and also one of the most profound. It immediately makes you realize how vulnerable you are.

Work was amazing, and told me to take as much time as I need. It allowed me to stay up there for the planning process of the funeral, something that I’ve never really been a part of before. My grandmother, through out the years had planned most of her funeral, finding liturgy in books or magazines, tearing them out and marking them so we would know.  The only thing that no one really knew was what songs she wanted played. The problem is I knew, but I couldn’t remember. A few years ago we were driving through town by the court house when we started talking about it, I’m not sure how we got on the subject but she told me a few and I remember thinking, this is probably important I should write it down but that’s all I can remember about it. Thanks, brain. I think we did a pretty good job of guess work though. 
Need to protect that frontal lobe!

My grandmother was the last of her generation so a lot of family came to town for it. My cousin kept saying how weird it was that we’re our parents generation now. It is. With so many Irish Catholics it made me feel like I was back in college with all the Mary, Margaret, and Katherine’s. We spent lots of hours pouring over pictures trying to find the right ones that really captured my grandmother’s spirit. On the way to gathering those we found some pretty awesome gems. Frank might be the most smiley man/kid to ever take pictuers. Unfortunately being photogenic did not seem to carry down to Wayne or I. I also found out that as a chid I really liked to wear helmets even when the situation didn’t warrant one. 

Just incase I fall off his lap!

I pointed this out to my Godfather and his response was “oh yes, you were safety cautions as a child too.” I think he was being sarcastic. There seemed to be some pretty awesome hair phases as well. Wayne is trying to convince me my blonde fro is really in right now.  

This wasn’t the blog that I had initially started working on but I think it’s defining.  After my grandfather died in 1995 (not the one this past October) my grandmother decided it was time to go to Australia as she had never but wanted to and then she went back 2 years later (I was too young for those trips but we did take some good ones). She realized her own mortality and accepted it but didn’t become defined by it. Thursday morning we were talking, my sister who is still in high school wanted to go to the boys playoff game later that day, someone mentioned that people might think it’s insensitive. Which quickly prompted the response “Grandma always said life was for the living.” After 2 major deaths in less than 5 months I could not say this better. Life is for the living, and as the Dalai Lama said, death is just a change of clothes. 

3 thoughts on “Life is for the Living

  1. Kate, I'm a college friend of your Aunt Margaret's. She & I lived together in Flagstaff for awhile. Your mother and Aunt Joyce came to visit us there when Frank was just a baby. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting you, but Margaret always talks about your achievements proudly. Your grandparents were open, loving, welcoming, happy people who made me feel part of the family, whether in Hot Springs or at the cabin in Colorado. I looked forward to your grandmother's smile (and date bars!) but I'd forgotten her sense of humor. Your blog post brought her spirit to life again for me. Especially the part about the bumper sticker! You remind me of my own sister. My mother gave her an angel pin for the car that reads “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” You will always be grateful to have been with your grandmother at the end of her physical life. Thank you so much for opening your heart and sharing the details of daily life that makes your grandmother special. I lost my mother 1.5 years ago and know there is always a void, but the memories tend to rush into that void with time and the smiles take over. You are all blessed by Martin & Margaret's love. My best wishes & prayers for comfort to all of your family.

    Cheryl Emerson Resnick


  2. Hey Kate,

    Been reading your blog lately and have loved catching up on all your adventures. So unbelievably sorry to hear about your grandmother. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

    I hope all is well – continue with these adventures – they sound amazing!



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