I am a woman of science. I love that I am made of out of some of the same stuff as the stars on the edge of our galaxy. When I look at the universe I don’t feel small, I feel whole. Science leads me. I knew the world wasn’t going to end a couple weekends back not because the predictor was a quack, but because there was no scientific proof or even inkling of evidence to suggest such a thing. Storms, natural disasters, jet patterns, stars, they all fascinate me; the way we are all tied together on such a vast cosmic scale is almost mind blowing.
And yet, I am a woman of almost unshakable faith in some of the strangest things. We all know my rituals when it comes to watching football games, but it doesn’t stop there. As a child I had a big issue with “turning around”. If I turned in a circle one way, I was not happy until I turned in a circle the other way; if I failed to equalize the turns I feared I would live the rest of my life crooked. I have grown out of that phase, but it’s one of many strange things I believe to be true in my life.
I have a friend who is going through a very difficult time in her personal life. I send up prayers and good thoughts. As a pretty strong believer that the world started thanks to science, I think my prayers differ from others. I pray to g-d, I pray to the earth, I pray to the trees, I pray to the stars, I pray to the football gods, and I pray to Vince Lombardi.
I’m positive that on so many different levels and to probably so many different people, that my views, that my prayers, are blasphemous, but to me, they are my truth.
When I was 13, my parents split up. I for one was happy they did. Our life was not pretty, it was barely functioning. My middle school years were filled with confusion and hurt; so many things I knew to be true were shown to be false and any security I ever felt was quickly washed away. So as we quickly packed up a house once filled with childhood memories and shoved them into black plastic bags, my family went its separate ways. I was lucky enough to move in with my grandma Wilma.
Wilma was a strong lady, anyone with the name Wilma pretty much had to be. She was the youngest of 12 brothers and sisters, and when I moved in she only had one surviving sister, Frances. Her husband had died 9 years prior, and while those are the pieces to set up a lonely life, my Grandmother’s was far from it. After my Grandpa Lloyd passed, my Grandmother learned to drive, bought a sporty red car, joined a new church and made new friends. She faced adversity head on. She also, in my case, welcomed it in.
I lived with my Grandmother through high school. I could write about the little things that we both did for each other and how we also both drove each other crazy, but I sit here today, knowing that I am who I am today because of her. Had it not been for her, I’m pretty sure the life my family was leading before would have affected me much greater than it did. It is because of her that I am not jagged, that I can and have loved, and that I still believe that the Packers can win any game. She made tough decisions when she had to, but always believed in herself, and subsequently I always believed in myself.
My Grandmother quit smoking the year that my Grandfather died, 1987, but even in the late ‘90s, the effects of years of smoking were already showing themselves. On hot summer days, she started going out less, or having to park closer to the entrance. She needed her inhaler to make the walk to and from the car. As time wore on, so did the symptoms. In 2003, she needed to have an oxygen tank in her house. She was still the same old Wilma I knew and loved, full of spunk, random jokes and great hugs, but it was taking its toll. In 2004, she moved into hospice care. She had emphysema, and was going to die.
The meanwhile, I was inching closer and closer to what would become an explosive breakup to a long, but over-emotional relationship. I had moved out of my boyfriend’s house and was staying with my mother (the first time since I was 13) while we tried to figure things out. On June 9th, 2004, the doctor’s gave my Grandmother only a couple of days to live. With her emphysema she was on constant oxygen. Apparently once the lungs begin to need a certain amount, there is no going back, they are quitting.
My mother, sister and I, drove to see her that day. She didn’t know yet. She talked to us about the new table that had been delivered. The table that has since sat in my kitchen. The next couple of days followed with a parade of people and my Grandmother learned the news.
On the 11th, while I was driving to see her, the boyfriend called. We were really over. I sat quietly in her room that day, with her knowing, and me not wanting to do much talking. I’ll never forget that last hug. She knew my pain, she worried for me and she hugged me tighter than any woman in her condition should be able to.
The next day we went to see her, but she didn’t really see us. Her oxygen level was as high as it could be, and so was she. Her eyes rarely opened, but she was there. All day she ate cherries. Unable to talk really or motion to us, she could bite into a cherry, spit out the pit and finish the cherry without missing a beat. But the thing I remember most about that day was her laughter. I don’t know what she was doing in her head. She would gather and release her oxygen line as if she was walking around her house, she would mumble names, but the most memorable was that she would point to the ceiling, wave, and laugh. Laugh like a child, with joy and happiness that I don’t think I could replicate.
My phone rang at 3:15 the next morning. It was my Aunt. The bears fan. My Grandmother had passed at some point during the night. She was not hooked up to machines. She was alive when the night nurse first checked, and had passed peacefully before the second check of the night.
The whole family arrived, looking tired and haggard about an hour later. And we sat there. Talked, cried, and joked, all with her in the room. I suppose it might seem odd that we spent an hour or two with a dead woman, but we did. We all got our turn to sit with her, one last time. And I will forever cherish that moment. Later that day I moved out of my boyfriend’s house for good. And I picked out an urn. It was by far the hardest day I have ever lived through. But I knew that she knew I would be okay. Because she taught me to be.
The first couple of years after her passing were hard. I always felt it as June 13th approached. My heart would start to ache on the ninth and it didn’t stop until after the 16th (the funeral). I’ve gotten better now, I can work through the day, smile through the day and laugh through the day, which makes me happy because it’s what she would have wanted.
But every year, on June 13th, I like to do something to honor her. So today, I’m not only sharing the whole story, but I’m also saying, that I’m a woman of science, who probably offends many with the way I pray, that 7 years ago I watched someone pass, I watched someone welcome their afterlife, g-d, and cherry pits and I learned that the things that I need to pray to are whatever is in my heart, I need to pray to the faith in myself.
So here’s to Wilma. Rest In Peace.
Thanks for reading.
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