‘I never left his side’

Not all of Grandma’s letter writing was crazy. Much of it concerned uneventful topics: How the garden was doing, progress on her knitting projects and whether it was warm enough for Grandpa to switch from long Johns to boxers. Between the crazy and the ordinary, she’d occasionally touch on something much closer to her heart.

For my family, the 1970s included the usual assortment of comings and goings – marriages, divorces, young’uns added to the mix – events that most families experience in a decade. But the ‘70s was also a period of great loss for us: Grandpa died unexpectedly in 1974; Grandma and Grandpa’s youngest child, Ellie, died in 1977; and cancer claimed their only son, John, in 1979. I can’t imagine how Grandma handled so much grief over a relatively short time. But through all the sorrow, the Grandma I remember from then was the Grandma I always knew: Someone who never lost her feistiness, was quick to offer words of support and criticism (sometimes in the same sentence) and remained fiercely devoted to her family.

Grandma was with Uncle John during his final days. The following is from a letter she wrote shortly after his death:

“Don’t feel too bad about John. He’s at rest, and when God knows you’ve had more than you can endure, he steps in. John worked so hard all his life, and he died such an easy death – just slept away so easy that his children didn’t realize he was gone until I told them. He told me his dad was with him, and there was music ringing in his ears. He didn’t know what it was, but it was beautiful. One of his wishes was that his children would be in the kitchen, with me showing them some of my recipes. Really, the end came before I thought it would. We called for a visiting nurse at four in the afternoon. He talked with her awhile, but when she said his blood pressure was 80/60, I knew he was losing ground. So with the sound of his children in the kitchen, he shut his eyes and that was it – he just slept away. Just before he closed his eyes, he said, ‘Don’t leave me Mom – it won’t be long.’ I never left his side.”

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