Friday, March 15, 2013

Saying Goodbye

My grandma, Ruby Marcella Essenpreis
After a few really good months in Nashville, my grandma had a setback last month when she was admitted to a local hospital with a myriad of issues, from Influenza A to edema to an infection in her arm that caused intense swelling.  She seemed to be recovering from her ailments and we were making plans to move her from the hospital to skilled care when the call came in the middle of the night last week that she took a turn for the worse and we needed to get to the hospital to say our goodbyes.  My mom and I were able to spend her last hours with her, telling her about our most treasured memories, praying with her, holding her hands and just making sure she wasn't alone. 

There is a line in the song "Big Yellow Taxi" about not knowing what you've got until it's gone, but I've lost a lot of people dear to me already and with those kinds of losses you learn to appreciate what you have while you have it.  I was unbelievably fortunate to have grandparents who truly loved having grandchildren.  I can't think of a single time in my life when they weren't there for me when I needed them and I hope they thought the same of me.   

Thanksgiving 2009 -karaoke night with my grandparents was priceless!

When my dad suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident in the early 1980s when he was my age and I was Sophie's age, my grandparents didn't hesitate to whisk me away to stay with them for weeks on end or to shuffle me back and forth from their home outside St. Louis to my childhood home in Galesburg, Illinois, all so my mom could face what the situation demanded.  I loved spending days at their plumbing and heating business, playing with the plumbing parts (and creating an inventory nightmare, I'm sure) or with the old-fashioned cash register or walking down the street with grandma to the German deli down the street.

As I got older, there were outings with grandma to a ladies' clothing store in St. Louis called Cunningham's, where she would buy beautiful clothes and I got in trouble for trying on the expensive hats.  Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, we went on marathon shopping trips.  Grandma was always so stylish and classy and she's still my inspiration for the way I dress.  

Beautiful Grandma
There were countless trips across the country in their motor home, trips to Disney World and to visit family in California and New York.  They were there for every milestone in my life from birthdays to graduations to holidays.  There were lots of little things they did for me that I didn't know until much later that they were responsible for because they didn't need the recognition for them.  When my dad died in 1998, they were there for us then, too.  As the years went by, Jason and I loved making weekend trips to visit them and some of our favorite memories were taking them to a Cardinals game on opening day at the new Busch Stadium, Grant's Farm, Missouri Botanical Garden, and just the random weekends we would spend with them, talking, playing cards and enjoying being together.  What a wonderful gift to be able to look back at your life and know you were loved and supported by your grandparents every step of the way.  

Typical goofy family photo at my baby shower in Moline
When I found out I was expecting a girl, there was no question that her middle name would be Marcella, after grandma.  She was already suffering the effects of dementia by that point, but she was so excited to hear she had a namesake and I'll never forget the first time she held Sophie. She always loved seeing her and pictures of her.   

It was really an honor for me to be with her last week when she passed.  I'll never forget that I was holding her hand and talking to her about that first time she held Sophie when she finally found peace. 

This week I found a card tucked away in a drawer at work that I've had for several years, a thank you she sent me for running in the Race for the Cure in her honor (she was a 20+ year breast cancer survivor) with a $5 bill tucked inside.  The $5 bill is still in the card because I could never spend it.  It's too precious.  This was typical of her - she was always sending cards with funny little notes.  This one said:

"Dear Heather,
Your mother told me that you ran in the Race for the Cure for me. Thank you very much.  I know that you are a very busy lady. I will be seeing you maybe in December. Heather, anytime you want to come see Grandpa and Grandma we will be looking for you. Thanks again. 
Love, Grandma oo and Grandpa xx"
I know I will be seeing you again, Grandma, and even though my heart hurts because I miss you, I'm happy you're at peace. xxoo


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