May 20, 2010
One of my favorite stories Papa ever told me was about the time he first met Gran. What was supposed to be a "blind" date – set up by a couple who were mutual friends of theirs – turned out not to be so "blind" on Papa’s part. He just happened to be peeking when Gran boarded his ship. He told me he had to make sure she was good-lookin’!
When I asked him his first impression of Gran, he declared (in no uncertain terms) "She was a beauty!" And the rest, as they say, is history. They were married there in Long Beach just over a year later. Theirs was a love story that defies description, but I believe I Corinthians says it best – "Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures every circumstance. Three things will endure – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love."
I found this so true during Gran’s courageous battle with Alzheimer’s. Even when faith and hope seemed to wane, love never once failed with these two. Faithfully and endearingly my grandfather was by his sweetie’s side each and every day. And in the end, even when Gran no longer recognized the rest of us, his was the one face, the one voice, the one touch she always knew without a shadow of a doubt.
Just minutes before Gran passed away, I was reading to her from Proverbs 31, which tells the story of the good wife. It goes like this: "A virtuous and capable wife is worth more than precious rubies. Her husband can trust her and she will greatly enrich his life. She is energetic and strong. She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs with no fear of the future. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her saying – 'There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!'" You Gran, I said to her, THIS IS YOU!
And I told her what a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother she had been and that her work here on Earth was done. I told her that Jesus was waiting for her with open arms and not to be afraid. She closed her mouth which had been opened with labored breathing all day. Then she closed her eyes, which had been staring vacantly all day, and sort of smiled. She stopped breathing for minute or two and, as I looked up at her, she took one final gasp of air...and she was gone. More peaceful than anything I’d ever seen. It was such an incredibly beautiful gift to be with her as she took her final breath.
Recently, Papa shared with me that he felt so guilty for having left that night. (She died just minutes after he had gone.) Tears welled up as he insisted he should have been with her when she passed. But I reassured him and told him I believe she held on until he left because she didn't want him to suffer the pain of seeing her go. "Maybe so," he said, "Maybe so."
Both my grandparents were richly rewarded with the gifts they found in each other throughout their almost 44 years of marriage. Below is a short conversation they had just two years before she died, when the Alzheimer's had really taken its hold. They were sitting side by side, holding hands as they always did.
Papa: We’ve sure had some good times, haven’t we?
Gran: Yep, sure have.
Papa: I’d do it all over again, wouldn’t you?
Gran: Yep, I sure would.
How simply said, but how deeply felt. It's sometimes sad now to watch my grandfather without his "sunshine," but theirs is a love story that has inspired generations. One that will live on in all of us for years to come.