Archive for November, 2008


reflections on a funeral week

November 30, 2008

Since my last update I have traveled to PA, seen my grandma for the last time, heard the news of her early morning death, spent many quality hours with cousins, aunts, uncles and cousin babies, attended a 4 1/2 hour visitation, sang in a grandchild choir at my grandma’s funeral, been one of the granddaughter pallbearers and shed a whole lot of tears.


The longer story of all that starts with my brothers, Charletta, my dad and I all driving into PA.

5 people, 4 laptops

This picture doesn't even include Tim and his laptop in the passenger seat. Also two laptops were equipped with air cards so we could surf the internet as we drove along. Yes my family is one big nerd herd!

We got a little bit of a later start due to the need to pick up a rather large thanksgiving turkey to defrost in the fridge during the week, but made pretty good time to Lancaster where we went straight to Landis Homes.  During the drive, there had been some discussion between my brothers and I about whither or not we wanted to see Grandma again in her state of severe decline.  In some ways I was really unsure of seeing her so frail, unresponsive and close to death.  The memories I wanted to keep with me of Grandma were the ones where she was strong, busy, and always moving, not so small and lost in a hospital bed.  But Tim had decided that he wanted to see her, and I decided not to risk regretting missing my last chance to see Grandma alive.  So we went into the room that she had been in for the last year.  And while it was indeed very difficult to see her in that state, she was still my Grandma and for that reason I am very glad to have seen her.  We each said our goodbyes to her, told her we loved her and then sang (or in my case tried to sing) Great is Thy Faithfulness.  Apparently that hymn had been a favorite of the siblings in the past week and one often sung to Grandma in her last days.

That evening there was a lot of discussion about the variety of possibilities and plans depending on if Grandma hung on for a few more days or even another week.  Stories of relatives lasting for weeks after they stopped eating and drinking kept floating around and there was a lot of doubt in my family’s mind that we would be able to stay long enough to actually attend Grandma’s funeral.  I went to bed with a pretty heavy heart, it is a very odd thing to pray for the death of one’s grandparent, but I was definitely doing that that night.


In the morning I woke up to the news from my Mom that my Grandma had finally passed away in the early morning between 5 and 6am.  While very welcome news, it was also bittersweet and definitely the end of an era.  For church that morning we went with my Grammy (dad’s mom) to the church at Landis Homes, where my brothers, Charletta, and I were the youngest in attendance by far.  It was rather amusing because the sermon was about maintaining faith in God as one grows older.  But as the pastor pointed out to us, we too will face the struggles of old age, but maybe in a few more years that most of the other church attenders.

Then after church we met up with my Dad’s side of the family to have lunch and play games.  One of my cousin’s from Malawi was able to be there and also another cousin from New Orleans.  We of course enjoyed typical loud conversation around the dining table and even heard a few new stories about Pappy.

Later that evening we went over to the Maust household where the Bell family also joined us, thirteen total it was a real treat to spend time with that spectrum of people.  Along with many good conversations and some amazing baked potato soup made my aunts Mary & Rachel (with assistence from half a dozen others), we also enjoyed Charletta’s Palin impression.  Then we ended up playing the Name Game, which also resulted in great hilarity especially when my Mom got so into the acting round that she literally fell on the floor in order to help us guess collapse.


Tim and Charletta headed off for a day trip to Philadelphia, while I spent the morning working on my dreaded library paper.  I got a good chunk of it done, in part due to the lack of wireless and therefore lack of internet temptations.  Then Jonathan, my parents and I headed off to Park City to do some shoe shopping.  My mom found a pair of good walking shoes and I helped my dad pick out a pair of casual shoes (he owns sketchers now, crazy!).  Then we wondered off and found Jonathan happily playing Mario Baseball on a game store’s Wii.  After lunch my parents dropped Jonathan and I off at Borders to go visit some of my great aunts and uncles.  I located a few Mary Russell mysteries that I didn’t own yet and then proceeded to camp out in the graphic novel section and read a few more volumes of the Buffy season 8 series.  That was great fun in a highly nerdy sense of the word.  Then we met up with Tim and Charletta and went to Olive Garden where we proceeded to be our obnoxious family selves.


One of the highlights of the week was chance to spend time with Emily and Laura, two of my closest cousins in age.  We couldn’t remember the last time just the three of us had had so much time to spend together.  While we had seen each other at various reunions it had been a long time that we all had been at the same one.  We started off the morning hanging out at Laura and Jed’s apartment with their always endearing daughter, Lillie.  Lillie had quite sneakily become a walking/talking almost 2 year old, even though it feels like such a short time ago she was a quiet lump sleeping in her mother’s arms at our first meeting.  After Emily arrived we went on a walk around downtown Lancaster doing various errands with Laura and eventually making our way to Central Market.  Full of memories and classical Lancaster food, I purchased some Wilbur chocolate buds, a half a dozen of whoopie pies (one of my all-time favorite desserts) and some Bubble Tape to round out my collection of nostalgia candy.


Thanks to Laura for this picture, I am definitely gonna find a frame for it!

Then Emily, Laura and I went to Isaacs for lunch and continued chatting.  It was rather strange to look at them sitting around the table with me and realize we have quite sneakily become adults.  Emily is finishing up her college degree and enjoying her waitress job (she recently waited on Jesse Jackson!), Laura is being a wonderful mother to Lillie and learning how to quilt and I am well into my third year at the high school and looking at the beginning of my grad degree.  I could have sworn it was only a few years ago we were playing together at Grandma’s house or playing viola together at family reunions.  While our trio has changed a lot over the past few years, I think you will agree we still complement each other pretty well!

Tuesday evening was the viewing, which fortunately wasn’t too exhausting because the grandchildren weren’t expected to stand in the receiving line and great the many guests.  But it was also there that we first viewed Grandma’s body.  While at first I found it rather difficult to look at her, it eventually became an almost odd thing to me because it was so clearly not Grandma.  It did bear a faint resemblance to the Grandma of my memories, the much more vital part of Grandma was spending an evening hanging out with her many and varied descendants.


A blistery November morning, we all gathered together at New Danville church for the final viewing and funeral.  The highlight for me was singing two hymns as a part of a choir of grandchildren.  One was a old classic, Children of the Heavenly Father, and the other was a newer hymn called Nothing is Lost on the Breath of God.  Both were very poignant songs to sing and it was a powerful experience to get to sing with family at such a special time.  In his tribute to his mother, my Uncle Dan said that Grandma had always dreamed of being a teacher.  But when lack of education, marriage, farm life and children prevented her from doing so, she did the next best thing and created her own school through her children.  As we sang together as grand-children, I realized that not only had Grandma created a school, she created a choir, a softball team (we play a game every summer at the family reunion), a group of world travelers and a small tribe of people of faith.

The ceremony ended with a short burial service on the windy hilltop graveyard at my childhood church.  The clouds were beautiful and the wind more than a little brisque as we sang a few more hymns and I along with the other eldest granddaughters from each family acted as pallbearers for Grandma’s casket.  That too was an important act for me, while having female pallbearers is not unheard of these days, I am guessing that this is the first one of my anscesters to have women carry their caskets and I think in some ways that would have also made Grandma quite proud.


on a lighter note

November 18, 2008

Here are some pretty entertaining/thought provoking things I have tripped over in the past little while.  In no particular order:

1. The awesomeness that is this conversation:

Girl: “We want Terminator 2 Sarah Connor.”
Librarian: “You mean the older movie with Schwarzenegger?”
Guy: “No, the one on TV.”
Librarian: “The Sarah Connor Chronicles? The TV show?”
Guy: “Yeah, that one.”
Librarian: “Ok, we don’t have it, but I can order season 1 for you.”
Girl: “No, we want season 2”
Librarian: “You mean the one that’s on tv right now?”
Guy: “Yeah, that one.”
Librarian: “It’s on TV. It’s not on DVD yet.”
Guy and Girl: …
Librarian: “They don’t release the DVDs for a season until after the season is over.”
Guy: “You mean you can’t just get it for us? Like burn it onto a DVD for us?”

– Riverside Library via Overheard in Chicago

2: A brilliant little choose your own adventure, website style:

You are enjoying a lunch, Chinese, and all is well, as things should be on afternoons like this.

but wait! as you reach for the fortune cookie, something stops you. a sudden sense of dread. a sense of … foreboding.

what do you do?

3. I really want to try these in my hair, but I have a feeling my thin little blondie strands won’t look nearly as cool as this ladies.

4. And last but not least, I seriously think at least trying to submit spider drawings in exchange for debts is always a good first thing to try – via the lovely Slackmistress


do not go gentle into that good night

November 18, 2008

Thank you all for your lovely comments and prayers, one of my absolutely favorite things about this blog is the connections it brings to people around the world.  So thanks for reading and commenting, it is wonderful to know there are people out there thinking about my Grandma.

As of the latest update, my Grandma is still hanging on to life.  Once again she has defied expectations of how long her life should be.  Expectations were originally for her to only make it to the weekend, then news of my uncle Dan flying back from Afghanistan on Monday, led me to think she would make to till then.  This morning she is still with us, running a fever and occasionally her breathing stops, only to return again.

While plans continue to shift and change and I still don’t know what my week will look like, I think of my Grandma in that bed, in that hospital in Lancaster and there while it is clear she is coming to the end of her road, she still is staying firm and planted.  In these past few days she has been surrounded by her children, heard the announced engagement of one of her grandchildren, and received phone calls from great-grandchildren. While she doesn’t seem to be fighting this end of one life and is probably anticipating release from her physical body, she isn’t just giving in.  I think she will find her own time and her own hour to finally slip away and until then, she reminds me of Dylan Thomas’s poem about living fully until the moment of death.

Also for a truly wonderful description of my Grandma’s life, I direct you to this post by my cousin.  It captures much of what I find so impressive about my Grandma.


passing away in November

November 15, 2008

I recently learned that my Grandma (my mom’s mom) is in rapid decline and not expected to live much beyond this weekend.  The first call came from my mom last Tuesday and she said that Grandma had all but stopped eating, was taking over 8 tbs of cough syrup a day to keep off coughing fits and was not expected to make it much beyond Thanksgiving.  My Grandma has Parkinson’s and has been in a slow (sometimes painful to watch) decline for several years now.  However it was just during this past year or so that she began to have noticeable break from reality.  Last Christmas she had another bad spell and some aunts and uncles were thinking that she wouldn’t make it past Easter, but Grandma has a way of defying expectations.  However earlier this week she suffered a stroke and is now barely responsive and in hospice, so it looks like it truly will be only a matter of days.

My Grandma is and always has been the grandparent I connected the most with.  Caring, funny, sweet, gracious and a determined host, my childhood memories are peppered with memories of playing authors with her, eating her pumpkin chocolate cookies with her, helping her in the garden.  In fact one time I remember she hosted a sleepover for my two cousins and I at her house and I have slept many a night under the comforters she made for me.  All of those memories are in many ways not that different then many grandparent/grandchild memories, but the thing was I was just one of Grandma’s 33 grandchildren.  Yet I never felt like just one of the crowd or in anyways less special than an only grandchild.

My mom has already left to join her ten siblings at my Grandma’s bed and on Sunday evening they plan on all gathering together and singing hymns to her.  They did that with my Grandpa when he was passing away over 8 years ago.  Sometime either this weekend or early next week I will get a call that says Grandma has finally passed away and then plans will begin on travel, funeral, family time, etc.

Last night at Taize, I kept finding myself crying.  Like my mom said this week, grief comes in waves and one doesn’t always know what inspires a burst of it.  I will miss my Grandma very much, but in many ways she has been leaving for several years.  It was actually during the trip to PA we made for my Pappy’s funeral (almost exactly 4 years ago), when I first began to see how old and ailing she had become.  But yet her spirit has remained very much her own.  During our family’s visit last Christmas, other warned us that she might not recognize us.  The Parkinson’s had finally begun to kick in and she would occasionally lose touch with reality and request or reference people and things from the past.  Yet when we walked in our room, her joy and recognition of us was immediately evident.  We chatted and took her in her wheelchair on a brief stroll around the grounds of the retirement home.  During the way she called me and each of my brothers to her and had little chats about our lives.  She asked about library school and whether I had started scrapbooking (my Grandma was an avid scrapbooker her entire life) and it was clear to me just as it had been when I was a child that Grandma cared about each and everyone of her 33 grandchildren.


I was there and I am so glad to be here

November 5, 2008

Last night a few hundred thousand of my closest friends and I converged on a park in downtown chicago to eat slices of incredibly overpriced pizza, see CNN results on a jumbotron and listen to overly loud music piped in over speakers.  My little group of four (a splinter of the original eight) found a small hill at the back of the park so that we wouldn’t have to stand in the packed out crowd for 4+ hours.  Around me there were people of all ages and races, probably one of the most diverse crowds I have ever been a part of.  Cheering after every state went blue on CNN, the crowd was excited, loud, but also respectful.  Of course the real event started at 10pm, when the race was called (2 hours earlier than my highest hopes) for Barack Obama.

I have to admit at that moment I got a teary eyed, for the first time (in my relatively short life) I was watching the beginnings of a presidency that not only inspires and excites me, but I think holds the potential to heal a few of the rifts within both America and the global community.  Around an hour later Obama and his family finally came out on stage and I watched those tiny figures as they smiled and waved to the crowd and I realized what a huge responsibility must have settled on those shoulders.  And then I listened to an incredible speech, which more then once sent shivers down my spine that we as a country have such an eloquent, compassionate, forward thinking leader.

So yes I am very glad to have been there last night; to have stood in crowd lines waiting for checkpoints, metal detectors and bathrooms; to have been a part of a crowd larger then the population of Alaska, to have seen the next president (even if he was only a tiny little dot on a far away stage); to have listened to a voicemail from my parents informing me that Indiana was by most accounts going to go blue after almost 40 years of red; to have joined the huge mass of people who emptied out of the park and made our way to the CTA (which ran smoother than I have seen it run on nights where it is not transporting a quarter of a million people).

But a post about last night would not be complete with the huge disapointment that, according to CNN, it looks very likely that Proposition 8 will pass in California, which will once again take away the right of people to marry the people they love.  Also another large disappoint were several other ballot measures that banned gay marraige and even in one state took away the right of non-married individuals to adopt children.  But like Obama said last night, if 106 years ago a black woman could not vote for multiple reasons and today our country elected a black man as president; then I do have hope that in another 100 years (and hopefully far sooner) this country will treat its citizens equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender.


unintentionally brilliant

November 1, 2008

wearing your “ninjas and pirates agree: cowboys suck” shirt to your church’s barn dance.