I entered my house late that night, smiling to myself over silliness shared with girlfriends during our Girls Night Out.  Jeremy switched on his bedside lamp, and instead of the easy smile and the inquisitive, "How was your night?" that I expected from him, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up.  "Missy, I got a phone call tonight."  The tone in his voice alerted me, and the smile remnants left my face.

I hesitated, not wanting to know the answer, then asked anyway, "What do you mean?"

A flurry of phone calls later, plans made and unmade and remade, last minute errands run, I stood contemplating our suitcases.  Funeral clothes?  It seemed horrible to think about packing funeral clothes when no one had died.  My grandpa had just had emergency surgery, and my cousin was in Intensive Care on life support and in a coma - doctors saying no brain activity, but packing funeral clothes felt like declaring there was no hope.  There's ALWAYS hope! I argued to myself.  Then I sighed and acknowledged what seemed inevitable.  I folded a black skirt and a black blouse covered in lime green bubbles.  It felt too frivolous - the blouse, but all my black dresses were date night dresses, definitely not funeral dresses.

When I die, I expect people to wear party clothes.  No black, blah, boring at my funeral, please.  No depressing, drab.  Celebrate!  I've had a wonderful life, and I'm going to have an even "wonderfuller" after-this-life!  (Revelation 21:3&4)  But I didn't know what Chad would prefer at his funeral, or Grandpa at his, if that were to happen.  The reports I had been getting from my family said that Grandpa hadn't eaten anything since his surgery several days ago, and he was losing weight quickly.

I stared at the suitcases.  In a small fit of defiance, I refused to pack dresses for the girls that had any touch of black.  It seemed symbolic - to me, anyway.  Lively, colorful dresses for the next generation of our family showing that we're not beaten.  We're not done.  Maybe I was over-thinking the whole thing, but in my head...  well, you get what you pay for, I guess.

(I don't even charge a penny.)

Long drive.  Dropping things off.  Directions to the hospital from my mom.

A sign taped to the door jam at Grandpa's hospital room said, "Family, do not wake Dad if he is sleeping.  He needs his rest."  We tip-toed in.  Well, as tip-toey as six people including two rambunctious little girls can get on standard hospital tiles.  My dad sat on the porta-toilet next to Grandpa's bed working on a cross-word puzzle and joking with Grandpa who looked up at us strangely when we came in.  "Surprise!" I said happily, and the answering look on his face fit the occasion perfectly.  We all grinned at him.  Liberty and Mercy rushed to his bed, eager to bestow the cards they had been working on during most of our trip.  He was just as upbeat and complimentary as always, telling the girls they were amazing artists and if they kept working at it, they could do anything they wanted in life.  Other than seeming more frail than I remembered (which was to be expected since he'd just had surgery), I didn't see much to be worried about.

Since I'd heard about his refusal to eat, I asked what he'd been served that day.  "Is the hospital food any good, Grandpa?"  He had not eaten any, so he couldn't tell me.  A lukewarm rootbeer sat on his table, very close to full.  Our visit was short.  Less than ten minutes later, Grandpa told us he was worn out and needed to sleep. 

Driving to the next hospital.  ICU waiting room filled with family upon family upon family - all mine!  Little nieces and nephews met for the first time and jumped all over each other.  Cousins caught up on each others' adult lives.  Aunts and Uncles doled out hugs and "You look good"s, and "What a nice family you have"s. 

Grandma's been dead for sixteen years, but I still missed her presence in that waiting room.  Echoes of her smart-alecky comments and riddles and colloquialisms ricocheted in my brain as I looked at the faces of the people I love most in this world.  The one about the chickens kept toying with my memory, half hidden in the folds of my brain.  I turned to Aunt Nannette to see if she could remember it for me, but all I could remember to describe it to her was that it was about chickens, so I gave up.

Then it was our turn to see Chad.  Gloves on.  Tip-toeing into the quiet, beep-filled ICU chamber beyond the extra wide double-doors.

He didn't look like Chad.  The drawings taped to the wall from his four year old and two year old encouraged his coma-closed eyes to Come home soon, Daddy, and forced me to look away from them.  My cousin Michelle, Chad's wife, smiled as she looked up.  "Chad!  You have visitors!  Missy and Jeremy drove here all the way from Indiana to see you."  She nodded to me as she stepped away from the space next to Chad's bed and whispered, "He should be able to hear you and feel your touch."  I took her place by the bed.  Jeremy stayed outside the alcove where, barring an emergency, he would be less likely to see blood or bodily fluids that might cause him to pass out. 

I watched as a machine nearby took the blood from Chad's body and cleaned the infection out of it before piping it back in through clear tubes.  "Hi, Chad!"  I smiled at him and touched his arm.  "This is Missy."  Our one-sided conversation covered many topics as I meandered through the obscure thoughts poking here and there in my brain.  Finally, I mentioned the fact that our two girls were having a great time playing with his two kids in the waiting room.  When I left it, the four of them were pretending to be bunnies hopping all over the place, and I tried to describe the scene to him with the four kids hopping into each other in all their cuteness.  Suddenly, Chad's body flinched, and his chest began spasming.  Alarms went off on several machines, and Michelle stepped in to firmly tell him, "Stop biting down on that tube, Chad.  Calm down."  A nurse appeared and began working efficiently.  I stepped out of the way.

Jeremy whispered to me, "He reacted when you told him about his kids.  I could see the numbers on the monitor increasing when you first mentioned their names.  He definitely heard and understood you!"

Someone else got a turn after ours, and they came back with a report that he had reacted when his feet were touched!  The mood in the waiting room lifted slightly, but hope stayed out of reach.  His organs were not capable of functioning on their own.

Late that evening when poor Mercy was just too tired to take any more, we left the hospital, and I wondered how Michelle and Chad's kids were able to endure day after day of the waiting room.  All four of us crashed hard that night, then woke up early the next morning to have breakfast with Grandpa (my dad) and the girls' cousins Roman and Destiny.  Grandma and the rest of my brothers and sisters were still sleeping, except Hannah who had to work.  I still hadn't gotten to see any of my siblings but Faith who had gone to the hospital with us the night before. 

One by one, brothers and sisters began arriving in the living room, first Zach with a good, long, bone-crushing hug.  Oh, how I've missed him!  Then Pete with his awesome pink haircut.  (Suzy, you did a great job on it!)  Then Faith, brushing her wet hair.  Finally, Hannah came down after taking a shower to wash off her work.  We sat in the living room and talked and laughed together.  Then we moved to the dining room to play games.  It felt so good to be together again, and it felt even better watching my daughters roll in the dirt with their cousins and climb trees and make forts and pick apples with Hero Zach who was earning Uncle-Chuck-points.

I took some time that day to walk all over every square inch of my grandpa's property and relive memories so rich and vivid that it almost felt like they were happening again right there.  Splashing and jumping in the pool with cousins.  Begging Grandma to get in the water with her red and white gingham bathing suit.  Concocting some kind of funky sandwich with which to trick Grandpa, and then disappointed, watching him eat every bite of it with no reaction, then peeling into gales of laughter when he said with a straight face, "Tastes like you used Grey Poop-On."  Smelling the garage where we used to change into our bathing suits, and where Russell hid in the deep-freeze one time during our massive hide-and-seek game at midnight.  Standing in the bathroom remembering the time when I panicked because I couldn't get my wet suit off in time to sit on the toilet.  Walking the brick patio and remembering the rows of picnic tables filled with family, and the fire-pit that night after dark where Grandpa and Dad and all the Uncles made the best hotdogs and marshmallows I've ever tasted.  Marveling that the furniture I remember from when I was a baby is still the furniture Grandpa uses to this day.  Giggling as I inspected the gleaming wooden floors and the rides we used to take on Uncle Chuck's feet to "mop" the floors.  Gazing at the shelves and shelves of Grandma's salt and pepper shakers and remembering how I used to sit at the dining room table during breakfast time and stare at those shakers, imagining stories about the people-shaped ones.  And OH THE DELIGHT the day that Grandma let me PLAY with them if I promised, no, PROMISED to play carefully and not break any.  The fear of Grandma entered my heart so thoroughly that to this day, I am afraid to touch her salt and pepper shakers.  But oh how I love them.  And her.

I miss my grandma very much.  Oh, Grandma!

Picking the fruit from the little fruit trees, and helping Grandpa in the garden on that hot, muggy day when the corn stalks were higher than my head and still green and the air was thick with the sweet scent of ripening corn.  Mmmm.  That smell even in Indiana always takes me back to that steamy day in Grandpa's garden when my tee-shirt threatened to suffocate me, and the humidity tried to choke me.  I was up entirely too early that morning for a summer vacation, let me tell you, and Grandma decided I needed to be outside rather than reading on the couch.  That was the summer that I met Katie who lived in the house that butted up to the back edge of Grandpa's property.  Katie was somehow a distant relative on my Mom's side of the family.  I think she might have been a cousin of my cousin.  She had straight, white-blond hair and bright blue eyes, and she could swim like no one I've ever seen.  I remember some grown up telling me that Katie was a fish, and for the rest of that summer I wondered...

My memories turned to include some of my mom's side of the family because all of our Illinois visits were intertwined with both families.  I remembered the night that Grandpa Z came into the pool room to use the extra bathroom, and all us cousins were standing around playing pool.  We decided to trick him and tell him that someone was in the bathroom.  We could tell that he had to go badly, otherwise he would have waited his turn for the bathroom in the house.  He changed direction to go to another stall, and we told him that one was occupied too.  "Well, who's in there?" he growled at us.  "Uh, PJ," we answered (we didn't have anyone named PJ in our family).  He grinned at us and then slammed the stall door open shouting in a silly accent, "PJ!  Get out of the bathroom!"  For some reason that cracked all us cousins up, and for the rest of the night we told each other, "PJ!  Get out of the bathroom!"

That night, my brothers and sisters and I camped out in Grandpa K's backyard in a tent, and we told stories about PJ and his imaginary family.  Those pretend family members have been part of my brothers' and sisters's growing up years ever since, and even nowadays we occasionally refer to PJ or his family.  While I walked Grandpa K's property, I stood in the spot where the tent had been pitched, and I relived that night lying on my back on top of my sleeping bag because it was so warm and telling stories to my brothers and sisters and giggling and giggling and giggling.  I remembered the epic Cousin Hide-And-Seek game when the cousins from my mom's side of the family came over to Grandpa K's house and the cousins from my dad's side of the family all played Hide and Seek late into the night together.  Oh the wonder!  I think my Aunt Penny came to visit with my mom that night, and those two sisters always talk into the wee hours of the morning together.

As I'm typing this, memories are flooding so quickly that I cannot record them all.  That metal and vinyl forest green step-stool/chair that has been in the kitchen ever since I can remember was still there this weekend.  I laughed out loud when I saw it.  And speaking of laughing out loud, Grandpa has taped five fly-swatters together so that the swatting parts are all side-by-side.  He says it's so he doesn't miss the fly.  I sat on the couch and immediately wanted to stand because underneath the cushion Grandpa has nailed a wide, flat board in place to keep you from falling into the hollow couch.  Apparently, the innards of the couch fell apart years ago.  Every plastic butter tub that he has ever owned is still in the fridge and still in use.  Black magic markers proclaim what's inside the dish.  Only, "applesauce" is crossed out and "flour" is crossed out and "green beans" is crossed out and "mashed taters" is crossed out and "sugar" is crossed out and "black eyed peas" is crossed out until you really have no idea what is inside the tub.  You have to open every one in the fridge to find the food you're hoping for.

While we were there, I noticed a small piece of wood about three inches long and maybe a square inch thick.  I picked it up off the floor and said, "I wonder what this goes to."  Jeremy smirked.  "With Grandpa, you never know.  It might be part of the dishwasher, or the vacuum cleaner, or the air conditioner.  It could have been holding the wall up, and now the house is going to come crashing down on us.  It could be..."  By this time we were both laughing so hard he couldn't continue.  I promise you, Grandpa could have gotten credit for bazillions of inventions if only someone had been there to record what he had done to get things running again.  Gray duct tape, hangers, wood and aluminum foil.  That's about all anyone needs if Grandpa's nearby.

My heart swelled up with joy when Liberty walked through her great-grandpa's dining room and noticed that every step caused the canning jars full of food to jiggle on the shelf and make music.  I used to walk extra hard in the dining room just to hear the jars clank together, and watching my daughter get the same amount of joy out of the same action made me happier than I can describe to you.  Another thing that filled my heart with happiness was watching Liberty and Mercy play with Roman and Destiny at their own Grandma and Grandpa's house.  Watching them climb trees and pick apples and made mud-balls out of themselves, and knowing all along that they are creating the same memories that I have stored up inside of happy childhood days spent at Grandpa and Grandma's with the cousins is beyond incredible to me. 

How did I get so blessed?
4 Responses
  1. Suanna Says:

    Thanks for sharing. I'm praying for you. You have such sweet memories.

  2. Spencer Park Says:

    Very blessed indeed Missy.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Im glad we have alot of the same memories and when Im at grandpas even now I stare at Grandmas shakers and think the same things while eating at the diningroom table. After reading I had to stop and cry for a little bit.

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