Friday, May 12, 2006

She Did it Her Way, Part One

This is the easiest and the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

It’s the easiest because when I think of two women who personify strength, integrity, and love, I immediately call to mind my grandmothers, Wilma Morris and Mary Crawford. You want examples of spirited, independent women? Then look no further. They did things their way and that was that. Stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe either of them, but you can’t fault how fiercely loyal they were to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And we all loved them for it.

Wilma and Mary are my heros and the reason I’m the way I am today. They are the embodiment of the type of heroines that I write and have influenced me in countless ways—from how intensely I love my family to how I set goals and accomplish them.

It’s the hardest because Wilma passed on two years ago (I’ll tell her courageous story in a few days).

And Mary passed on Thursday night, May 4, 2006. I was fortunate enough to spend the last week in the hospital with her, to be able to tell her over and over how much I love her and for her to tell me the same. Not many get that chance and I know how lucky I was to be given that opportunity. I’m so proud to be her granddaughter and I made certain she knew that before she moved on to an existence where she’d suffer no more.

The hospital let her family camp out in her room for several days. 24 hours a day, there’d be anywhere from 1 person to 15 people in that tiny space around her bed. We sprawled out anywhere we could—on the tile floor, under the table, in the few chairs that fit in the room--but none of us minded, as we all wanted to be there for her. Just as she’d always been there for us.

Five children, whom she raised single handedly while working full time. Fourteen grandchildren. And fourteen great-grandchildren. And the majority of us jockeying for position at any given time in order to brush back her hair, to kiss her, and to say…Thank you.

As we all huddled together in the hospital room, we got to know each other better than we ever had. Family members I hadn’t talked to in 10 years or I had seen only once a year, suddenly became more than family—they became friends as our emotions vacillated between sobs and laughter. We held one another as my grandma slept and we swapped stories about her and one another.

And when she’d waken, we’d stand around her and tell her the stories, too. We’d do the talking, as she only had enough energy to tell us she loved us, that she didn’t want to be a bother to us, but she was happy we were all there. “No one could ask for more,” she’d say before the morphine pulled her back under. That was all she wanted—for her family to be together. And we were. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

We talked about how she was a “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII, how she used to only make right turns when driving somewhere, how through her bloodline the women of the family qualify for Daughters of the American Revolution (a grandfather was General Israel Putnam who fought at Bunker Hill—some sources say he was the one who said “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” but other sources say it was some poser name Prescott *VBG*), and how she fought so hard for her own independence, even as the family took away her car to keep her and others safe. But she did live in her own place until the day she entered the hospital. And no one wanted to dwell on the thought that one day that form of independence would be taken from her, too. Believe me, her shouting would’ve been heard clear across the state. She wanted to do things her way. Like I said, stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe her—God love her.

We all prayed we had her strength. When she was admitted into the hospital her heart only worked at 10% of its capacity. Most people can’t turn over in bed at that, but she was walking around. And at 86 years of age, she was still traveling, up until a few days before her heart attack.

Last Thursday, we knew she was going to leave us at any moment. With each breath, about 15 of us watched and wondered if it was her last. For hours, we cried, we assured her it was all right to go, assured her we’d be all right, assured her we’d take care of one another, assured her that she did a great job of taking care of everyone else and now we wanted her to be in peace…Then we started to laugh because we realized she was being stubborn until the very end. She wouldn’t go. It was as if she were saying, “I’ll go when I’m damn well ready. And that’s NOT now!”

Around 7:30 PM, my cousins and I decided we needed to get something to eat, but our parents stayed in the room with her. It was while we were laughing and bonding over our dinner that we got the call. She’d waited for us to leave before she passed on with just her children surrounding her. She did it her way until her very last breath.

At her funeral yesterday, my cousins and I talked about how we want to be just like her: loving, independent, and spirited. We lucked into being born into this family, to be privileged enough to have her as our grandmother, as our role model.

My heroines have her qualities, but it wasn’t until these past few weeks that I realized how much of an influence she has been on my life and my writing. I’ll never forget her and will always be grateful to her. Thank you, Grandma.

Do you have someone whose very life has inspired you in any way? I’d love to hear about him or her, too.