And life goes on…
Death is never easy to deal with, whether it comes quickly like a tornado that sucks you up and spits you out, leaving chaos in its wake, or slowly, like a sunset disappearing on a horizon.
Last night, my 84 year old maternal grandmother passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's and dementia. Well, actually, a high fever from an infection and probable pneumonia is what ended up taking her, but her death came slowly.
Many would say she was one of those folks where "extra grace is required" and made some times in my life more challenging than they needed to be. But instead of focusing on the "bad", I spent much of the day pondering what lessons I can learn from her life and make mine a better one because of it.
She was born to poor parents in Costa Rica and, when she was very young, got sick and her parents could not afford the medical treatment needed to save her life. So her parents called on a more financially "able" family member, my grandmother's aunt, to take her to the hospital to get the treatments she needed. Apparently it was a long recovery, but when she was well enough to come home, I've been told that her aunt had bonded with the child and decided to raise her as her own, even though her parents wanted her back.
My life lesson: ALWAYS let my children know how much I love them and want to be with them.
I can't even begin to imagine the heartache that must have caused. And when you add into the mix an aunt that was VERY controlling and VERY strict, it gets harder. My grandmother had a wonderful singing voice, so much so that she was picked to get a scholarship to go to school to train her voice. But her aunt wouldn't have it and she never got the chance.
My life lesson: Love my children unconditionally and not try to control how they live their lives by letting them pursue what THEY love, not what I would have them do.
After she was married, she nearly died either when giving birth or around the time my mother, her first child, was born. Then, she lost her 2nd born, a son, to whooping cough at 8 yrs old. I can't begin to imagine the pain and soul deep scars something like that can leave…especially after facing death just 9 yrs before.
My life lesson: Try to cherish big and small moments with my loved ones because when our time is done on earth, it's done.
She and my grandfather divorced when my mom was still a young woman, not easy in a staunch Catholic country back in the 1960's.
My life lesson: Endure the trials that come with marriage with patience and remember our commitment to each other isn't based on feelings.
But my introduction to her (aside from visits to Costa Rica as a toddler that I don't remember) was when she came to live with us when I was 5 yrs old, living in Naples, FL, so she could take care of me and my brother while my mom went to work full-time. I say that I had to learn Spanish at 5 because I didn't know why my grandmother, Tita is what we called her, was yelling at me.
My life lesson: I learned what a TREASURE it is to know another language. What a GIFT she gave me to be able to communicate to people in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico and beyond in their native tongue…a gift I think she'd be happy to know we're trying to give to her great grandchildren.
She was strict. I remember being in elementary and middle school and thinking, "One day, I'm going to write a book about all the things Tita does."
My life lesson: Be slow to anger and slow to speak hurtful words to others.
Tita loved control, but wasn't afraid to show it. She wasn't bashful about disliking all her children's spouses and I remember many conversations that involved negative comments about my dad, the man in whose house she lived. I think it was growing up like this that made me decide that I would never allow anyone that kind of influence over my children…to poison them against me or my husband. I don't blame anyone or hold any grudges.
My life lesson: Gossip and hurtful words last far longer than the amount of time it takes to roll off the tongue. I'm learning from my experiences to not repeat the negative ones. But in her defense, she often made it clear to my aunts & dad that she didn't like them, so at least she was upfront about it, unlike those who will smile at your face and then stab you in the back the moment you turn around.
She was also one to keep a long record of all the good deeds she did so that, if you made her mad, she could recount the entire list to you to prove how ungrateful you are. This made such an impact.
My life lesson: When I tell someone I forgive them, I TRULY mean it. And I won't throw back any of my "good deeds" at you if you upset me, for, as the Bible says, "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isiah 64:6) and are worth nothing to get us into Heaven.
Like many people, she did some pretty horrid things in her life, or allowed some to happen. Things that have left emotional scars that last a lifetime.
My life lesson: When I see something that I KNOW is wrong, I have to do what I can, as soon as I can, to make it right…no matter what the personal cost is for me. I've run into this situation before and, while I was literally physically sick about it, I did the right thing. It was extremely hard and can only be attributed to my need to obey what God wanted me to do and not of my own doing, because I will ALWAYS try to find the easy way out of a tense situation. Always, unless God pushes otherwise.
Tita was also an amazing cook and passed her talent on to my mom, who can knock the socks off just about anyone's cooking. Except maybe my husband's grandmother who makes the most amazing fried chicken. (Sorry Mom!) And their love of cooking is firmly planted into who I am…and am now seeing that love being passed on to my girls, especially our 2nd daughter.
My life lesson: Share your loves and talents with those around you.
Her love of animals and voice are also showing up a few generations down. Our oldest truly sings like an angel, and I am not just saying that because she's my daughter. I wish there was an easy outlet for her to cultivate her voice while we travel. Maybe a Skype voice coach? Will have to look into that one. But my grandmother ALWAYS loved animals…cats more so than dogs, horses, parrots, turtles (although she was very fond of turtle egg soup), deer, frogs, you name it. She had an amazing ability to copy the sounds animals make. Our oldest 2 love animals like a fish loves water.
My life lesson: Kindness to animals shows a love for God's creation and grows compassion.
And she liked to dance and have fun, even with very colorful clothing. She spent MANY weekend nights dancing away with other people her age at dance clubs in Naples…which made Saturday and Sunday mornings rough at home because she would sleep until almost lunch time and didn't like us making any noise, disturbing her sleep. I, too, tend to stay up way too late at night (but NOT going dancing! Ha ha ha!) and am grouchy in the mornings, so I do need to get better at going to bed at a decent hour and exercising more patience with children that make noise. :)
My life lesson: Enjoy life, but try not to get upset when others don't share that love. And don't make others pay the price when you were careless!
She immigrated to the United States in 1979 and learned how to speak English, although she lost it all when Alzheimer's took hold of her. She eventually became an American citizen and loved the US, but never lost sight of where she came from.
My life lesson: Our family is embracing the local cultures where we live by trying to live as locals, but don't forget the blessings that come with being US citizens.
When my husband and I talked about her passing last night, he said that our travels are due, in part, to my grandmother. If it hadn't been for her and my mom, I would never have had a taste of other cultures and a desire to share my family heritage with our children.
And something really neat happened while we lived in Costa Rica. As I went along my daily life and also had a chance to get to know my Tia Damaris (my mom's aunt) and cousin Lola, I felt like I got to know Tita better. She was a lot like Tia Damaris…funny, loves children, and just how she does things or says things. It was like I was able to learn more about why my grandmother was the way she was, without her being with me. I know it sounds weird, and it is hard to explain. Living in Costa Rica was strangely healing and eye opening in relation to my memories of my grandmother.
Many people like to offer comforting words when someone dies like, "They're in a better place now" or "At least they're at peace." But as a Christian, I just don't believe that to be true for everyone. I honestly don't know if she's at peace or in Heaven and that truly, deeply hurts. What joy and peace I have knowing that I can face death without fear because of my confidence in my faith, as well as the faith of my husband and some of my children. My hope is that she did know God and had a faith given by Him and that He calls her one of His children.
My life lesson: I cannot judge her life to know what her eternal fate is. The Bible is full of people who did horrible things, yet God called them His children because it is not good deeds that save a soul, but faith in Him.
Faith has a way of lessening death's sting, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:54-55)
Psalm 23, written by Kind David, is said to have helped many prisoners of war persevere in times of unspeakable torture and pain and gives comfort to those who know God.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
I pray I will see her again in Heaven, as well as all my loved ones and dear friends.