Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Sweet Grandma: January 30, 1922- June 2, 2009

Sorry I haven't updated lately, but there's been a lot going on. I'll start with the most recent..then go back to the beginning and fill in. Grandma passed away last Tuesday, June 2nd. It was kind of expected, but you can never really prepare for an event like that. I'll really miss her. Let me go back to May. I didn't get to see her for Mother's Day because I was working, but I saw pictures of her. She looked tired, but she held out her hands for Noel and would talk and interact with Mom and Kelly. I went up to see her on Memorial Day weekend and she looked, well...awful. She kept holding her head and moaning as well as pressing on her stomach. I could tell she was hurting, but she couldn't verbalize what hurt. Mom got her to eat a little, but not much. She didn't talk and rarely opened her eyes and was shaking the whole time. She did respond to Noel a little, but not like it was in the few weeks before. She was just so weak and it was a very emotional visit for us. She didn't even know who I was. She looked at me as if she recognized me, but couldn't place how she knew me or who I was. When we left, she did put her arm around Mom and hug her back, but with Kelly and I, she just leaned her head against us and that was it. I just remember how frail she felt and how soft her skin and hair were. Her eyes weren't quite as sharp as they had been, but were still a beautiful aqua/green. We gave her a little mini manicure because her nails had gotten too long, so I hope she enjoyed that.

On Memorial Day, her sisters went to go visit and got her to eat more than she had in the past few weeks, so we were encouraged. They kept giving her whole foods which she can't eat without her teeth, so they tried putting her teeth in and found out she had thrush, but they did get her to eat some pureed food and started treating the infection. They never did test her for a UTI even though she got them frequently. Anyway, I kept in touch with Mom on how she was doing and I prayed for her and Mom both rather frequently. Last Tuesday, Mom told me she wasn't doing well at all and was refusing to even drink water, so I told her I'd be up Wednesday to try to visit with her since it sounded like the end was nearer than we thought. Turns out, that was quite true.

Tuesday night around 11pm, Grandma let go and was finally at peace. The nursing home called Mom late that night and told her that Grandma's breathing had become ragged and that they felt that this was it, so Mom and Dad jumped in the car to rush over there and during that 15 min. drive, she was gone. Grandma was always a very private person, so she waited until my uncle left around 10 and let go before my Mom got there a little after 11. The strange thing is that Kelly had told me that it was around 11pm that she started really thinking about her. What's also strange is that around 11pm, I started praying for God to just take her and to end her pain. I didn't want her to die and would do anything to have her back, but I knew she was hurting and while I couldn't do anything about that, God could. She was one of the most generous people I've ever known and always had a smile on her face. She wasn't happy until everyone else was happy and she didn't deserve to go through all the pain and suffering that she did.

Grandma amazed me with her memory. She could remember dates and events in such detail that I wondered how she could possibly store all that information. She remembered all the stories of her well as numerous ones of her parents' childhoods and the names of many ancestors..and names of neighbors from 50 years who they married and the names of their kids. It just fascinated me that she was such a wealth of knowledge. I've found it ironic that a person with such a sharp memory ended up with Alzheimer's. It's such a cruel disease.

In her younger years, she was a 5th grade teacher and that job never left her. She was always teaching us things and encouraging us to learn. If I had a question, I went to Grandma. I remember making butterflies out of paper by folding the paper in half and cutting it out and then coloring it. We did that with snowflakes a lot too. I remember catching fireflies in jars in her backyard and sitting downstairs stringing green beans. I remember the childlike sparkle in her eyes when she was really tickled over something and would laugh. I remember her babysitting me and having to sit with her on the couch while she watched her soap operas and I remember her trying to teach me how to play the piano. She had a never ending supply of patience and generosity. She was also a fantastic cook! I remember making a LOT of peanut butter cookies with her over the years.

I also remember her pin curling my hair all over like she did hers when I was about 4 or 5. She'd twist the hair around and pin in down and then cover my head with a bonnet to sleep in. In the morning, she'd take it out and I'd have spirals all over my head...completely out of I'll always look back and smile when I think of how embarrassed she'd get to be seen without her teeth in. She was so cute when we'd try to say goodbye and she'd follow us to the car and keep us there for another hour because she didn't want us to leave. She'd always make sure we knew that we could stay the night whenever we wanted.

I'll also never forget working with her in her garden or all the times I spent the night with her. I remember the empty food boxes she'd save for us to play with and all the Sundays of sitting next to her in church. I remember so many holidays at her house and Sunday dinners with huge bowls of mashed potatoes. I remember picnics up on Mill Mountain with her and Grandpa. He'd go to KFC and get a bucket plus all the fixing's' and we'd head up the mountain. Grandma always had such a comforting presence. Just being with her gave you the feeling that all was right with the world. I never once saw her get angry or worried over anything. She just took things with a grain of salt because she had such a strong faith in God and knew that he'd take care of everything.

I feel like I took so much for granted and didn't appreciate her as much as I should have. I think I just thought she'd been around for so long that she'd just always be there. I feel so lucky to have known her and to have had her influence in my life. She was just an amazing woman with a very bright and kind spirit. She didn't have one enemy in her life and not one person who didn't like her. That's quite rare and I'm so proud to have been able to call her my grandma. I used to call her Granny, but somewhere around age 11, I felt that I was too grown up to call her that.
Over this past weekend, I also learned that she played basketball in high school and college and was named after her mother's roommate at Radford University. I also learned that she was in several gardening clubs and I never knew that. I knew she had a love for gardening, but I didn't know she belonged to any clubs. I got to hear so many stories from Grandpa about their dating years and old family stories in general, but I'll save those for another blog. During her funeral, I kept thinking about how much she would've loved to have been there laughing and talking with her family. She was very close to her family and blossomed when everyone was together.

It was a beautiful service and she looked like herself again. They did a fabulous job of capturing her and making her look like her old self. There were 87 pink roses on her casket and they played some of her favorite songs; How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace and In The Garden. There was another song, but I can't remember the name of it. She was always concerned about making everyone happy and not inconveniencing anybody and she did that until the end. She waited until everyone was in town or on the way there before she passed on and then on a very rainy day, we were in a mausoleum where it was dry. That's Grandma...always looking out for everyone else. Now, she's just doing it from a place with a much better view. I'll see her again someday, but until then, I just wanted her to know how much I love her and will miss her sweet face, soft skin and comforting hugs. The world would be a much better place if more people were like her. I had found some drawings in Grandma's attic that I'd done as a child and I kept them. After she passed away, I thought it'd be fitting to leave them with her. Two were of butterflies and one was of a house. One stands for transformation and the other symbolized her new home. It wasn't planned, it just worked out that way. I forgot them the night of visitation and then again the day of the funeral. I was so upset, but I did a quick mini drawing of a butterfly and house and then wrote a little note and left it in her casket with her. Some may think it's silly, but I felt better for doing it.

After the funeral, we had a ton of people over to Mom and Dad's house for food and family stories, most of which involved Grandma. It was so great to have that part of the family together again, even if it was under somber circumstances. We hadn't had a Sykes Family Reunion in years, so it was fun talking with everyone again. Saturday, some of the family stopped by again before they left town and then Kelly and I went shopping. We went by the Goodwill to try to find a bunch of my grandparents stuff that was donated by mistake while they were cleaning out the house. Grandma had a deep dish blue ceramic pie plate with a lid that I really wanted but it was donated along with a cross stitched picture of apples that my mom had made and with a black and white step stool/seat that I used to sit on at the dinner table when I was little, but that Goodwill is a distribution center so that stuff could be in any Goodwill from Charlottesville to Danville. Ugh! We left her descriptions and Mom's number in case it happens to still be there, but it's likely long gone. =( I do have a few things of hers that I'll always treasure, so that's a comfort to me. She'll always be a part of me and I'll always cherish everything she's taught me and all the memories I have of her. So, to Anita Florence Sykes Anderson, the best Grandma in the world, I wanted to say I love you and hope to be able to pass on everything you've taught me to my own children. You'll never be forgotten!

Sigh. Anyhow, here's a few pictures from the past week that I hope you'll enjoy.

Grandpa kissing Noel's foot
Noel standing up on her Great Grandpa's walker.

Noel having a snack! Cute pigtails!

Jeff and I in my parents yard.

Grandma's brothers & sisters and their spouses w/ Grandpa.
Rita, Carol, Gay, Alton, Clair, Grandpa, Beth. The joke was funny, but too long to explain!

Beth, Rita, Carol, Gay, Alton, Clair and Kenneth: My Great Aunts & Uncles.

The Dooley Family: Tim, Kelly and Noel