3 years ago today was Gracie’s due date. A couple days ago, I realized it was approaching and I felt nostalgic. I knew that the Facebook “On This Day” app would show me the photo that Ian posted 3 years ago – a pink Seahawks onesie resting on my pregnant belly, Luke in his footie pajamas giving my belly a kiss. I knew I would indulge in a bit of nostalgia, remembering all those winter walks to our neighborhood park Luke and I took in those last few weeks – hoping to encourage labor, but cherishing the last bit of my pregnancy. Sure, Gracie wasn’t born until 10 days later, but the due date of January 11 will always stick in my head.
Today I woke up expecting that my grandmother would pass away. A different sort of due date entirely. She suffered a massive stroke yesterday, and at 8am this morning, our family planned to gather at her bedside as the breathing tube was removed. They had done a trial removal last night, and she wasn’t able to breathe on her own at all. So it was time to say goodbye.
Fourteen of us crowded together in her small critical care room. My dad’s family is notorious for being chronically late as well as “not morning people.” Yet, all of us were there on time. Whispering, holding my grandma’s hand, occasional jokes, tears. As these things go (waiting for the respiratory therapist… all out of morphine on our floor…), the event we were all waiting for didn’t happen until a couple hours later. We all huddled a little closer as the breathing tube was removed – just 3 or 4 minutes, he said it would take. It came out smoothly, my grandma was peaceful… and still breathing. The machine monitor switched from recording her breathing to the word “STANDBY” – which is what we did. In fact, as I write this in the evening, she is still breathing and resting peacefully, with family standing by. We know it won’t be much longer, but it may or may not be today after all.
Soon after the tube came out, a hospital chaplain popped in to offer her support. We were all sort of in shock that gram was still breathing, so it was super quiet and none of us really knew how to respond to the chaplain. I’m sure she’s used to these sorts of awkward situations, so she gracefully made her exit. But before she left, she noted “Isn’t it wonderful that you are all here? It’s a “thin place,” as some people call it. Yes, an important time.”
Yes, I thought. My pastor sometimes uses the phrase “thin place” when we come to the communion table. Those places where heaven and earth seem just a little closer.
Yesterday was supposed to be my office day at work. Every Tuesday my awesome dad comes up and watches the kids so I can go into work. My grandmother was transferred from her assisted living facility to the hospital sometime during his 50 minute drive to my house. He visited the kids briefly, then turned around and drove to the hospital. I worked through the morning while Ian could be home with the kids, then came home when Ian had to go to work.
I’m not sure if it was the break in routine or my heart worrying about my grandma or the freezing cold, bright, sunny weather – but whatever it was, yesterday afternoon felt a bit more sacred than normal. I didn’t have a household to-do list for the day, and I knew I couldn’t tackle my work with both kids in my watch; so I was simply present. Yes, my thoughts wandered often to my grandma and the uncertainty there, but it was such a sweet afternoon with my kids that my frail heart felt suspended in time.
I wanted to soak it all in forever, so I snapped photos as we flitted from activity to activity. Occasionally my eyes would rest on the chalkboard in our dining area, which I had spontaneously written “’tis so sweet to trust in Jesus” last Sunday. I breathed deeply and held my babies close. I dare say it felt like a bit of a thin place in its own way.
Unease crept in shortly before we left for our evening small group; a phone call with my mom left me a bit of a hot mess. My loving extroverted son proceeded to “cheer me up” by talking nonstop on the way to small group, starting with bizarre “cheerful” statements such as “I want to die at the zoo. You can do that, right?” to his complete theology of heaven, 5-year old style. At small group, I settled into the rhythm of good friends and conversation; at home I talked to my mom again – a plan was in place: 8am in the morning. Yes; a chance to say goodbye, a chance to be in that thin place together.
So, here I am. Babies tucked in bed (will they always look like babies as they sleep, even as teenagers?) and sorting through my thoughts. It seems like another due date will pass without the expected event actually happening. Like I was 3 years ago, I’m okay with that. I feel settled about how I left my grandma today, and I know that the Lord will call her home when it is time. Until then, she will rest as best she can in her 87-year old body. And if she’s like my grandpa, she’ll let everyone keep vigil over her for awhile, then slip away when everyone goes off to lunch together.
And I’ll keep this date tucked away in my heart, more complex than it was 3 years ago, but perhaps more rich and full.