What happened?Posted: December 30, 2007
“What happened?” Toddler sat up in bed, her white blonde hair sticking out all over like a scraggly halo as she rubbed the sleep from her big blue eyes. “What happened in here? Sis? Sis, it’s morning.”
I opened my eyes, and gazed around the room. Indeed, it looked worse than usual. I’m not what one would call neat as a pin. My method of housekeeping makes one think more of a haystack. I keep things sanitary, but am basically messy. I like neatness, I yearn for it, but it continues to elude me. Toddler’s question was a good one, and it was not the first time in 24 hours that she’d asked it. The first time was in the car, while we were taking a break from packing Granny’s things to run an errand.
“What happened?” Toddler asked quietly from her carseat as we approached an intersection. “What happened in the living room?”
What should I say? I think back to the chaos and confusion that used to be Granny’s home, but now is a flurry of grief and sorting and packing. Have Brother and Sis M had a chance to talk to her yet? I remembered that they’d said they were going to keep it simple, not try to over-explain. “Well,” I ventured, offering the phrase they told me they were using. “Granny went to live in Heaven, and doesn’t need her furniture anymore. So we’re moving it around a little.” An understatement if there ever was one. Yet, she seemed to accept the answer, so I left it at that.
The truth of the matter is, Granny’s wicked step-daughter had her husband called my Mom not two-hours after Granny passed and told her that they were on their way to the house to have the locks changed. That we would not be allowed to retrieve Granny’s possessions until they said so.
See, some time ago, when Granny’s second husband, H, died (actually, while he was on his deathbed), his daughter, ML, stripped Granny’s and H’s joint bank account, taking over $30, 000. She was a signer on the account because her daddy trusted her. Through mediation, the matter was settled by granting Granny half of the money from that account if ML was allowed to come into the house and take what she wanted. So, she and her troupe came through and stripped the house of H’s things, plus a lot of household goods and furniture (including a mirror mounted to the wall that left a gaping hole.) I happened to overhear them say that they were taking the goods and dropping them off at a charity depository. They hadn’t wanted them. They just didn’t want my grandmother to have them. There’s a lot more to this story. Physical threats. Accusations of her marrying him for his money. (To which Granny replied, “He didn’t have enough money for me to marry him for his money.”) They had their financial information arranged so that it was a “hers, his and ours” situation, just so their previous estates would remain in tact. But that didn’t satisfy ML. ML tried to take the house after her father’s death, but found out she couldn’t throw Granny out for legal reasons. They tried to take the car, but couldn’t because H had given it to her as a gift. ML is the kind of woman who is a vicious, social-climbing wannabe who never paid attention to her daddy unless she wanted some money or it looked good to others. She told people in the Church that Granny was suing her, which wasn’t true, and who knows what else. So some of the gullible people believed ML, and told Granny she was sinning. These are people who should have known better. Granny had been a member of the Church since moving to our town in the very early 50’s. Luckily, many saw right through ML. The truth is, Granny only sought mediation to protect herself and save her home and what possessions she could. ML judged Granny by her own standards, which is a shame. Granny was ready to accept ML and her family as her family. Instead, Granny was told that she was going to go to hell, and the step-grandson, J, actually said he couldn’t wait until she died so he could spit on her corpse (Which is why we took extra precautions during the funeral home visitation.) There is so much more to this story, this is the short version, believe me. My grandmother was and is the epitome of class and dignity, and though no one is perfect, she was the closest most people get to it. Call me biased, but it’s the truth.
Granny and my grandfather, Pa, had been best friends with H and his wife T for over 40 years. H performed the marriage ceremony for my Mom and Dad. Granny and Pa traveled with H and T, and also did training work in the Church together. Pa and T passed, and Granny and H drifted together and married. Granny drove H to various preaching appointments each Sunday, and took care of H because he was blind and had an amputated leg. They had a companionable and loving late-in-life marriage. Mom has always been an attentive daughter, and we all accepted that H was a part of the family now. Mom continued to do as she always had done, visiting and doing things with her Mom, and now H, too.
But ML didn’t see it that way. She saw everything as a threat to her inheritance.
When ML’s husband called Mom, it was initially to say that they believed Granny had abandoned the house, which was simply not true. We’ve been caring for the house since Granny feel ill in September. We had every intention of bringing her back home as soon as she recovered. But she declined very quickly in the past couple of weeks, and it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen. Anyway, Mom took that opportunity to tell ML’s husband that Granny had passed away about an hour and a half before he called. Mom heard ML yapping at him in the background, telling him what to say. So that’s when he told her that they were on the way RIGHT THEN to change the locks. Mom assured him that she had no desire to have anything that belonged to H, that all she wanted was her mother’s things and to get the carpets and house cleaned before turning it over to them. But he told her no. A locksmith and they were on their way, and we would only be allowed to retrieve her possessions at their discretion. Meaning, after they had gone through everything first.
Mr. Man and I hot-footed it over to Granny’s house, calling Mom’s best friend, EW, on the way. EW and her husband called the police, and then met us at Granny’s with boxes. We started yanking pictures off the walls and out of cabinets, along with other memorabilia and important things…all I could think of was ‘what would I grab if there were a fire?’
Pictures. Her special cookie cutters. The family Bible. What else? So many memories, so many years…What else?
The police arrived, and explained to us that though they maybe sympathetic to our plight, legally, they couldn’t stop ML from taking possession of her property. That we should avoid legal trouble and walk away and contact a lawyer. But it wasn’t that simple. Not to us. When I heard this, all I could think was, ‘Well, then just go away if you can’t help us. If you are gone by the time ML gets here, then you can’t arrest me for what I might do.’ I’ve never struck another in anger in my entire life, but I couldn’t guarantee what might or might not happen when ML and/or her husband showed up and tried to keep me from watching my Mom’s and Granny’s back. I pictured a news story of a grief-crazy, pissed-off madwoman blockading herself in a house surrounded by the law. (I’ve always been a bit dramatic!)
But they didn’t come.
It turns out that word spread quickly. EW called another friend from Church, and through her, a man who was supposedly trained in family counseling contacted ML and her husband. Do you know what they did? They LIED to the man and said that they never said they were coming over right away, that they’d graciously given us A WEEK to get Granny’s household packed. One week. One week that included not only Christmas for a 3 year old who is just catching on to the holiday and shouldn’t be cheated out of the memory, planning a funeral, and now packing up the remnants of the life encompassing 96 years. Grieve? Did we get time for that? How about comforting one another? Taking a breath and taking time to take it all in? Nope.
So, Mom, Mr. Man and I, with family from East Texas and OKC along with EW, her husband, and my FIL, packed up Granny’s possessions, sorted, hauled to storage, made Christmas and funeral preparations, contacted family members, and squeezed in the grieving where we could. Oh, and sleep. Here and there. I had booth rent to meet still at the salon, so I had to do a head or two of hair each day. The market let me off work with no problem. Mr. Man, who caught a horrid case of the flu in the midst of all this, took time off from his job and worked his ass off despite it and still managed to take care of me, too.
Especially the night before Granny died.
Since late September, Mom and I had been taking shifts going to check on and keep Granny company. Mom during the day, me at night every night after I got off work until she was tucked in for the night. For awhile, we thought she might get better, Then we realized she wouldn’t, but had no idea she would decline as quickly as she did. Mom was told that since the Medicare allotment was running out, we needed to find a nursing home for Granny, or the rehab facility where she’d been trying to get better would find the first empty bed for her, be it in town or in a town in the surrounding area and we wouldn’t have any say about it. The hell they would, we thought. So we scrambled and found an acceptable facility for her. Thank goodness, Granny never seemed to really realize she was in a nursing home. Some days she thought she was in a hotel on one of the many trips she and Mom would take. Others, she thought she was still in rehab, and we let her think it. Gradually, those days dwindled, replaced by days where we fed her her meals and she had to have the most basic of her needs fulfilled by the nursing staff.
Finally, on the 18th, Granny became non-responsive. She just went to sleep, and we were told she could wake up, or she could stay in this state an indeterminate amount of time. That evening, right after I arrived, the nurses and other staff moved her to a private room. After I’d had a little emotionally-charged set-to with Granny’s room mate, whose only concern was that the oxygen tank was touching her side of the room by about an inch. I told her, in the hallway, not to worry about it, the extra tank would be moved in a few minutes to storage, but she kept pushing and fussing and I finally said that she wouldn’t need to concern herself too much longer since Granny was dying. I know, I know. I shouldn’t have been nasty to an old lady, recently formed logic and experience told me she had her own age-related issues as well. But since she said, “Well, can you blame me?” right after I told her Granny was passing away soon, please give us a little break, I can’t drum up too much guilt.
The staff members were so kind an respectful. They closed the doors of the other residents’ rooms, and to the common area. The lights were low, as it was about bedtime for a lot of the residents. There was an air of calm around these professionals as they wheeled her sleeping form down the hall. I was scared, sad, but I could do nothing less than my best to hold it together as I walked beside her bed. On some level, I thought, she knows I’m here. After all, a labor and delivery nurse herself, Granny was there at the hospital and held me the minute I was born 41 years ago. I called Mr. Man, and said I needed him. I was distraught and anxious, but holding it in the best I could. I needed to call Mom, who was working her usual late shift. I did most nights anyway, to update her on Granny’s condition. I couldn’t keep the tremble from my voice completely as I told her about the new arrangement, but I managed not to break down. Mom had known Granny’s condition, and indeed had arranged a change in hospice just that day, since the first one didn’t meet our needs, (another aggravating story) but there hadn’t been an opportunity to talk to each other in detail about what was going on. I just knew, before getting there, that it wasn’t good.
Mr. Man arrived as I was placing family pictures on the table beside Granny’s bed. He kissed Granny on the cheek and told her he loved her. We sat beside her bed for awhile, talking, then finally roused ourselves enough to leave. I kissed Granny on the cheek, and whispered into her ear.
“I love you with all my heart.”
The next morning, the phone rang a little after 6. And I knew. Mom told me she was there with Granny as she waited for the funeral home to come. She said she didn’t need me to come. I thought, knowing Mom, she might need her time alone. I felt guilty, but tried to respect this. Soon after, the stress of the step-daughter began, as you’ve already read.
The funeral was an uplifting service. Family and friends gathered, and the speakers did a fine job. As I said good-bye, I held Granny’s hand and was saddened all over again to feel how cold it was. The soft, gentle hand of the strong woman had been so warm when she would hold mine during Church services, and, later, as we watched TV in her hospital room. Watching my Mom say her final good-byes was was heartbreaking. As it was with my uncle and aunt, and brother and his wife. And Mr. Man.
Yet, I felt a sense of peace and security because I have no doubt in my mind or heart that Granny is in Heaven, and with my Dad and Pa, not to mention her parents and siblings. I had prayed for what was best for Granny, and for strength to help Mom get through this difficult time, and, of course, for strength for Mom, too. And they were answered. I know that Granny is no longer sick, and struggling, and is happy, because she was ready, prepared with no doubts in her own heart. We’re sad for us, but joyous for her. Our close family friends, EW and her husband RFW, walked beside us each step through the aftermath of Granny’s death. Their daughter, Em, did too, pulling together a group of beautiful singers for the service, and be there with love and hugs. And we felt their son’s prayers all the way from Iraq. So many friends and family rallied around us and offered love, comfort and understanding. The Church family who fed us and sustained us. Even people we barely know. We give thanks for every one and remembered that we are indeed, blessed.
I felt weird, not falling apart during the service. I didn’t weep as much as I thought I would, though I am sad, and miss Granny terribly. I think that is an answer to the prayer I repeated so often for strength. And Paxil…which an answer to a whole different list of prayers. 😉 But I give credit to God, whose Divine Presence was with us throughout. But when RFW, EW’s husband who spoke at the funeral held me close, it was a father’s comforting arms that closed around me and I did boo-hoo a little.
During the week, ML’s husband called again, and left a scripted message on Mom’s machine. They relented somewhat, though very little, and instead of a week, agrees to let us get Granny’s stuff out “…in a timely manner, as soon as possible.” Well, by damn, we got the possessions moved in a week, and there’s only a couple of things left to get out. And get the house cleaned. I hope I never cross paths with any of that family ever again.
Christmas Eve, Mr. Man, Mom and I rearranged furniture and hung new curtains in her living room. We put up her tree and decorated. The smiles and excitement of Toddler was worth every sore muscle. We had our Christmas dinner yesterday, for the first time at Mom’s instead of Granny’s. Mom worked so hard to make everything special. And it was.
The funeral director reminded me that Granny is in our heart, and we are wearing her skin, and her blood runs through our veins, so she is with us everywhere we go.
What a lovely way to think about it.