Her death was not sudden, it was not a surprise. She had early onset Alzheimers and had been diagnosed before she was even 60. She went downhill quite quickly and it was hard for everyone. At the end she was falling and getting pneumonia and really getting bad.
Me- I am a long distance niece. I had a nice visit with her in 2004 when I was in Florida with my son at my grandma's house. My aunt and uncle were there at the same time. I could still have conversations with her and she would even joke about her illness. She knew what was happening to her and yet she was still this woman I had loved and looked up to my entire life- even 500 miles away after age 5 for me.
I didn't see her again until 2007 when I went to visit her at the nursing home. At that time she was completely "gone". No talking, couldn't feed herself and had no recognition of me, my son, my grandma, her kids or her loving husband that visited her at least once a day. But I was still glad that I "said good bye" and hugged her that day. She looked at me and in my heart I saw a smile and love in her eyes.
I have not experienced a lot of death and illness in my family, especially as an adult. But, as I sit and write this I realize that October is the month that I said good bye to all of them. My grandma, my mom's mom, passed away at the end of October when I was in 6th grade in 1978, the age of my son right now. It is really all a blurr to me anymore. I had just moved to a new house and school and we had to leave to go to Ohio. I guess my little 6th grade mind just didn't comprehend it all... Oh, don't get me wrong, I loved her very much and she loved me. I was only 1 of her 2 grandkids (the other is my brother whom she never "saw" because of diabetic blindness; he is 10 years younger than me) I just don't remember much about the funeral except it was Halloween and it was cold.
Then when I was in college, just 10 years later in October of 1988, my grandfather, my dad's dad, passed away. I took that much "harder" I guess you could say. My parents would not take me out of school to go to Ohio from Iowa to the funeral, despite my pleadings, and I don't think I will ever get over that. I really had to deal with my grief on my own without any family support at all. I miss him very much still.
And then last year, 2008, Aunt Jeri went to be with the Lord. I took my children out of school for 4 days and we went to Ohio for the visitation and funeral. Of course the events were sad, as I saw the photos of her life on the posters from her grandkids and the slideshow on the tv I was glad to be part of the family and be able to celebrate the life she did have. Watching the youngest grandchild at age 5, cut through the line to show her little friend her Granny. Madison grabbed the little boy by the hand and went to the front of the line and smiled and pointed and said "This is my Granny, isn't she beautiful. I was there when she died." Wow, what words and what comprehension that little girl really had. She knew her Granny loved Jesus. She knew that her Granny was with him at that moment.
The part that really got to me was when one of my then 7 year old twins, stood up during our family service at the visitation and said, "I only met her once when I was 6 months old, but I know she loved me and I loved her. I will miss her." And the next day after the funeral service, we could not find Gretchen. Then my uncle went back into the room where aunt Jeri lay and there was Gretchen saying good bye to this beautiful woman. Even in death she drew love from a child who never got a chance to know how wonderful she was.
Tomorrow my cousins and their family and my uncle will travel to be together to honor her memory and her life once again. They will have dinner together at the same place as last year. She is gone and not forgotten and always and forever loved and in my heart.
Please pray for the children and grandchildren and husband and their loss and for their coping with "a year of firsts" (birthdays, holidays, etc) since Aunt Jeri died.
I miss all of these people and I just wanted to share with you my thoughts. Thank you for reading this and I have included a few pictures.
above that is our family at Mark and Jessica's wedding. The last family picture we had (minus my brother)
and the small pic is from her career as a school nurse and counselor.