Monday Morning, September 1, 2008
She was a quiet, diminutive woman, people would say. The years pressed in, eighty-seven to be precise. Age took away some of the height and weight, making her frame delicate and perhaps better said, fragile. When she woke up last Friday morning, she seemed disoriented and distracted.
She couldn’t swallow her breakfast or her medication for that matter. By noon, she settled calm and serene in her favorite chair, and after awhile she sighed her last sigh. The daughter who so attentively cared for her these last few years was there in the room, along with her daughter, now a mom, and her four young ones – the oldest, another daughter. Alana is her name. She’s nine. Great-grandma breathed her last in the presence of the next three generations of women who loved her. From a living room out in the country on a sunny summer day, about high noon, with her cherished girls in the room in a single moment, she slipped into the presence of her Maker… Who could possibly ask for more?
I found a quiet spot, in my brother-in-law’s basement, just underneath that living room. It was cool and felt good after a hike on a warm late summer afternoon with the gang up the hill to a lookout point over the green valley here in Southern Wisconsin. Dairy country. We looked out over to the Wisconsin River, now receding after the summer floods and just up the road, Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s world renowned school of architecture. I wrote the first two paragraphs (above) on my PDA, when Alana skipped own the stairs into the finished cellar.
It’s a classic playroom; a mid-west basement with a Coca-Cola puzzle, probably two thousand pieces, glued into a frame and hanging on the wall. The shelf is home to a collection of traditional board games (Yahtzee, Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble) and boxes of puzzles. Over in the corner is a Foosball table and Carom board. There are toys for the grandchildren now over in the bin, and a small television set that doesn’t get much use. I sat on the couch, enjoying the quiet, writing, when Alana walked in.
“C’mon over here, Alana,” I said, and folded up my PDA. “OK,” she said, and jumped up beside me.
I’d just written about Mom’s passing (Carolyn’s Mom), and the four generations in the living room as she passed. I realized that I was now sitting next to the newest of the generations down in the game room – a perky, bright nine year old with long straight blond hair and an engaging smile and an eagerness to tell stories.
“Alana,” I asked thoughtfully, “would it be OK if I asked you about last Friday?”
“Sure.” She didn’t even hesitate.
“You were there right in the room, weren’t you? When Grandma Hunerdosse died…” I smiled and gave her a hug.
“Uh huh,” she replied.
“I’d like you to tell me the whole story.” And I hugged her again. She nodded. “OK.”
And then as only a nine-year-old could, well, I should say, as this very special nine year old could, she told me the whole thing. She talked about how Grandma (Dora) didn’t feel well at all and that she couldn’t swallow and how her Grandma (Arlene, Dora’s daughter) was upset and how her mother (Erin, Arlene’s daughter) hugged her Grandma Arlene and how she watched the whole thing. Then she said, as Grandma Dora was breathing hard, they put some hymns into the CD and played music for Grandma Dora and how they held hands and hugged and prayed, and then called in Marguerite (her other great-grandma) who lived next door to come over and how she read passages from the Bible to Grandma Dora and then sang the hymns out loud as Great-Grandma Dora sat peacefully in her chair and then she died, Alana said.
“Alana, it’s amazing that you were all there,” I said.
“That’s the best part,” Alana said. And then she proceeded with the story of how it could be that they all “happened” to be in the same room on the very day that Dora May died. Erin and her four children were alone in their home two and a half hours away. Their father, Scott, was off on his first mission project visiting a home for children orphaned by the aids epidemic in Zambia. Back home, one night last week, a stray bat flew into their house and frightened the family so that they took refuge first in Scott’s parent’s home and then packed up into the car to head south to spend the remainder of their time without dad at Erin’s parent’s place, a favorite destination for all the children, out in the dairy country just outside Spring Green.
In retrospect, young Alana is firm in her conviction that God sent the bat for a purpose. That awful creature that terrorized the house when dad was gone is the reason that the gathering in the living room was orchestrated on just the right day by Someone unseen. Great-Grandma Dora was not alone her last day on earth. Grandma Arlene was not alone, either. Her daughter was there to comfort her. Neither was Erin alone. Alana was there. Dora. Arlene. Erin. Alana. Four generations. Together with Grandma Marguerite to send a Great-grandma Dora May off to heaven. They were together.
I hugged Alana again. “You know Alana, I’ve been around for awhile, and I’ve never been there at the moment someone died.” Alana looked up at me. “But my mom has,” I said.
“And she was nine years old, just like you.” True story. Then I told Alana that my mom still remembers it very clearly, and “I know, Alana,” we were making eye contact now, “that you will remember last Friday for your whole life.” It’s God’s good gift to you, I added.
And it was a sweet moment for me, too. Just to be there with Alana in the game room thinking about some of life’s great mysteries, and God’s amazing grace and his faithful care and the wonders of his mercies, new every morning.
I had the good sense to marry into this family.
On this Monday morning, I have new and fresh insight into the heritage upon which our own family is built. I see something of the strength of these women in my wife and in our children – generation after generation passing down the things that matter the most.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2008