December 30th, 2005 I got the call that Grammy had been rushed to the hospital with severe breathing problems. Collapsed lung or pneumonia or maybe-those-spots-really-were-lung cancer or all of the above. It didn’t seem super serious, she was awake, alert. She was receiving oxygen at the hospital as she had been for months at home. No biggie for a chain-smoking 79 year old. We kept our plans of hosting a New Year’s Eve party. The next day, New Year’s Eve, uncles, aunts and cousins had flocked to Grammy’s hospital room. Noel stayed home with Ethan and Will, (who were 3 1/2 and 14 months) and set up, cooked for and hosted our party. I went to the flower shop to pick out flowers for Grammy. They were low on bouquets, they only had Lilies. They told me the hospital doesn’t usually allow such fragrant flowers. I told them who I was and who they were for, (my aunt works at this flower shop), they bagged the flowers and hugged me. Tears came to my eyes as I realized this may be more serious than I expected. Up to Grammy’s room. Most of the family was there. For some reason the conversation kept turning to food as Grammy sat there with her cup of canned fruit and water. At one point I was alone with Papa and Grammy. Those 30 minutes spent are sacred to me. I shared with them that we were expecting. Grammy grinned from ear to ear and asked all kinds of questions. Papa just held Grammy’s hand. I told them if it was a girl she would be Natalie Margaret- Grammy’s name was Margaret. She was pleased as punch about that possibility. I told them they were sworn to secrecy for a few weeks. (No one beside Noel and one friend of mine knew I was pregnant.) Nods and smiles. Everyone trickled back into the room. It got late. Grammy kicked us out. I hugged her, kissed her forehead, told her that I loved her and I left. I drove home bawling. Praying she’d recover. I went in to my home filled to bursting with friends and family having a wonderful time. I tried to smile and play. I wasn’t very convincing. A few hours into the new year my phone rang. There was no question why my phone was ringing. I was sobbing before I answered. It was Mom. Grammy was gone. I sobbed and sobbed and finally slept and woke to sob some more. The next day I got the bouquet of Lilies back. The reek of them turned my pregnant stomach. They made me nauseous but they were my last gift to her, they stayed in the far corner of the dining room until death claimed them too.
At Grammy’s visitation I learned from an aunt that Papa was telling people I was pregnant. This one nugget of hope and happiness had bloomed in his mind; there’s a baby coming. I gave Papa a break and didn’t tease him about forgetting that little detail of being sworn to secrecy about my pregnancy. You get a free pass from a lot of things when your spouse of over 60 years dies. I had to tell my mom that she would be a Nana again in the back room of the funeral home at her mother’s visitation. The relief that Papa wan’t losing his mind, that I was in fact pregnant brought relief and fleeting smiles amidst the tears and grief.
7 months later we rushed to the hospital thinking something very bad was happening to my baby. Fresh blood, intense pain, but not contractions, days before my due date when the boys had been overdue. The nurses were not panicked, but urgent. In the chaos and blur I heard a voice. The voice of a friend who I’d known since high school. Slightly awkward seeing each other for the first time in many many months and she’s gonna examine my cervix, but we handled it with class because that’s how we roll. I was dilated to 8 cm. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that I was in labor. 3 pushes and a few minutes later, my friend handed me my tiny, swollen, beautiful little girl. Natalie Margaret had arrived. The second person to hold her, the person to hand her to me, my friend, was the same nurse who had been one of the people with Grammy when she died.
Last to first. Death to life. The beauty of the symmetry takes my (OCD) breath away. Even in the dark and the sad and depths of despair- He is there. God is there. If we trust Him, trust that He has a plan, we can see Him even in the darkest of night.
Psalm 30:5b “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”