We all mark significant events in our lives. Some of them may include the birth of a child, our marriage, and even the passing of a close family member or a friend.
A new date has been added to my significant events: February 25, 2010. On the evening of that day at 10:20 p.m., my grand-mother, Thelma Wafer, passed away. She would have been 97 on June 13, 2010.
Many of you know that I have had the privilege of overseeing the care of my grandmother for the last ten years – the first six from a distance while she lived in Texas; the last four here in Hays, Kansas. During that time, she and I battled side by side to keep her as independent as possible. It was not until December 31, 2009 that she finally required the services of a nursing home. She lived there for 56 days.
Everyone in my office got to know her. She made friends wherever she went. Even during her brief stay in the nursing home, she connected with many of the staff.
I can best describe her as a gentlewoman – always kind, forgiving, loving, accepting, hopeful, encouraging, uplifting, bright, cheerful, and a ray of sunshine at all times. I know that she was my grandmother, but I truly believe that if you met anyone that knew her, they would agree with my assessment. To walk into a room with her in it made you smile.
Her life was extraordinary in that it was filled with tragedy – from her father being murdered when she was very young – to the loss of all of her children at way too young an age and totally unexpectedly. She grieved greatly but then moved on. Her heart must have been the largest the Lord ever created, to bear so much pain but to have so much love and faith to keep going.
One story I heard about her at her funeral says a lot. Her son, Bill (my uncle) was a hemophiliac (a severe and uncontrolled bleeder). Especially during the time of his youth, hemophiliacs did not live very long and suffered greatly while they did. (Medicine has now vastly improved life for hemophiliacs.)
During the 1950s, a faith healer came into the community where my grandparents lived. Someone suggested to my grandmother that perhaps she should take Bill to the faith healer. Her response? “No one can pray any harder to the Lord for Bill’s sake. I just don’t believe He would listen to anyone else’s prayers more than He would listen to mine.”
A couple of weeks before her death, I talked with Thelma. She was not eating and I asked her why. I asked her if she was worried or just why she wasn’t eating. This is what she said: “Honey, I know I am going to die soon and I am okay with that. Please don’t worry about me.”
It has taken over a month for me to sit down and write out something about my grandmother. I know that she was tired – she was tired of being tired. I know she was ready to go home to be with the rest of her family. I know the journey was successful.
There are a million things I could say about how my grandmother influenced me. My practice in helping the elderly, the chronically ill, and those with disabilities is guided by her direct influence.
But for right now, let me say this. One of the most important gifts she ever gave me was the most recent: she was ready to leave this life and she wanted me to be comfortable with that decision.
It’s amazing to me that even in her last moments, she was thinking of how she could help others and make them more comfortable. Forever the gentlewoman.
When my final days come, I hope that I can pass on to my family the peace of mind that my grandmother passed on to me. I wish the same for all of you.