Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Third Sneeze

Good things come in threes.  For the Irish, this is true even when you sneeze.  When I was a child, I remember anytime anyone sneezed in my grandmother's presence, it was followed by the saying:

*first sneeze* God bless you
*second sneeze* May the devil take you (a little harsh, I know!)
*third sneeze* May you be six months in heaven before the devil knows you're dead

So, when we were children, we either let one out or forced/faked a third sneeze to be in the clear.  Now, the second sneeze isn't really something I've ever said to my kids, but if they let out a third one, I do sometimes say the third blessing.  But the blessing is something I think of nearly every time I sneeze, it triggers with a sneeze like a special smell or sound can trigger a memory.  I'm sitting in a chair at Grandma's house hoping the third sneeze I feel in the back of my nose pans out.

My grandma was a force of nature.  I say was because she died this week.  She was 94 and had suffered greatly over most of the last decade, so her passing is something that brings peace with the grief.  Don't be sorry for her or for me, she's with God and all the saints who have gone before her....and I am left with a lifetime of memories of one of the strongest women I've ever known.  She was widowed before I was born and could silence her grown sons or unruly teenage grandchildren with a look.  She meant business, spoiled us, called Sara Lee her cooking friend and had faith to move mountains. 

When my next younger sister was a toddler, she developed a rare life-threatening condition.  My grandmother was there and remembered her cousin had died from an ailment with similar symptoms....they checked and she did have it, and that ended up saving my sister's life. 

When each of my younger siblings was born, Grandma came down for a week or so to help my parents.  When my parents traveled for my dad's work a couple times, one of the houses we got split between was Grandma's.  Whenever she was needed, she was there.  She lived about 3 hours away and we went to see her at least once a month.  Nearly every Christmas, we sat on the floor of her living room opening presents from aunts and uncles.  I still remember the year I got puzzles and a puzzle rack, another time, it was the complete boxed set of Little House on the Prairie.  There were always more cookies than you would think that many people could eat....somehow we managed. 

Grandma said things like, "be you careful!"  That was usually directed at a toddler in her house trying to scale some piece of furniture handcrafted by my grandfather. 

She went to mass every morning.  I remember waking up as a teen at her house, and she'd already be back from mass ready to start the day.  She had more energy at 70 than I had at 17.  She wouldn't put up with endless hours of television watching and she was always ready for a walk after dinner....sometimes getting to 94 isn't just luck :)

About a week before she passed away, it was clear that she had entered her final illness.  I went to see her one last time a few days before she died.  Every day after that, I waited for my phone to ring with dread.  When it finally did, I just felt peace.  I am profoundly sad at the loss of her, but I am sad for the grandmother I lost to dementia years ago.  I remember the last time she looked me in the eye with recognition a few years back, and I will hold precious forever the memory of watching her look into the eyes of my little SP.  That day, that was the only moment she engaged with any of us and watching my father hold his tiny granddaughter up to his mother and Grandma cooing at SP will remain one of the most precious memories of my lifetime.  As a child, I remember thinking that it was really important to pay attention to Grandma because one day she would be gone.  From an early age, I have engraved her words into my heart, mindful of the treasure.  That there will be no more etchings is a loss so deep I am nearly afraid to feel it.  Nearly, but I treasured what I had and knew its value all the more because it was fleeting. 

We are an Alleluia people.  During my grandmother's last day of consciousness a priest came in to do the Anointing of the Sick.  When he asked my grandmother if she would like him to pray with her, she very loudly said "YES".  Grandma knew the power of prayer, she lived her life faithfully and well.  It was time for her to hear, "well done my good and faithful servant". 

I will gather with my family this weekend for a final goodbye.  It will be hard, but there will be solace in family, in the shared memory and a shared faith.  Don't be sorry for me, say a prayer for her and treasure your family.  Her name meant "heavenly shining light", she'll be one more beacon on the journey home.  My grandmother was surrounded by family, especially in her final week.  My aunt was with her when she died.  Grandma let out a loud sneeze and she was gone.  It must have been the third one by some count.....she's got a six month head start :)

Grandma meeting SP in August 2012