Mary Sayers -- nee Darmody, Popko before that, and forever my 'Grammie' -- passed away February 3 of this year. It was as unexpected as the death of an 87 year-old can be.
Grammie was the peacekeeper in our family, the one who held all the tattered fragments together and maintained the lines of communication. Issues would come and go, relationships would be strained time and again, but Grammie was the constant. She remained strong after the loss of her first husband, Robert, in 1958. Strong in her heart, and strong in her faith. She remarried three years later, and stood by her second husband for over 40 years through alcoholism, infidelity, and later Alzheimer's.
Again... strong in her heart, and strong in her faith.
For almost all her adult life, Grammie lived within two miles of St. Thomas More Church at 48th & Grover in Omaha. It was her constant, the one thing that did not change through all the outer turmoil. She drew strength from her church, and took comfort from it... even to the point of refusing to move to New Mexico in the 90s to be with both her daughters and their families. But she always remained close to all of us, keeping the lines of communication open, and she was always there for all of us... only a phone call away.
The last time I saw Grammie, the last time I hugged her, was December 2005. It was in the kitchen of the duplex she and Grandpa had lived in for 20 years, right across the street from St. Thomas More. Two years later she moved to an assisted living facility in Papillion. She knew it was going to be her last home, but she eventually came to enjoy her time there, and participated in most of the activities there. Grammie always made new friends very easily, and like so many times before she made a positive impact on all she knew.
My family talked often about going up to Omaha to see Grammie. With the exception of Mom traveling to Omaha in 2007, to help Grammie pack her things to move over to the Wellington, that just never happened. Finances never allowed us to make the trip. At least I was able to talk to Grammie, at least once a week, on the phone; my Mom, at least three times. Those conversations remained our link holding the fragments together, even if she and I only really ever talked about the weather, or Huskers football.
On February 3, I was at work, settling awkwardly into my four day-old position as 'Integrated Solutions Manager' at DMC. I had just talked with Grammie the Sunday before, telling her about my promotion.
I knew Grammie was in the hospital; she had been in and out for over a month, feeling very weak and suffering from a persistent cough. The day before, doctors had cauterized a bleed in her esophagus that was believed to be the cause of her anemia. The procedure had been successful... so much so, in fact, that February 3 was to be the day Grammie was supposed to go home. That wasn't to be.
Grammie woke up that morning in extreme discomfort. Doctors initially thought -- or told us, anyway -- that was likely due to the effects from the previous day's procedure. Grammie joked with the nurses as she went in to the operating room for a second time. My Aunt Peg continued to pack her things up to take Grammie home later that day.
At 12:00 New Mexico time, I talked to my Dad on the phone. He told me about the second procedure, which to me sounded like no big deal. Two hours later, as I headed for a meeting, my phone blinked with an email. "Please call as soon as able. Mom."
I called right then, because I just knew. It was an embolism. Doctors found it while attempting to determine why she continued to bleed out. We were told she only had hours.
I threw hurried goodbyes at my coworkers as I ran out the door. I sped the entire way to my parents' home in Bernalillo. "We're leaving right now," I told Mom as I ran in the door. I really thought we could make it to Omaha -- a minimum of 14 hours away by car -- to say goodbye before Grammie passed. It took both my parents to slow me down, and to allow me to finally face the cruel reality.
Mom was able to speak to Grammie before she died. She was unconscious by then, thanks to the medications administered to ease her suffering... but Peg said Grammie still raised her arm as Mom spoke, acknowledging her. A half-hour later, Peg did the same for me, allowed me to say goodbye over the phone.
That was at 2:30. Grammie died at 3:00. Everything had happened in less than three hours. She passed away one day before her daughter's -- my mother's -- 62nd birthday.
Three weeks later, Mom and I were on the road, heading up to Omaha for a memorial mass, for the second time in five years. We traveled through the worst snowstorm I've ever driven in to be there, and I was more scared than I'd ever been behind the wheel. As we crept along at 15 miles-per-hour through North Platte, then Lincoln, and finally Omaha -- past literal piles of battered cars that had run off the side of the road -- I asked my Grammie for her guidance and strength. It seemed to help. We arrived safely.
The next day, February 25, came the memorial. Grammie's favorite priest, Father Ross, made a special trip down from his new parish to perform the mass. I gave both readings... standing in the church my Grammie had kept so deeply in her heart, in front of the choir loft where my Grammie sang in praise for so many years.
"The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us... utter destruction. But they are in peace."
I'm a fairly strong public speaker... but this day, as my voice remained oddly clear, even as I fought back tears the entire time... that strength wasn't mine, I knew.
"Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? ... Will anguish, or distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things, we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Afterwards, at the Wellington, I met all the people who knew my Grammie. They all knew me, and told me how proud my Grammie was of me. They knew I was a pilot. And, to a person, they said how much they loved my Grammie, and had felt her love in to them in return.
And now, here we are. Mother's Day... the first one I didn't send a card or flowers to Omaha for. Today I will be strong for my Mom, as she mourns hers. You see, Grammie taught me to hold the fragments together... and of the importance of being there for those who love.
I just wish we all could have been there at that final moment. That will always haunt me.