Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gwe Gwe

Monday it was one month ago that my Gwe Gwe (Dad's mom) passed away. It was all very sudden. I got the call from Mom at about 12:30 on Friday morning, 10/9, that Gwe Gwe had gotten sick, called 911, had made it to the hospital, but was currently on life support. They would wait until Mom and Dad got there before they turned the machines off. It had been an aneurism/stroke-type of brain bleed. Gwe Gwe had known that there was something that just wasn't quite right for awhile now, and had been seeing a series of different doctors in an attempt to figure it out. They just weren't quite fast enough, though...

This hit especially hard because we hadn't seen Gwe Gwe since last Christmas, and Mom and I had been planning to take the boys to spend the day with her on Saturday. We were so close...

Gwe Gwe lived alone in Brenham. Her husband had died over 30 years ago. That meant that it was up to Dad and his brother and sister to take care of everything. And because it was all so sudden, there was a great deal of hunting for certain paperwork and things (and often following one odd little handwritten note to another), as well as figuring out what to do with an empty house and unused car until things could be figured out more and there was time to take care of them.

...and this all just six weeks after MeeMaw died, leaving Mom and her brother to take care of everything. What a load.

Knowing that there was not much I could do to help with this since my lovely little crew of helpers would be along (and Bret would not be able to come until after our worship gathering on Sunday), we took the opportunity to go to Gammie's house (which is near Brenham) and spent some time with Gammie, Poppy, Aggie, Uncle Kevin, and Cousin Kaleb.

After reuniting with Kaleb Saturday morning,a fun pasture party on Saturday night (I SO wish I had taken my camera!), and worship with Gammie and Poppy on Sunday morning, we were off to Brenham. We met up with our family at Gwe Gwe's. It was probably the last time I'll ever go to that least with it still looking the way it's looked for the past thirty years...

The visitation was Sunday evening. Bret had met up with my brother and brothers-in-law (my sisters were already there), and they made it just in time. We saw a lot of family that we hadn't seen in a long time. Some of them were even meeting some or all of the boys in person for the first time.

Conner and Micah were still very interested in seeing Gwe Gwe's body. But after they had done their looking and touching, they were satisfied and spent most of the rest of the time playing with their daddy and aunts and uncles.

We talked a lot about the past. Gwe Gwe was German, and often called us "britzelpater" (I have no idea how that German word it actually spelled) as children. I had always thought that was pickled canteloupe. (Yes, it's just as disgusting as it sounds!) But apparently, she was not calling us melons -- it's just a German word to lovingly call a child a mischief-maker.

We talked about the time we got to spend with her during the summers when we were younger -- the trips to the movies and McDonald's, the Blue Bell creamery and the monastery with miniature horses, the trips to the grocery store where we each got to pick our very own six pack of cokes and box of cereal. We talked about how she would save her dimes in baby food jars.

There were a lot of people who were really still in shock. I lost track of how many people I heard say over and over, "But she always looked so good." And she did. She was an 80+ year old woman, and had her list of aches and pains, but mostly she was doing really good. Everyone had been surprised.

The funeral the next morning. It was good to have the family together -- the first time in a very long time that we had all been together. I was a pall bearer. That was a first for me. Bret has done it several times, but in the past it's always been the guys who do this job. Well, this time around, she had asked that the grandsons and grandsons-in-law take this job...but only four of them were available. So my sisters and I got to join in. Thankfully, the church's preschool/daycare was gracious enough to let the Wellsbrothers hang out with them during the service so that I could participate in this honor. (That's why they're not in the picture above.)

This all took place at Gwe Gwe's Lutheran church. It's very different from the good ol' Church of Christ I grew up with, and I remember how cool it was when as a little girl I got to pull the padded bars down so that we could kneel and read our part of the "script." I was glad to get to go back there one more time. However, because this worship felt so different from what I am accustomed to, the funeral just wasn't highly emotional for me. I felt very detached and a little awkward. It was definitely a funeral, and it was definitely my grandmother that we were remembering...the service just lacked the personalized touch that I guess I have grown to expect.

The hardest part of it all was at the end, when the seven grandchildren (me and Bret, Ira, Lydia and Chris, Jodi and Robert) together lifted Gwe Gwe's casket and carried it to the waiting vehicle. It was heavy, and we were carrying it down some stairs -- difficult and requiring a lot of teamwork. It was very strange, this feeling of the weight my grandmother in her casket, entrusted to my siblings and I alone, on her last exit of the church she had been so faithful to. I have never experienced anything quite like it.

After a brief refreshment and time of visitation, we were whisked away to our vehicles. The burial was to be at the VA Cemetery in Houston (where Dad's dad was buried), about an hour away. I'm sure you in Texas remember how cold and rainy and cloudy and just down right dreary most of October was. October 12th was no exception. It wasn't raining hard, but we definitely ran to the van to keep from getting too wet and cold. I was dreading the graveside service.

However, as we drove to Houston, we started seeing a break in the clouds. And then the sun started peeking through. And by the time we got to the cemetery, the rain had stopped, the sun was shining, and it had begun to warm up. Perfect timing.

Now, I don't know if you've ever been to a graveside service at a VA Cemetery, but once again, it was not what I was used to. It wasn't even actually a graveside service. Instead, there was a little chapel, and my siblings and I carried the casket into the building one last time. There was a song and another few prayers, and we were done. When the last of the friends and family had exited the building, the cemetery's workers loaded the casket onto a little cart, and drove it to the burial plot. Honestly, I felt a bit cheated. Outside, our family decided that we would like to go see the headstone. None of us had ever seen where Dad's dad had been buried, except Dad -- and that had been the day he was buried, 36 years ago. You see, his death had been extremely sudden as well. And it happened before my mother was even on the scene. So, for whatever reason, no one ever talked about him. Growing up, we knew a few of the circumstances surrounding his death, but we never really learned much about him. We talked about him so little that we had never even given him a "grandparent" name, he had always just been "Dad's dad."

During all of the going through things and looking for stuff at Gwe Gwe's house, we had learned a little bit more about Dad's dad. And suddenly, it was okay to talk about him and remember him. They even found a little box of random little things that had belonged to him, and Dad told us some stories about him that we had never heard. So we decided that really, he needed a name. And we settled on "Yo Gwe." "Yo" for "Yogi," what my kids call my dad. "Gwe" for "Gwe Gwe," to whom he had been married. Yo Gwe. Strange, yes. But it made sense, and finally this mystery of a grandfather had been named.

And suddenly, we found that we were all experiencing some grief toward not only his death, but for the fact that we had never known him, or even very much about him. It seemed only appropriate that we go see the place where he was buried while our family was there together.We walked to the site -- which, thankfully was very near the chapel -- my children splashing in all of the puddles along the way. One of the things that I will always remember about Gwe Gwe's funeral is that this was when Joey learned about splashing in puddles. You see, many of the headstones are flush with the ground like this, for easy mowing. And after all of the rain from the preceding days, nearly every one of them was more a puddle than anything else -- pure joy for three little boys.

However the VA Cemetery is nothing if not efficient. Before we got there, the casket cart had beaten us. They had already put the casket in a plastic encasement and had the digger right there ready to go. They did pause as we looked, talked, took pictures. But as soon as we turned our backs, they set back to work. You can see all the machinery at the edges of the picture.We finished up our weekend of memories with lunch together. And what would appropriately complete this already eventful and crazy weekend? That's right -- Micah puked. All over the table, all over the bathroom. He wasn't eating his lunch very well, but wanted some candy at the checkout counter. So we had insisted that he eat about half of what was on his plate. So he did...and then promptly "un-ate" it. Oops. I guess he really wasn't hungry afterall... Luckily, the van was crammed with bags of clothes for everyone, and since I have learned that the kid apparently likes to do this every now and then I have also learned to keep extra towels, baby wipes, Lysol, and Clorox wipes in the van for just such occasions. It was a relatively easy fix.

As we were finally loading up into our cars to make the trip back home, we noticed that the sky had started clouding up again and the air was getting cooler. Not long into the trip home, it started raining again. It was literally like God had given us that little bit of sunshine at just the time that we needed it. What a wonderful gift -- one I will likely never forget.

Gwe Gwe, we miss you. I so wish that we could have spent that one last weekend with you. I'm doing my best to make peace with the fact that we all had the gift of anticipation. One of the things that Mom and Dad had found in Gwe Gwe's kitchen was a grocery list and a little stack of coupons, obviously for items that she had been planning to pick up for our visit on Saturday. I've got them in my purse, and plan to make that little shopping trip for her...but it's something I want to do alone, and just haven't yet brought myself to do it...

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Amy said...

Rachel. Thanks for sharing. I understand about the shopping list. It will we be both wonderful and exhausting when it finally is the right time. I've so grieved my Granddaddy this fall... in different ways from one day to the next. Blogging about his death, was something I needed to do but took me forever. It's all part of the healing process. I certainly sympathize and empathize with you at this time in our lives!

CB said...

What a beautiful post Rachel. I know you were so special to your Gwe Gwe. Death is so hard to understand. The shopping list sounds like it might give you some should go, and prepare the meal she was going to make..and invite your mom and might be a good for all of you!! But you know, sometimes, I get the most joy out of anticipating someone's I know that even though she did not get to have that visit, the list shows how much excitement the thought gave her. What a blessed lady to have so many people that loved her so dearly.

Lydia said...

oh rachel... thanks so much for chronologging (is that a word) all of this. it's perfect. we are so lucky to have 2 grandmother that raised 2 wonderful parents.

love you sis.

i miss her, too.

Bonnie said...

yes, thanks, Rachel for recording this memory for our family as well...many, many emotions...
Love you!

Gammie said...

What sweet memories! Thanks for sharing "Gwe-Gwe" with all of us.
loveyou bunches, me