Serenading Grandma

April 14th, 2015 by Dionna | 5 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family

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Welcome to the April 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family History

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, lore, and wisdom about family history. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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Grandma 1
When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. In the beginning it was out of convenience – my parents were both working and Grandma was free daycare. When we moved away from my grandparents, it was because my mother was a mama’s girl who couldn’t stay away from Grandma for any appreciable amount of time. And Grandma couldn’t stay away from me, especially after she lost my grandfather when I was six.

I’ve often said that my Grandma was my second mother, but she was so much more. We were best friends. The sixty-seven years between us made no matter, our age gap was one of the foundations of our friendship. One of her favorite stories to share was when I’d promised her: “Grandma, you take care of me while I’m little, and someday I’ll take care of you when you’re old.”

When I started playing violin in the fifth grade, Grandma and my mom were the biggest part of my musical cheering section. Grandma used to beg me to bring my violin with me when I visited so I could play her some songs. Sometimes I acquiesced, too often I didn’t. When I graduated college and stopped playing in the symphony, Grandma urged me to keep playing and reminded me that someday I would be thankful for my talent. For the most part, I was too busy with life to heed her advice.

Grandma got cancer for the first time several years before she finally passed away. That first time, the treatments worked. We celebrated when the doctors announced she was in remission. And in my naiveté, I thought she would always be around. In the summer of 2001, the cancer came back with a vengeance; but this time, the doctors weren’t optimistic. As soon as the word “terminal” was spoken aloud, Grandma flipped a switch – no longer was she the woman who was determined to fight it out, she had come to peace with her mortality and was ready to go when God saw fit.

She slipped fast. My mom and sisters and I took turns staying with her; a nursing home was not an option. I enjoyed spending weekends and occasional weekdays with her again. I attempted to make up for the years when my teenage arrogance took priority over our friendship. I read to her, I watched silly game shows with her, and I listened to her. We couldn’t talk for hours, because she was too weak for extended conversations. But when she laid her hand on my arm and wanted to share something, anything, I was all ears.

But something kept nagging at me, something I wanted to do for her before . . . well, before. It finally hit me on her birthday – November 13, 2001. I would get my violin and play her favorite hymns. Luckily, I had plans to help a friend move to a suburb of Kansas City that Saturday, November 17th. He promised to swing by my house to grab my violin. I’d be able to play for her by Saturday evening. In the few days I had left, I found a few hymns and practiced them on an imaginary violin.

When I left Grandma early that Saturday morning, I joked, “Now don’t go anywhere, I have a special surprise for you when I get back!” She grinned and promised she’d be there (of course she would, she hadn’t gotten out of bed in weeks).

It was a thirty-five minute drive to my friend’s new apartment. Twenty minutes into the drive, Mom called and said that Grandma wasn’t doing very well, and perhaps I wanted to come back. I reassured her that I’d come back in a few hours. Ten minutes later, my sister (who was also at the house that weekend) called again. “Mom’s really worried, I think she’d really like it if you came back.” My mother is a professional worrier, and I said again that I’d be home in a few hours. I was sure everything would be fine.

I reached my friend’s apartment at the same time my phone rang for a third time. It was my sister again, and she was insistent. Mom had called Grandma’s doctor, and she told Mom “if you think it’s time and Dionna needs to come home, trust your instincts and get her home.”

I panicked. I found my friend, grabbed the violin, and ran. In my panic, I took the wrong highway back and cursed myself for the extra time it would add to the drive. I called the house every ten minutes, updating them on my location and finding out how Grandma was feeling. “Not well and getting worse” came the reply each time. Her lungs were filling up with fluid, and she was having problems breathing. At one point mom asked me, “What’s this surprise she asked me about? She said you had a surprise for her.” I couldn’t answer.

In the center of my panic, a calm was taking root. I don’t know whether it was an intuition or the effect of the chant that had become my temporary mantra – “She won’t die until I get there. She won’t die until I get there.” I knew it was true.

My phone rang again as I screeched into the driveway. I ignored it and ran inside the house, opening my violin case on the fly. I grabbed the hymnal and reached the bedroom, flipping pages and thrusting the book at my mother, who was standing with my sister over the bed. Before I picked up my bow, I leaned close to Grandma’s ear and let her know I was there. Her breathing was tortured and her eyes were half-closed, but she was still alive. And even though she didn’t respond outwardly to my words, she heard.

She had waited.

Grandma passed on while I played one of her favorite hymns, “In the Garden.” I have this fantasy that what Grandma heard were the strings of angels, welcoming her to heaven.

As was so often the case, Grandma was right – I am thankful for my talent. And I’m going to keep playing. Maybe she can still hear.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama

Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • They Come Through You — Aspen at Aspen Mama shares what her late-discovery adoption means to her and her family.
  • The Shape of Our Family: Musings on Genealogy — Donna at Eco-Mothering delves into her genealogy and family stories, observing how the threads of family reveal themselves in her daughter.
  • Hand family stories down to the next generation — Lauren at Hobo Mama asked her father to help her son learn to read — never expecting that Papa’s string of richly storytelling emails would bring a treasure trove of family history into their lives.
  • Saving Family Stories — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about why she thinks it’s important to preserve fun and interesting family stories for future generations.
  • Serenading Grandma — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama started playing violin in the fifth grade, her grandma and mother were the biggest part of her musical cheering section. Her grandma urged her to keep playing and reminded her that someday she’d be thankful for her talent. As was so often the case, her grandma was right.
  • Family legacy ambivalence — With a family history of depression and suicide, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama frets about her children’s emotional health.
  • Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New — As an Episcopalian whose children’s ancestry is five-eighths Jewish, Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook values the annual Passover seder that connects her and the kids to family traditions.

5 Responses to:
"Serenading Grandma"

  1. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    I’m crying. That was the most touching story. I’m so glad you got to play for your grandma before she died. I know she must have appreciated it so much. My mom’s regret about her mother’s passing is she didn’t say “I love you” one last time when she left the hospital one night, which turned out to be the last night. I know her mother knew she loved her, but that’s stuck with me — trying to make sure, as much as we can, that there are no regrets with those we love.

    • So true, Lauren. Both making sure there are no regrets (I want my quest for peaceful parenting to spill over to every relationship!), but also to take peace in knowing that the last words aren’t as important as the foundation of the relationship.

  2. Kelli

    Wow Dionna. That’s an absolutely gorgeous story. Just amazing. What a gift to be able to serenade her in her passing. But the real amazing thing is that you were both able to be such good friends and lend each other yourselves during your lifetimes. It’s just a beautiful story. She must have been a pretty amazing woman to have taken a hand in making you who you are. Thanks for sharing that. -Kelli ;)

    • I am so blessed to have had her! It makes me sad that my own mom is so far away, because I’m worried that my kids won’t have the same relationship with her. But we do make every effort to connect them – Skype, mail, phone calls, etc.

  3. Ruth Mitchell

    I am just reading this and yes, I cried. Of course I LIVED IT with you and have told you how it touched my heart to have you do such a loving, caring act for Grandma. I do believe that she started her journey to heaven with your music ringing in her ears, and I know she smiled ( and cried, we both know where we got our penchant for tears).You were the Apple of Her Eye, I know that her example of love and caring for you are a big part of the love and devotion that I feel towards MY Grandchildren. I love you Honey –


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