Dear Judy,

Your send off was like nothing I have ever experienced. The abundant love and free flowing grief enveloped in that room was intense. All of your grown children, their spouses and young children were there. The severe decline began Friday morning. I’d just dropped the girls at school and was in line for a much needed coffee, when I got the frantic call to “come home now!”

I drove like a maniac, my heart pounding in my chest. When I arrived, you were struggling. Oxygen was loudly pumping into your nostrils as you laid in bed. We helplessly watched as your lips turned blue and you gasped for air. You were slipping quickly. With shaky fingers and a trembling voice, I made calls. Megan was about to hop on a flight, Tom was at work, Kim was ready to begin her day of teaching. Grandkids were pulled from school. Close family friends and extended family appeared. Everyone immediately dropped everything and came.

Only one week earlier, we had finally convinced you to move in to our home. You had denied our requests for so long. Too long. Doctors had released you to hospice less than two months earlier. There was nothing more they could do. It had metastasized this time, and was terminal. We saw you growing weaker, but you refused our help. Cancer had sunken its toxic claws into your liver and all through your stomach. Depression had rolled in, like thick grey fog.

As soon as you said “yes”, we sprang into action. The playroom downstairs was emptied and plans were made. Later that day, I went to your house and packed a few necessities before we headed out. We made a quick pitstop at Zachary’s baseball game. You’d been too weak and sick to watch any of his other games. His face radiated pure joy when he saw Grandma rolling down to the field in the wheelchair. It’s something he will remember always. You were too weak to stay very long. I had to be careful with you. Like a fragile baby bird, I was afraid of breaking you.

Every day marked significant health declines. You were barely able to walk without assistance. Your emaciated body had been ravished by the disease; your haunted eyes and colorless skin whispered that death was near. Plagued constantly by exhaustion, you slept frequently. Your fight had evaporated.

Nighttime was scary. We could hear you getting up, and shuffling along to the downstairs bathroom throughout the night. We were on high alert and only managed to lightly sleep at night. Every noise we heard threw us into panic mode.

Then there was the day that we weren’t home and the hospice chaplain had found you curled up in fetal position on the bathroom floor. It was then that we knew you had to be confined to bed. No more walking to the bathroom. That, coupled with the fact that we’d found pools of vomit and pills strewn all over your room that morning, lead us to hire a nighttime caregiver. We couldn’t risk something happening to you during the night, while you while we lay fitfully sleeping upstairs.

You didn’t sleep much that first night that the caregiver was there. Your sleep pattern had changed suddenly. At this point we’d installed a camera to watch you from multiple monitors in our home, and through a smartphone app. Family in Michigan and Boston was able to watch you too. All night you’d reached out to one side. Were you seeing those on the other side? You mumbled incoherently and we played along, pretending to understand. You clearly told the caretaker that her husband had died. She was shocked because her husband was in fact dead. We believe you could see him on the other side. The comment about not having to be baptized revealed to us that you were able to see and hear things from the other side. That helped comfort us.

We wondered if we were capable of the level of care you seemed to need. We questioned whether it was healthy for our children to see their beloved grandma slowly deteriorate before them. One night at bedtime Zachary said, “It is all so overwhelming. Grandma moved in to our house so fast and she’s so sick. I worry about her every day when I’m at school”. Nathan added, “Yeah, I thought Grandma was dead because she didn’t come out of her room for breakfast today”. Our kids were definitely affected by the major changes occurring in our home.

Friday was an intensely surreal day, like no other. As tearful family and friends filtered in to your downstairs bedroom, and your sisters and other family tuned in via the app, we showered you with love. By this point your eyes were closed, as if you were in a coma. We know you could hear us talking to you by the way your eyes would flutter and your head would turn toward whoever was talking to you. I will never forget how you were able to, on your own accord, wrap your feeble arms around Megan. This happened not once, but twice. Megan begged you not worry about her, and that she’d get married and have babies some day. We’d pulled up chairs, turned on your favorite country music and set up camp in what, one week ago, was the kid’s playroom.

All eight cousins were there, and floated in and out of the room as they pleased. They played outside and upstairs and bonded on that day more than ever before. Nothing was ever forced. It felt natural. We no longer worried about shielding the kids. The circle of life was unfolding before our eyes, and we all accepted it. There were times of heightened respiratory distress, where we’d all find ourselves encircling your bed. We held onto whatever child was within reach. Tears streamed down our faces. Grief was ever present, but it was the love that I will never forget. So much love.

Your granddaughter lovingly and gently would wipe a small, damp sponge across your chapped lips and inside your parched mouth. At that point, you no longer could swallow, so this is the only way we could help you. Paul and Megan were each stationed at the top of your bed, across from each other, most of the day. They were hands on and fearless. All day. They would turn you, seeking comfort for you and to combat bed sores. They dropped morphine and other liquid pain medicine into your open, unmoving mouth. Your oxygen supply noisily hummed alongside our sometimes upbeat chatter.

A priest came to give you your last rights, because that’s what you had wanted. We prayed together while your sisters tearfully watched from Michigan, and one sister was there beside you. Through an unstoppable river of tears, I thanked you for the son you had raised. You are the reason this amazing man exists. Thank you.

At one point John Denver’s song, Take Me Home, Country Roads filled the room. Without much thought at all, we all began singing with the music. I know you heard us, as you laid there unmoving, eyes closed. It was powerfully perfect; a sliver of time that we will cherish always and none of us will ever forget.

I know you felt great sadness in your life; especially after that first cancer diagnosis, in late 2012. In your journal that you left behind, you were clear about that. You weren’t always able to feel our love. But you were so loved. And if you were unable to feel it before, you unquestionably felt it on that day. Closure of epic proportions happened for all of us, but most importantly, for you. For 16.5 hours we poured our love into you. We thanked you, loved you and told you it was ok to go now.

Your eight energetic grandkids were ushered to bed around 11:30 that night. Most of the family stayed, and slept on borrowed cots and blow up mattresses our gracious neighbors provided. A few went home. Big Cousin Bradley made himself comfortable on the couch next to you, a night watchman of sorts. By 12:15, the rest of us adults had wearily climbed into bed. Before we could drift off to sleep, we were urgently awoken. Megan had checked on you one last time. As soon as your room had grown quiet and still, you’d let go.

Your labored breathing was no more. You lay there, still and peaceful. We were not afraid. I touched you, and somehow you felt stronger. No more pain. No more sadness. You had left us to live in heaven. It was all over. Our end was your eternal beginning.

You had been strong for so long. It’s hard to believe that you lived alone for all that time. Once you came to live with us, I believe you knew it was safe to begin letting go. I think we were all caught by surprise that your downward spiral happened so fast. None of us could have predicted that each day in our home would mark a new significant decline.

After hospice was called, we waited. The hospice nurse was on her way. About an hour slipped by, before she arrived. You died at 12:35 am on May 13, 2017. Seventy years on earth wasn’t enough. We had hoped for more.

By the time the kids woke up, you had already been taken away. Nothing but an empty bed remained. It felt appropriate to lay some of your signature items on that bed. Everyone reconvened at our house that day. Plans and obligations were canceled to gather and watch old home movies and discuss the monumental send off we were able to give you. It felt absolutely flawless.

Our broken hearts are slowly healing. We miss you terribly. Don’t think for a minute that we will ever forget you. You left an impressive legacy behind. Some day we will all be together. But for now, we feel you watching us from heaven. Love you.

{Side Note: This is the first blog post that I have written since your passing. You were always the biggest, most outspoken supporter of my blog. I am going to truly miss your comments.}