A Hard (But Important One) To Write: Ending the “Giving Thanks” Series

goodbye mema

By Troy Headrick

It’s possible some of you may have noted my absence these last couple of weeks.  There’s good reason for that.  My maternal grandmother, a woman with whom I lived when I was growing up because of the instability of my parents’ marriage, died eight days ago now.  She was 103 years old.

If you read my last two blogs, you’ll recall that I was “giving thanks”—I referred to this as a series and was thinking it would run three or four entries long—to people whom had played especially influential roles in my life.  Back when the idea first came to me for the series, I knew that I’d do one on my grandmother, my Mema, as I called her.  Little did I know at the time that she’d die before I had a chance to get it written.

This blog will be a mash-up of sorts.  Part of it will be a narrative of her last day and how witnessing her demise affected me.  The other part will give thanks for some of what Mema passed on.  Of course, I’ll limit myself to approximately 600 words in this piece.  To truly thank my grandmother, for all the wonderful things I learned from her, I would need many more words than that.

I want to begin by saying that we knew she was dying because my wife and I got an ominous telephone call announcing this tragic news.  We immediately loaded up a few things into our car and headed out to a small town, called Eldorado, in western Texas.

When we got there, she was almost entirely unconscious.  I did speak to her all that day, and on one wonderful occasion, after I’d announced that my wife and I were with her at her bedside, she nodded her head ever so subtly to let us know that she’d heard what I’d said and was aware of our presence.

For the rest of that day, I watched my Mema—the woman I’d remembered having more strength and stamina than just about anyone else I’d ever known—slowly decline.  My cousin, an RN, kept whispering that her breathing was changing.  Even I, with my untrained eye, could see that.  Then, suddenly, around 5 p.m., she seemed to rally, so my wife and left to go check into the one motel in little Eldorado.  We vowed to return as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately, before made it back, she passed…

Grieving is physically, mentally, and spiritually hard on a person.  The night she died I had my first serious stomach ailment in years, and the day she was buried, a Saturday, three days after she’d left us, I got a case of the flu, my first in three or so years.  These were not coincidences.

I want to focus on two very important lessons my Mema taught me.  She taught me to love everyone.  She loved all those she came in contact with and would often tell near-strangers, people she’d known after having only a single conversation with them, that she “loved” them.  Some might see this as an eccentricity.  I saw it as her way of closing any sort of distance that might separate her from the person she was interacting with.  For her, she had a very spiritual connection with people, and in fact, with all living things.  She thought that we were all made of one subject, and were, for all intents and purposes, all of one body, mind, and spirit.

Mema also taught me to remember where I came from—an important lesson for someone who’d spend nearly two decades roaming the world—and to cherish family.  Often, unfortunately, with the death of a strong matriarch, kinfolk can become disjointed and estranged from one another.  Our family, at the time of Mema’s death, had some major fissures that were threatening the integrity of the whole.  Because blood ties meant so much to my beloved grandmother I am going to honor her memory by doing my part to keep those fault lines from widening and deepening.  I am going to help mend wounds and to close divides.

This was both hard and easy to write, and I’d truly love to hear your responses.  Thanks for reading.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

45 thoughts on “A Hard (But Important One) To Write: Ending the “Giving Thanks” Series

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    1. I am happy my blog helped you. I do think it is so important that we all get more comfortable thinking about death and about how our loved ones will one day pass away. I think this is very healthy. Trying to pretend that uncomfortable truths like this don’t exist is like the ostrich sticking its head in the sand. (Plus, I’m a practitioner of Stoicism and I highly recommend that more people read about this wonderful philosophical school of thought.) I also think it’s important to see them on their last day because what they are trying to do must be very hard and we should help them make that transition. I am certain our presence and support helped her more easily get across that threshold. Thank you for your comment.

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  1. She sounds like an amazing woman. I’ve been there when a loved one passed and it is never easy but even with the pain you know that you are a better person for having loved them and being loved in return.

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    1. Absolutely! My grandmother was there for me throughout my lifetime, but she played an especially important role when I was a child and my parents weren’t prepared to raise a child. She taught me so much without being “teachy.” She taught by example, and I’m so blessed to have known her and learned from her. Thank you so much for sharing your story and for participating in this conversation.

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  2. I deeply sorry to read on the passing of your beloved. The way you wrote about her gave me a small glimpse into her beautiful impact upon this earth. And now you are here to carry on her love and mission in life………and for that she is very happy!

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  3. Sorry to hear that your dear Mema passed on! Sounds like her love and wisdom was an anchor for you and will continue to be. I’m glad you were there to see her before she passed. Be patient with yourself as you grieve. Take care, Rebecca

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    1. Thanks, Rebecca. I’m being patient with myself right now. I’ve noticed that I’m a bit more scattered in my thinking right now than I usually am. I guess a part of me is somewhere else right now. Yes, I’m so happy to have known my grandmother, and I also know, toward the end, that she was ready to move on, to cross that next threshold.

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      1. Yes, it takes time for all cylinders of the brain to function again. Good to realize that and slow down a bit. My maternal grandmother was dear to me. I still miss her but my life is much richer for having known her. I only wish my father’s mother could have lived longer so I could have known her as well.

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      2. If you’re middle-aged like I am, then you’re old enough to have had grandparents that were a linkage to a different, slower time in the American past. They remember this country when it was different. I always cherished hearing about “the good ole days,” which, in some ways, weren’t so good. Still, the America of my grandparents was a different kind of place. Those folks were our biological linkage to a history that is being forgotten. I was lucky to have known all my grandparents even though my paternal grandmother died when I was only 12 of breast cancer, a terrible disease.

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  4. I’m so sorry about the death of your Mema. It’s hard to learn to live with the hole the people we love leave when they go. This was a beautiful paean to her; I’m sure she’s smiling. Thank you for sharing your life with us here. The way she lived her life, the lessons you learned, are profound. I think working on the family bonds she valued is an excellent legacy.

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    1. Thank you, Em, for the kind words. I know that that grandmother prized family and relationships among family members above almost everything else. That’s why I’ve already taken some steps to heal old wounds. I owe my Mema that much. Actually, I owe her more than I can repay. Your thoughts have been inspirational.

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    2. Thank you for the kind and complimentary words. Yes, I owe my grandmother so much. I’ve decided to honor her by being the kind of person she’d want me to be. Right now, that means I need to try to help keep the family together. My grandmother was the “glue” to keep everyone connected. With her gone, I fear that we’ll drift apart.

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  5. The life is an illusion, death is inevitable.. It’s the days we lived that count at last and make us memorable in someone’s memory. I can understand. She is in a better place now. RIP.

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    1. Yes, my grandmother was not happy toward the end of her life. She lived so actively and was so vivacious that she hated being stuck in her bed. Once she got down the way she was at the end, she knew she no longer wanted to continue her life. From that time forward, she virtually stopped eating and took active steps toward moving on…Thank you very much for your comment.

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  6. I am deeply sorry for your loss! The words you wrote where very beautiful to read and I could relate especially to the last part of helping a family heal and find together on a path of love! I wish you all the best during this difficult time, kinder regards

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and wishes. I honor my grandmother by trying to carry out her wishes. She wanted the family to move beyond old wounds, which is why I’m playing my part to make this happen. All the best to you!

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  7. Sorry to hear of your loss, Troy. 103 years is a long life, and it sounds like she had a good one. When I received word that my 95 year old mother was soon to pass (while I was teaching overseas and unable to get to her on time), within 20 minutes what follows bled forth from my pen:

    Your Final Sleep

    Now that your last drawn breath
    has left your weary breast,
    all who know you are swept away
    by tangled flashes of days long past,
    and places no longer accessible
    through any means other than remembrance.
    We are uplifted by sparks
    of brilliant joy, made ever so brighter,
    by not just your physical nature,
    but more so by the very impact that your presence,
    your influence, and your undying love
    have had upon our lives.

    ******************************************
    Hope it helps.

    Sincere condolences.

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    1. Thanks, Bill. I need to send you something. My life is so busy right now that I simple fall behind in my correspondence, and for that, I must apologize. Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful poem. Yes, we who’ve been expats have both missed a lot and had the opportunity to experience things that make life so wonderfully full and interesting. It’s a bitter-sweet way to live. I hope things are going well in Japan. Even though I don’t write as often as I should, I often think about you and about those years we knew each other in Abu Dhabi. I think we’ll be hitting the road again fairly soon. I’m beginning to have a strong desire to “retire” (whatever that means). Can’t do that here. America has become a place where only rich folk can make it. And we, as you can easily guess, ain’t rich…

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  8. You have my sincerest condolences on the loss of this wonderful lady.

    It sounds like you’ve made some decisions about what you want going forward, and that even though your beloved matriarch isn’t there to nudge people along, you will be. There isn’t a greater accolade than to push love forward, especially in these diversive times. Family is… challenging. We’ve spent the nights fighting over the last cookie as well as laughing over an “in” joke or crying together. Sometimes it’s hard to remember those better moments.

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  9. Our thoughts are with you on this journey. This year I travel over 2,000 miles home on the 1-year anniversary of my father’s passing.

    103-years Old is amazing! While they were ready to cross over, it is difficult for those of us left behind without them.
    ❤️😢

    And yet… we are never truly without them. 🤗

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    1. Up until the last year or so, my grandmother always loved life. She was well aware that she had had a wonderfully long and full existence and had far exceeded the average life expectancy. She was deeply conflicted in the end though. She still wanted to go on and on even though her quality of life wasn’t what she would have preferred. She always talked openly about being “ready.” I guess most of us will likely face such a conflict…

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  10. So, stay strong and content, understanding that she has lived her life to its full, more than what some others get, and now is her time to change the worn-out clothes of her soul into a new life with fresh vigour. Let her go.

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