My memory is like the treasured, antique chest which sits locked in the attic untouched, just holding my life’s story. It is a collection of dreams and endeavors. It’s an album filled with snapshots of the
people and places I once knew. The early pages are wrinkled with age; but through a single flashback or reminiscing moment, I am transported back to that instant in time. Not every memory is a pleasant one, there are some I wish I could forget, but in all truthfulness, “life is like a storm. You could be basking in the sunlight for a second, and be shattered upon the rocks the next.” Trial and error brings about strength, and victory comes after you’ve survived the storm and realize that you’re still standing. I often think about the day April 8, 1997, or at least what I remember about it. That was the day I lost my grandmother, not to the angel of death, but rather to her own demon of limitation.
It had been a warm spring day, but as quickly as the coolness of the evening set in, so did the sun’s rays disappear. It was always a joy to visit Edmonton; my grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins lived there and still do to this day. Traveling was such a habit that Edmonton became a home to me. I forget what we had been in town for that week; perhaps Easter had come early, or maybe it was nothing more than a traditional visit. I believe that somehow, God had summoned us home, knowing that our presence, support, and love would be needed, especially by my grandpa. Just following dinner that evening, my cousins, sisters, and I decided to resume the football game we had started earlier that afternoon. One of the neighborhood boys, Troy I think his name was, had come over to my grandparent’s house to play too. I’m sure he felt an overwhelming desire to display what amazing athletic ability he had to a yard full of seven girls, ranging in age. My mom, grandparents, aunt, and uncle were inside the house cleaning the dinner mess that the girls and I had made in our race to satisfy our hunger. I remember my father’s absence; he was in Australia at the time, away on business.
It had gotten chilly outside so I went in the house to retrieve my warmer jacket. I stepped in the backdoor and was instantly met by my mother, who was on the phone at the time. She had a panic-stricken look on her face, her eyes wide with fear. The words she spoke into the receiver left me unable to breathe. “My mom has fallen to the floor”, was all I heard her say before she physically herded me out the door. I stood on the porch for a moment trying to gather my thoughts and interpret what I had just heard. I knew something serious had happened; I had never seen that indescribable look of apprehension on my mom’s face. I ran as fast as I possibly could over to where my cousins and sisters played, completely ignorant of the situation at hand. I gasped for air and tried to explain what little I knew.
“Grandma’s on the floor! Grandma’s on the floor!” I remember trying to shout.
Apparently everyone understood my words through my panting; without hesitation we ran to the backdoor, where I had just come. It was locked. Wasting no time knocking, we climbed on the picnic table which was conveniently placed on the porch, just outside the kitchen window. We tried to peak through the drawn blinds. Why didn’t anyone want us to know what was going on?
What came next would haunt all of us forever; it was the dreaded sound of sirens that confirmed how critical grandma’s condition was. The next five minutes were a total blur; my mind had gone into shock and my body had numbed itself. I guess the ambulance had gotten to the house in a quick fashion because the next thing I remember is turning around and catching sight of my beloved grandmother, eyes closed, lying motionless on a stretcher. I instantly felt as paralyzed as she had become.
My eyes began to swell with tears, and with a single blink, they began spilling down the course of my face. My grandpa clambered into the back of the ambulance and assisted the paramedics with the lifting of the stretcher. I am sure the drama at 1008 Sherwood caused the naturally more introverted neighbors to come out of hiding; although I was too preoccupied to notice. As soon as the ambulance and its flashing, blood-red lights disappeared from my sight, my whole body began to shake. My mom and her brother Scott, my uncle, took a car and followed immediately behind my grandparents to the old Hospital not more than five miles away. At this point, my Aunt Mary directed all seven, grandchildren into the house; there was nothing else to do. Now eight years later, I feel some pity for my aunt. She had the job of calming seven wailing girls and me. I applaud her effort. She offered us everything from leftover lemon cake to popsicles—anything to stop our hysterical sobbing. We settled for popsicles, but although our crying stopped, we were relentless with our questions, questions to which she had no answers. That night, Mary made a bed for all of us on the living room floor and we fell asleep watching Disney’s, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This is the point at which I can no longer tell the story from what I remember, but rather by what my mom has told me. My story shifts from my experience to hers. She was where it all happened, with my grandpa through every waking moment of this traumatic ordeal. She was in the emergency room surrounded by the cruel truths and harsh realities of a stroke.
My Grandma, had been diagnosed. She had suffered a massive stroke in her brain stem. Forever she would be severely paralyzed, but tonight, that was the least of anyone’s worries. The doctors had somehow summed up her condition into a mathematical percentage. She had a twelve percent chance of making it through the night. Upon hearing this news, my grandpa collapsed in the emergency waiting room, yet my mother said the tears didn’t come. Similarly, he too was in shock. After waiting around the hospital for two, elongated and agonizing hours, the Hoffman party of three was finally able to see my Grandma who had been moved to the ICU. My mom said that seeing her was more frightening than anything else she had ever experienced. She told me, several years later, that it had been difficult to even recognize her own mother’s face; Grandma had looked alien with all the tubes and machines hooked up to her. My mom noticed that the nurses had hooked a plastic bag up to Grandma as she was excreting all her bodily fluids—a sign of death. Worst of all, was that Grandma had postured. Her hands and feet were twisted outwardly, in a way that confirmed significant brain damage had been done. Around 11:30, the doctors suggested to my grandpa, that he, my mom, and my uncle, go home. There was nothing left to do at the hospital but wait. The doctors said that they would call, my grandfather, if anything regarding Grandma’s condition changed—which they had predicted as likely.
Obviously, sleep was not in the realm of possibilities for any adult that night. Grandpa came home, accompanied by my mom and my uncle; they found Mary in the living room, quietly playing Solitaire while we slept. Relaying the facts back to her took a few short moments. Afterwards, my mom proceeded to call my dad, the only member of the family still unknowing about what had happened. He promised to be aboard the next flight from Sydney to Edmonton. Now, there really wasn’t anything left to do but wait. Mary, Scott, my mom, and my grandpa waited for that anticipated phone call; the one that would begin the process of funeral arranging. Back at the house, it was finally quiet enough to sit in silence. The thoughts they had abandoned for hours began to consume their minds; and their emotions washed over them like a tidal wave that crashes on the shore. The minutes passed by with uncertainty; every second seemed to drag on for an eternity. They waited until six, until dawn crept over the surrounding mountains and a sliver of the sun’s light waded down into Edmonton. My mom and my grandpa departed for the Hospital despite their fatigue. After getting there they realized that nothing had changed; she hadn’t gotten better; but, she had lived. Her story inspires me every time I tell it. Despite the tragedy of the tale, it is unequivocally, an absolute success story. My grandmother wasn’t ready for her life’s story to end—heaven would just have to wait.
For eight years we kept our grandmother close to our hearts. She stayed in the comfort of her own home—the only place she knew—surrounded by people who loved her profusely. Despite the physical confinements her stroke had enforced upon her body, my grandmother was extremely intact mentally. It was like her mind and spirit were trapped inside a broken body that no longer was hers; she was a prisoner. Unfortunately, many of her grandchildren, including me to some extent, did not know her any other way. Yes, it’s true. I do not remember my grandma rocking me, teaching me how to sew, or practicing her patience when I burned a batch of cookies, but I don’t regret that. She was special; and she was ours. With her handicap, I learned to appreciate so many of life’s simple pleasures that we shared together. I would see her sitting alone in her wheelchair, isolated from everyone else. Compassion flowed into my heart as I sat beside her and gently entwined my fingers in hers. Her grip was loose at first, her fingers were warm and her skin soft and wrinkly—just as a grandmother’s should be. As the seconds would pass by, I could begin to feel her grip tighten; she hung on to my hand as if it was her own individual way of expressing how much she loved me. With her, it always seemed as though she had a myriad of emotions and thoughts gathered inside and what she needed was an outlet or friend to understand. For eight years her smile was seen every time the family was together, at Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and birthdays. We watched her suffer selflessly, silently, with dignity and grace. I don’t believe anyone actually knew how much of a comfort it was to have her in our presence—even if she couldn’t say much. We wouldn’t know until the day God called her home. The day her soul departed for the clouds and her misery and anguish was over. “The End” had finally come.
~ ~ ~
The morning of June 6th, 2005 came early for my family—the rooster had not yet crowed. We were all asleep. Unconsciously, we waited for the delicate sound of our alarm clocks to wake us, indicating the beginning of another school day. I awoke unexpectedly to the ringing of the telephone and then to a mumbled, fairly inaudible message over our answering machine. The words were difficult to understand but the voice was unmistakably my grandfather’s. Seconds later, my mom rose out of bed and rushed downstairs. She played the recorded message twice before she could comprehend what grandpa said. “Sherri, it’s Dad. Um…gimme’ a call.” Said in a low, meek, and dismal tone, my mom immediately anticipated the worst and tiny beads of sweat emerged from her brow. Her fingers slipped as she tried dialing so she tried again. First, the numbers 1-780—Edmontons area code for long distance phone calls—followed by the seven numbers that composed my grandpa’s home phone number. He answered. Somehow knowing it was her he said only, “I lost her Sherri, I’m so sorry.” Breaking down, he handed the phone to Scott, who was also standing there. Scott explained what had happened. Grandma had been coughing a great deal the night before and grandpa had contemplated taking her in. However, he had decided to wait and check on her in the morning. Little did he know that her eyes would never dilate to the day’s light again. At four o’clock he had awoken to check on her before returning to his dreams. Three hours later, grandpa found grandma lying in bed next to him, just as she did every night, but this morning something was not right. Her skin was white and cold to the touch and her non-existent breathing, soundless. And that was it.
Within four hours our family was in Edmonton. Over the next day, relatives came from all over Alberta, Saskatchewan, and even Texas to be there for the final “farewell” to Grandma Fran. Her funeral was the most heartbreaking yet most joyful commemoration I have ever been to. Tears fell from people’s eyes as liberally as raindrops fall from the sky. I was in such an indescribable state of pain during the funeral, but now, I can smile. She is in a better place; her suffering is over and now she waits until the end of my days when I shall see her once again. I miss my grandmother dearly but she has left her legacy here for all of us to remember. I and everyone else who had the privilege of knowing her as, Fran Hoffman, “a silent angel”, will always remember her.