Where There Is Joy, There Is Sorrow

Michelle & Grandma Shirley

Over a decade ago, my Grandma Shirley was diagnosed with cancer. As she grew more ill, it became difficult for her to live in her big house all by herself. Even though there were family efforts to try to have it work out, my grandma needed to be in a place with skilled caregivers.

But she didn’t want to go anywhere, and I don’t blame her. She resisted, she negotiated, and she bargained…all in an attempt to maintain the life that was so comfortable and familiar to her. After all, isn’t that one’s birthright—to be in the place they call home? The social worker came by one Sunday morning to meet with Grandma Shirley and us to deliver the news: In a few hours, she would be going to a residential hospice setting.

The social worker rang the doorbell, and I patiently waited in the den while “the meeting” took place in the other room. I listened in. Contrary to previous conversations, there was no arguing, no pleading, no bargaining. When the plan was announced, Grandma Shirley, in the most quiet and accepting way, agreed.

I think there was something in her that, at her core, knew and understood the depth of the situation. So with grace, she prepared to confront the next steps.

Moving into action

The social worker left, and I observed Grandma Shirley move into action. From her wheelchair, she asked my mom to get her favorite stationery out of the drawer and bring her a pen. She put on her bifocals and then called out to my mom to grab her checkbook from the kitchen drawer. Then she got busy.

I wanted to give her privacy with whatever it was she was doing, so I went back to my spot in the den, while my mom and aunt began to gather up personal belongings that would go along to the hospice.

Grandma Shirley was writing out cards to each of us, her grandchildren, telling us how much she loved us and how special we were to her. The notes were written on her famous lacy stationery in her pretty handwriting. There’s not much that I save or hang on to, but I do still proudly have her sweet note, ten years later. Enclosed with each note was a check signed with love. I thought that was so precious. She had important business that needed to be taken care of before anything else could move forward.

Life, and its timing, certainly is ironic. A few weeks ago, I had set aside time on my calendar to write about this experience. And lo and behold, it was just yesterday that the same beautiful scenario unfolded right before my eyes. Bill’s Grandma Isabelle was home on hospice care. And during our visit, it was very important to her that I pick out one of the many paintings she had framed on the walls in her house. They were all painted by “Granny” herself! Bill had already claimed his.

So in her presence, I chose the one with a squirrel peeking out of a tree stump in the forest. I brought it over to Granny in her hospital bed in the living room. Her face came alive and her eyes brightened, and we talked all about why I chose that painting, what the squirrel might have been thinking, etc. And then she reached out and held me tightly, close to her chest in a way that transcended words; it was like a nonverbal nod of appreciation for honoring her request. By having the grandchildren and their spouses pick out a painting, this, too, felt like Granny was taking care of important business that needed to be handled before moving on. It was an honor to be on the receiving end.

The irony of life

Back at Grandma Shirley’s house, I stood in front of the big bay window, staring out at the field across the street where I used to play kickball and have picnics. That childhood vision vanished quickly as I saw an ambulance pull up the driveway. Two uniformed men got out and they wheeled a stretcher down the walkway up to the front door.

What? I didn’t know it had to be done this way. When they entered the house, nothing about it felt right. These strangers and their large and “official” presence, deep commanding voices, and thunderous footsteps didn’t match the softness of my grandma’s house. And the wheels of the stretcher were getting the light carpet dirty. I knew my grandma wouldn’t like that.

I stayed out of the way. My mom and aunt wheeled Grandma Shirley, wearing her housecoat, from the bedroom and down the hall to the living room. From where I sat inside the den, the space between the rooms helped to serve as a buffer, allowing me to watch everything unfold from a safe distance as the observer. The big loud men helped Grandma Shirley get up on to the stretcher.

The scene was surreal. She would never again come “home.”

My tears rolled as I became witness to Grandma Shirley’s last moments in her house. She totally surrendered, obviously in quiet agreement with the turn of events. She had lived her life, raised her children, loved her grandkids, taken care of business, and now she was ready to go. It’s funny the thoughts that run through your mind. In that moment, I thought it would be a perfect photo op for LIFE magazine…me in the den crying, watching my mom, who was watching her mom transition into the final chapter of her life. Each of us with a deep compassion for what the other was going through.

The most poignant thing about it all was that it was actually Mother’s Day.

The fleeting preciousness of life

Once Grandma Shirley was settled in at the hospice, I had the privilege of being alone with her in her new room while she was sleeping. It was a gloriously beautiful afternoon in May. The windows were open, the sun was shining in, the gentle breeze flowed through the curtains, and the song birds enthusiastically rejoiced in the birth of spring. Life was all around! And yet I watched my grandma’s breath as she demonstrated another type of birth; another type of life just around the corner.

Grandma Shirley died shortly afterwards. And Grandma Isabelle died this morning. Two strong women who made their mark on this earth and whose imprint will last forever. And for those of us left behind…where there is joy, there is also sorrow.

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14 Responses to “Where There Is Joy, There Is Sorrow”

  • Bill says:

    Wow – what a beautifully written story! And a great reminder for us find joy in ALL areas of life.

  • Michele says:

    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story, Michelle. Yes, we have to be able to open ourselves to love and joy, and with that comes sorrow, but it is so worth it. It sounds like while you were lucky to have both grandmas, they were also lucky to have you in their lives! Your post is a nice way to honor them.

  • Amy Forsberg says:

    What a wonderful story. It helps remind me how lucky I am to have such survivors around me, teaching me. This sorrow is gift that only deep love offers.

  • Josh says:

    She was the joy in all our lives! I remember looking in that same window as Shirley was looking out. She was making sure that I was safe, she gave me that loving smile as only she knew how as I was playing in the front yard.My brother and I would run and jump through out her house as she cleaned it so effortlessly. She would state”If you boys don’t stop I am going to report you to the proper authorities!” Or my favorite of all the Shirleyisms was “You are raising dust when you do that!!! STOP!!” She will remain in my heart and mind forever.

  • Nina says:

    I have to tell you that your blog is really a bright spot for me and helps me put things in perspective. Thanks for your positive attitude – You constantly amaze me and remind me that life is what you make of it.

  • Pam says:

    Seeing the opportunity to rejoice in losing someone we love and remember their life and contributions really is a tribute to them. You are an amazing woman. I cherish your friendship and am so blessed to have you in my life.

  • Janice Kern says:

    this sounds like tough love moments to me….

    Thanks for letting us all in to share this experience.

  • Marlene says:

    I cannot find the words to express what a beautiful story you wrote about your wonderful grandmother. What a lovely tribute to her and to Granny.
    Love,
    Mom

  • Mark says:

    My aunt Shirley…after school…egg salad sandwiches and chicken dumpling soup…my moms best friend…

  • Cindy says:

    I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your stories. You inspire me to really go for what makes me happy and not settle for anything less. I’m working so hard at trusting the universe to provide me what I need- it’s not always easy but I know it’s the right thing and that it really does work. Thank you for sharing and for being in my life. You touch me more than you know.

  • Rochelle says:

    The picture you chose says so much in itself…the profound love of a Grandmother and a grandchild… Priceless!

    The words and phrases you used are beautiful…so loving and heartfelt.

    You were the first grandchild, and she was so proud of you! Grandma adored Bill and would often comment on your “life” with him.

    Thank your for honoring your Grandmother in this way. And, thank you, Michelle, for adding to the loving memories that I have of my mother.

    You are an awesome woman. I love you dearly.

    Auntie Rochelle

  • Char says:

    I cried as I read about Grandma Shirley and Granny Isabelle! Two very strong and wonderful women. Keep writing you have such a gift!!

  • Sharon says:

    Ohhh Michelle….I have chills from the "love check"…….how incredibly loving and awesome that is………….what a wonderful woman…….and what sheer grace and dignity she showed in a very trying time for her. I love you, Sharon xoxo

  • Thank you, all, for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. It means so much!

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Michelle Stimpson: Editor/Writer

Michelle Stimpson Hi and thanks for visiting - so glad you're here! This blog is especially for cool people who want to experience joy and live a life of purpose. Welcome!

Here you'll find great stories that will inspire you and remind you that life is good, and there's an abundance of joy all around us. Simply put: When you follow the things in life that make you come alive and bring you joy...the magic begins to unfold.

Start by checking out the "Best Of" page and be sure to consider subscribing above. Thank you and cheers to joy!

Michelle Joy Stimpson
Executive Editor & Writer
Life Coach, LifeShine

Bill Stimpson: Partner-In-Crime

Bill Stimpson Hi! Not only will you see me “show up” in many of Michelle’s stories and posts here, but I also serve as Michelle’s editor, helping her clarify intentions and make her posts shine.

One of the great joys in my life is being involved with this blog! It’s a constant reminder for me to focus on the things that bring me joy. It also feels great to be sharing so many of these joys with you - in hopes that you, too, will find ways to focus on your own joyful experiences.

Here's to an abundance of joy in your life!

Bill Stimpson
Hubby & Associate Editor

The Parent Company



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