Cherishing Memories and Finding Peace

Growing up, my grandparents had a huge impact on my life. As many of our clients are also grandparents, I want to share some stories about mine. Three of my grandparents have passed away: Bob Rogers, Erna Totton and Richard Totton. I would like to share with you a little about each of them and my journey to find peace in their passing in particular grandma Erna who passed away in January.

My grandfather Bob was a character. He was plagued by many health issues but one of the most determined and strong men I know. He suffered from polio, diabetes and various other health conditions. That did not stop him from joining the navy and working for Indian Health Services. Grandpa Bob always had a love for animals and in his later years, he raised and traded various animals, such as pot belly pigs, sheep, snakes, rabbits, peacocks just to name a few. The last few years were very tough as his health continued to deteriorate. His diabetes became harder to manage and his polio limited his mobility.

In July of 1995 he passed away. I was young but remember being so sad at his funeral. However, I don’t remember my grandmother shedding a tear. She asked me why I was so sad and I said you lost your soulmate what you are going to do without him. She said “I am happy for him he is at peace, he is no longer suffering. He had strong faith and I know he is with his heavenly father”. I was shocked. I had never associated death with peace.

It was about 15 years later when I would lose my other grandfather, Richard Totton. I was very close to my grandpa Richard and grandma Erna. For the first 10 years of my life they only lived a few miles away. We saw them almost every day as they babysat my sister and I. When I was 10 we moved to Chamberlain which was a hard adjustment as we were now a few hours away from them. However, we still found time to spend weekends and even weeks with them in the summer.

Oh how summers at grandma and grandpas were so much fun! My grandma would plant a huge garden. She had a strawberry patch that us grandkids would pick for her and she would make us strawberry ice cream, strawberry muffins, and strawberry salad. Her potato patch was so big that in the fall grandpa would have to get the tractor out, attach the plow and turn over the ground so we could pick up all the potatoes, put them in burlap sacks and store them in the cellar of the separator house.

In the winter, the garden would transform into an ice skating rink and the house would be a place of great family gatherings. We had so many good times playing games, playing house in the basement, watching Chevy Chase movies or Home Alone. My grandma was a wonderful cook and would bake the most delicious treats at Christmas and would hide them throughout the house so they would last through our visits

I could go on and on about the memories of my grandparents taking 9 of us grandkids camping in Pierre or fishing on the white river or checking cows and swimming in the stock tank, prairie dog hunting or family reunions in the hills. My grandparents helped create so many good memories for us kids and taught us so much.

Things started to change in 2004 when my grandfather suffered from a major heart attack and spent months in the Rapid City Regional hospital. There were many times we questioned whether or not he would make it, but he was strong and pulled through. This incident however scared my aunts who were the primary caregivers for my grandparents and they insisted my grandparents move in with my aunt in Pierre. They were not too keen on this idea and did not know why they couldn’t continue to live on the farm, so the compromise was that they would live on their farm the majority of the year but would winter in Pierre.

In 2010 my parents were visiting my grandparents on their 57th wedding anniversary and realized my grandpa seemed weak and a little unbalanced. My grandparents did not like to inconvenience anyone so they kept their health issues to themselves and you pretty much had to pry information out of them. Upon further investigation, my parents found out my grandpa had not felt well for over a week. They insisted he see the doctor the next day. Their rural clinic ran some blood work which did not come back well and they sent him to Pierre for further testing. This is when we discovered on Tuesday that my grandfather had a very aggressive form of leukemia and was placed on hospice. All of us grandkids along with other family members made it to Pierre to say good-bye. When we all started to arrive my grandfather perked up and we had some great visits with him so great that we thought just maybe the doctors were wrong. That Friday grandpa passed way in his sleep with my grandmother by his side.

Since we were all there my grandma wanted to have a quick funeral and try to move on. She so very much missed my grandpa but thought that now that she or my aunt no longer had to worry about his health issues that she could move back to the farm. What she didn’t realize is that she had many health issues of her own. She was starting to forget things, tell the same stories over and over and her driving was well… scary.

She lived with my aunt for three years until she had a stroke which landed her in the Sioux Falls hospital and then in the GSS Center for Rehab. She would call the Center her home for the next four years. She had a very hard time adjusting to the nursing home and would constantly try to pack her things and move out. Between my uncle, cousin and myself someone was there almost every day for I think about the first year.

Over time her memory continued to decline and she became less mobile. In November of 2016 she was placed on hospice to provide her support and comfort. I knew the time for her to be reunited with my grandfather was near and just wanted her to be at peace. The light in her eyes were gone, she no longer knew who we were, babies that once brought a smile to her face no longer lite up her eyes, she could no longer transfer herself, a women who had always cleaned her plate at a meal had no interest in eating not even her favorite ice cream. It was so sad to see her this way.

It was a cold Saturday January evening that I received a call from a nurse who frequently worked at the nursing home and attended most of her care conferences. She said she was worried about my grandmother and felt like the end might be near. Two days later my grandmother passed away.

I thought I was prepared, I thought I would feel peace but this peace did not come immediately. I have worked in health care for 13 years mostly in nursing homes and home care. I have been with many families as they have watched their loved one pass. I have held their hands and told them that their loved one is no longer suffering that they are in a better place and to find peace and comfort in this, but in my own situation my own experience with my grandmother I felt empty. Many year prior I had lost a cousin who was in her early twenties, she died suddenly of a heart attack at work and left behind her little girl. This death was extremely hard as my cousin was so young and had so many years ahead of her. My grandmother had lived a long and full life yet I still felt empty.

She had wanted for many years to be with my grandfather her body had failed her she was no longer suffering why wasn’t I happy for her. I began to realize that I just wasn’t ready to say good-bye. I thought maybe I just needed to see her one last time and that would bring me closure. Her funeral was small as many of her family and friends had passed, her small home town that was once thriving was no longer. The grocery store we had frequented was close and so was the gas station my grandparent had own the only business left open was the post office. The home she had built with my grandfather had not been lived in for many years and was tattered. I felt like a chapter in my life with so many fond memories had come to an abrupt close.

But then I realized my perspective was all wrong. She would not want me to focus on what was no longer. She would want me to cherish and hold dear the wonderful memories we made together. She would want me to use the skills she taught me about cooking, gardening, caring for others and pass them on to my children. She would want us cousins to still get together and make memories. She would want me to be happy that she was now reunited with the love of her life. She was at peace and I was at peace with her memories.

My grandparents loved genology, sharing stories, sharing pictures, sharing memories and they would be honored that I was able to share some memories with you. I pray you find joy in the memories you shared with your loved ones and I hope you share those memories with those around you. Peace I give, Peace be with you, Peace I leave you.