Saturday, August 8, 2009

(slap on the knee)...'coffee?'

If you understand the meaning of this post's title, then you know who I'm talking about! ;)

Today (and everyday since she's been gone) we are remembering my grandma, Elma Jane VanderZwaag who died 4 years ago. She is the most amazing woman I will have EVER known. She had a bunch of kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and many friends who loved her so much. And all of us miss her so much still. She had the biggest heart! She was the kind of lady that sent money to any organization that asked for it. I always thought this was funny: she sent some Native American organization money because she didn't have the heart to just throw junk mail away! And she could never turn away the Schwan ice-cream man! She was the most loving, gracious, wise, funny, and godly woman.... I could just go on and on.

Four years ago, grandma had been having pain in her stomach. She had gone to the doctor and he set up a biopsy. I remember her being down-in-the-dumps then already as if she knew something wasn't right. I was at her house and asked if there was anything I could do for her, and she asked if I would vaccuum because she thought there'd be a lot of company in the next few days. At this point, I think she'd already been told that she had cancer. She went in and got the biopsy done and we all prayed for the best. I had told her to call me with the news. She called one night and told me that the cancer was in her liver and the doctors gave her 6 months to live. Everyone was shocked and heartbroken, including grandma. The next morning, I went to grandma's house at around 10 or so and she was still in bed. I sat with her... she looked so depressed and yet so cute in her little pink nighty. She got a phone call and all I heard her say was, 'Oh Edith....' and I could hear Edith crying on the other line. It was so heartwrenching. Throughout the next week, each of grandma's 7 sons took their turn staying with her during the night. She went downhill so fast and got hospice almost immediately. I stayed with my dad one night and in the morning my mom came to relieve us so we could go to work and when she woke us up she told us to listen. The radio had come on and the song 'Softly and Tenderly' was playing. These are some of the words to the song:

"Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling.
Calling for you and for me.
Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling.
Calling, oh sinner, come home.
Come home, come home.
Ye who are weary come home."

It was the most beautiful version I had ever heard of that song and I've never been able to find it back. From the time grandma learned of her cancer to the time that she died, her house was full of people ALL the time. I remember I would be coming home from Jordan's house at 11 pm and would swing by to see if anyone was there, and there'd be 10 or 15 cars there yet. And though I've never seen so many of my uncles and grown cousins openly weep, it was still just so PEACEFUL. With grandma, you always felt like you were in the presence of an angel but when she was dying, there was an even stronger Presence in that house.

The Thursday before she died, my sister and I said our goodbyes to grandma. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do but one of the most rewarding, too. I'm so thankful that I got to tell grandma how I felt about her. I said something to her about seeing my grandpa again (after 7 years) and she smiled and said, 'imagine that'. That night, Jordan and I went to see her and he hugged her and told her that he was going to marry me and take good care of me and she nodded. (When we got home, Jordan proposed.)

The next day, my cousin got married and they stopped by after the reception. Grandma was so sad to have missed it. At one point during this time, we thought that grandma was dying on Saturday afternoon. All the kids and grandkids rushed to her house and we surrounded her, holding hands and singing to her. My uncle read scripture and she would try to smile at times, but she was mostly relaxed and peaceful. She continued to hold onto life.

There was also another great-grandkid born in this time and the day before grandma died, she got to hold him. She had been so weak and her mouth (and everything for that matter) was starting to shut-down and deform. But she smiled when she held the baby. The next morning, when each of her sons had gotten their chance to take care of her through the night, she died. It's almost as if she had held on to her will to live so that she didn't miss seeing Jenny in her wedding dress or holding little Josiah.

The funeral was memorable and my uncle Bob had a really great eulogy (I think that's what they call it?). At the end of the funeral, all of the grandkids were ushered out and while everyone was still seated, we each took a turn ringing the church bells for the number of years she was alive. That was incredible for some reason. When each of us was done ringing it, my cousin Mike (the oldest) rang for the remainder of her years and that was so sweet. While the grandkids were surrounding the bell rope, the spouses were just outside the church doors and I have this permanent imagine in my head of them scattered and disarrayed but all staring up at the bell reverently. And when we followed in a line to the cemetary, we passed Bill's house and he stood from his lawn chair, that's always sitting in the garage for him to watch traffic, and he saluted. At the cemetary, we sang 'Abide With Me' which was sweet and perfect.

My grandma was so proud of her family and after going through this time with them all, I am proud too. She was a great woman and was as close to perfect as you can get. I will always aspire to be just like her.

Grandma - we love you still and miss you. I think of you often when I think of the countless hours we spent playing Upwords, your amazing and legendary chocolate-chip cookies, paddle-pops, your special lemonade, daffodils, the way you would laugh (and often your laugh was accompanied by a big slap on the knee), your love for animals (and how they always got really fat- probably from eating buttered bread!), and (this is just stupid) there's a certain type of lipstick I have that smells just like grandma's lipstick that she used to put on us when we were little! I cannot wait to see your big smile again and hear your boisterous laugh and, if you still have those dentures, you know I'm going to ask you to do your special in-and-out-really-fast-flash of them!! I'll see you soon.


  1. Beautiful!! I have tears in my eyes! Don't you wish Grandma could see all these little girls born in this family!!! I didn't know Grandma long enough but I do know she was a Godly women who cared about everyone! I think it is time for a batch of Grandma cookies!

  2. Ok I am bawling here while I read this at work. Very well written Lins and you brought up sooo many memories! Sometimes I think she held on so she wouldnt "ruin" my day.....she is irreplaceable and I cant wait to see her again!!!

  3. I lost it reading this too!! I miss her too!! I don't think a better woman ever graced this earth!