She was ready.

***I totally planned on doing the {W}rite of Passage challenge today.  But Lydia, Asa & I went with Carter and his class to go Christmas caroling at a local nursing home this afternoon, and this is what you get instead.  A story not about my elementary school lunch, but a story about my grandmother, my Mama Jo.***

As I cross the threshold, the hot and stagnant air blasts into my face.  My eyes burn a little and I tear up, though I’m not sure if they are actual tears or from the heat.

The smell.

The smell rushes my senses and takes my breath away.

Stale.                  Heavy.

Frail.                    Old.

An odd mixture of comfort and fear colliding like hot and cold air, forming a tornado of emotions within me.

I have a friend who just turned eighty-eight
and she just shared with me that she’s afraid of dying.
It was easy to have faith when she was thirty-four,
but now her friends are dying and death is at her door.

She lost her husband after sixty years,
and as he slipped away she still had things to say.
Death can be so inconvenient.
You try to live and love.
It comes and interrupts.

I still pick up the phone to call her sometimes.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.

In my dreams, the sound of her voice is clear.  The fine lines of her face are as they were.  But right now, right this very moment as I close my eyes, I can’t picture her clearly.  Her voice slips from my memory.

But one thing stands out above the rest.  One thing I remember with perfect clarity: her hands.  Knotted and twisted with the pains of arthritis.  Skin loose and soft.  Wrinkled and tender.  The slow, calculated, very specific movements.  As she held my hand, her index finger slowly moving up and down, rubbing the crook between my thumb and pointer finger.
Up.        And down.
Up.             And down.
Up.                Down.
Up.                     Down.

Many a night I’d spent in her bed.  After my grandfather died, she welcomed the company.  “Nights are the hardest”, she would tell me.  At the time I didn’t get it.  At night you’re sleeping…why would that be hard?  But now, as I’ve gotten older, I get it.  My demons chase me at night, and there is a definite comfort of having someone there beside me.  Someone who isn’t doing anything, but makes it better just by being there.  There is a certain wonderfulness of just being that you don’t understand until you’ve matured a little.  I’m hoping that I perfect the just being as I continue to grow up.


Early that spring morning, I arrived at the hospital to tell her goodbye.  I couldn’t miss another day of work.  “I’ll be back this weekend”, I planned on saying to her, not knowing if she would hear or understand me, but needing to say it none-the-less.

Walking in, there was a lot going on.  I’m pretty sure I was buzzed into the ICU by mistake.  There were doctors and nurses crowded in her room.  One doctor took me aside: “You’re her granddaughter, right?  We were about to call your dad.  Things aren’t going too well.”  He talked of DNR orders, comfort measures, and the phrase “not a whole lot of time” was mentioned more than once.  I only remember snippets of that day.  But those snippets are clear, fresh in my mind.


Breathe.  I had to actually remind myself to breathe.  Cliched, I know, but it all seemed so surreal.


It’s the first time I remember seeing my dad cry.  Both of his parents now gone.  I can’t, don’t want to begin to imagine.


And as I lay in the bed, curled up beside her.  Holding her hands and wishing that I’d thought to wash them.  They stink.  That would have bothered her.  She was always so careful to wash all the nooks and crannies, and to dry them well.  But now, ten years out, I’m glad for the acrid smell.  Specific to that day, that moment.


A group of us, far more than should have been allowed in an ICU room, gathered around her bed.  The hand of God upon us all, comforting like a heavy winter quilt.

Singing, slowly and quietly at first.
I heard an old, old story…
I don’t even remember how it started.
How a Savior came from glory.
I remember seeing Karen’s shoes.  She had on great shoes.
How he gave his life on Calvary to save a wretch like me.
I’m so glad my aunt got here.
I heard about his groaning of his precious blood’s atoning.
The first one here.  I was the first one here.
Then I repented of my sins and won the victory.
The nurses asked me so many questions.
Oh, Victory in Jesus.
Chaos around me, but an odd calm within.
My Savior forever.
I responded to them, my voice empty but steady.
He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood.
His voice, the doctor’s voice.  Certain.  Sure.  Practiced.
He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him.
A chorus of voices, strong and assured as we ended the song.
He plunged me to Victory beneath the cleansing flood.


She was ready.

I was ready.

I thought I was ready.

But today, as I watched my children interact with the seniors at the nursing home, I ached for her.  She never met them, my three little people.  They never met her.  She never heard them laugh or cry or giggle.   She never saw them rip into a present or sing a Christmas carol.  But they know of her.  They know the stories.  They know her name.  And she is more a part of them than they will ever know.

*Lyrics  from Sara Groves’ “What Do I Know”.

13 Responses to She was ready.
  1. Tara
    December 14, 2009 | 6:11 pm

    What a powerful post, Bridget. Incredible. And funny how some of the things you experienced are some of the things I experienced with my grandmother as she lay dying. I remember being so scared of Mama Jo at first, but as I got to know her (a little), she said some of the funniest stuff, and then I wasn’t scared any more, because she could always make me laugh in the most unexpected moments.

  2. Leslie Mathews Stone
    December 14, 2009 | 7:19 pm

    Bridget, this was beautiful to read. I have tears streaming down my face! I remember how close you were to Mama Jo, and I KNOW she would be so very proud of the person you have become.

  3. Amber
    December 14, 2009 | 7:39 pm

    I am tears now as I post this response. I am at a lost for words but feel the need to say something but what I don’t really know. What I do know though is that Mama Jo was special to all she came in contact with including myself. I did not know her for long I am privileged to have known her. Thank you for the beautiful post and for keeping her alive in our hearts as well!

  4. monica
    December 14, 2009 | 9:06 pm

    oh bridget. this was an incredibly beautiful post. what a tribute to your beloved mama jo! and it brought back a flood of memories of our family…three generations of us…around my papa’s icu bed singing hymns as he lay dying. i want to die with people singing old hymns by my bed. i cannot think of a more glorious way to move on.

  5. Michele
    December 14, 2009 | 10:38 pm

    What a beautiful and haunting tribute to your beloved Mama Jo. My Momma-heart wept at the end – I know what you mean. Things that my boy does makes me think of my Nonna Margaret, who passed before he was born, and I cry because she’s not here to know him. But I like to think that those we love who passed away before we became Moms were with our babies before they came to us. If that’s true, then your Mama Jo knew your children before you did. Isn’t that a comforting thought? :).
    xoxo, Michele

  6. Donyale
    December 14, 2009 | 11:25 pm

    I’m sitting with tears rolling down my face…and well if you know me then you know that says a lot. Beautiful entry…just beautiful. Mama Jo would indeed be so proud…

  7. queenofhaddock
    December 15, 2009 | 12:01 am

    Thank you all for your kind comments.

  8. Becky
    December 15, 2009 | 8:46 am

    So torn as I read this. I’m so incredibly sad for you. I’m so happy for you. I’m sad I don’t know Mama Jo. I’m happy I know you and in that respect know Mama Jo. I know I’ve said it recently, but you’re an amazing writer Bridget. You take us all there. The smells, the emotions, the sadness and mostly the happiness. You make me want to be a better listener to Drew. There is so much wrapped up in that little body…so many things to hear, see, and feel. Every movement he makes and every word he says…so very, very important to me as his mother. I made him. With the help of Jason and God, I made this little being. You make me want to be a better mother to him. I want him to one day stroke an old lady’s hand and witness her gentle response to his kind gesture. I love Tucker, Emmie and Luke. I love them for the the adorable things they do and say (Are you the boogie man?) and for the amazing people they are going to become. I know I said last night that they are going to be who they are because of just that….that’s who they’re meant to be. But you have so much to do with that Bridget. The things you tell me they do and say, the responses they have to situations, and especially their interest in learning…they undoubtedly get from you. Love you my sweet friend!

  9. stephanie
    December 15, 2009 | 11:35 am

    **sniff** I think people can be ready to go, but seldom are we ready to let go

  10. Aunt Dianne
    December 15, 2009 | 4:58 pm

    Thank you! I miss her too.

  11. Mama
    December 15, 2009 | 7:10 pm

    She was definitely ready…first, to see Jesus, and second to see Granddaddy. Boy, how she loved that man! They both were quite special. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are an amazing daughter and a pretty terrific writer.