Ninety-nine + What I Remember, Before I Forget


/ / Today was my grandmother’s 99th birthday.

Ninety-nine! That’s amazing to me. I did not get to see her for this birthday like I was able to for some of her other recent birthdays. But I thought about her often today.

So I thought I would celebrate her here on my blog tonight, because she and her length in years are such an inspiration to me. When I set out to prepare my post and gather some photos for it, I didn’t realize just how hard it would be. It stirred up a lot of sorrow, which I will explain below. So as I sit here tonight, what started out as just a birthday tribute to my grandma, I am writing as a post that is filled with both joy and sorrow mixed. I write these kind of posts from time to time because, really, that is life as a whole… joy and sorrow both.

Thinking about her has stirred up some detailed memories from our story of Anysia… thus the sorrow. But the memories I have recalled today are tender ones. They are about details I certainly don’t want to forget. So I thought it would be good to combine my celebratory post about my grandma’s birthday with my first official What I Remember, Before I Forget post.

{By the way… thank you to all who e-mailed me about or commented on my first post about me embarking on this series in an attempt to tell our story. All of those thoughtful things said meant so much to me, and the support helped to validate my decision to share it.}

So first, my grandma—and some of the photos I’ve taken of her or have of her from when she was younger…

As far as I know, the above photo is the youngest photo of her that exists… unless my mom has some of her as an infant. If so, then I’ll say this is the youngest photo of her that I possess. I think it’s such a beautiful old photo. I see so many of my family members’ faces in hers when I look at this photo. I love that… especially because she is that matriarchal figure to me, as she is the oldest family member I have ever known. {I never got to meet either of my father’s parents, nor my mom’s father.} When I was a baby, my grandma’s Aunt Georgie {my great, great-aunt, who I was named after} knew me. There are pictures of her holding me, so I know this is true. But being so young, I can’t really say that I knew her… so Grandma is and always will be the oldest family member I’ve known. At forty-two, it’s very cool to know that the oldest relation I have ever had is still alive. Here she is, on the left, with my great, great-aunt Georgie.

my grandma and her aunt georgie who i was named af

. And here she is with the current Georgie in the family—me…

grandma and me

. She has me by the hand in front of what I think is the house my family lived in when I was born. I look to be about a year or two old here.

Here we are again, only fast forward almost 40 years to when I was pregnant with my first child…

grandma and me_2

. We were there to celebrate her 96th birthday. Being that I was still six months pregnant here, I did not yet know whether our first child would be a boy or a girl.

The year before, for her 95th, we were there to celebrate as well. I have a few photos from that day, too…

me cracking up at my grandma s witty ways i love this photo i treasure it beyond words three

. Haha… just like at her 96th party, she had on that same birthday robe. But unlike her 96th party, instead of pregnant, I was only suspicious that I was pregnant. At the time, I remember feeling giddy and hopeful inside that I was. And I remember that as this picture was taken, I thought to myself, How cool would it be if I am pregnant with a little girl right now? If so, when my daughter is grown, I can look back on this photo and say that in it are four generations of women. When your grandmother reaches a certain age, you sometimes wonder how much longer she’ll be around. She was rather spry here, so I was not too concerned. But still, I thought it would be nice to be pregnant at the time and be able to come back in a year and have her meet a child of mine before she might pass. It turned out that my grandma’s health and age far surpassed my expectations, but the hope in being pregnant did not. I later realized that I was not pregnant. However, to this day I wonder if I had been, but miscarried.

Anyway, I’ve always loved this photo of us three, even though it’s hard to see it and remember how hopeful I was that I might be pregnant. In retrospect, to now think that by the next year I would be pregnant with Izzy comforts me.  And it’s just fun to see my mom there next to me… and by her side, her mom.

Speaking of my mom, she wrote this to me in an e-mail last week…

I had a dream about Anysia about a month ago.

I and some others of us {though I don’t know who} were allowed to peek into heaven. I saw Dad, sitting on a couch in a blue plaid shirt. He was facing away from me and was listening to a band {or something}. I said {to whoever it was who was with me, and I think it was more than one}, ‘Look, there’s Dad!’ He turned and said, ‘Yes, but look over there!’ We had to go around a corner to see what he was pointing at. There was Grandma, sitting in a chair, like a comfy living room chair, holding a baby. I shouted, ‘Look it’s Grandma and Anysia!’ Anysia was sitting in Grandma’s lap facing forward and she was about 6 months old or maybe 8-ish. She was very happy and was flapping her arms up and down happily. That’s all I remember.”

It made me smile. But it also made me a bit sad. Both she and my sister have told me that they had a dream about Anysia since she passed. I would give anything to dream about her, but I have not yet.

I did not get to see my grandma for her 97th birthday, but I did see her during her 97th year when she was staying with my mom for a while. I took Izzy out to meet her and got some photos, as he had not yet met her and I had no photographs of the two of them yet. It wasn’t four generations of females all together, but still four generations. And it was kind of cool to see.

Out of our visit came some priceless photos…


. She sat in my mom’s rocking chair as if she was fifteen years old and talked to us all… still sharp and still witty as ever.

DSC_0645 DSC_0649

. She is a spitfire, and a real gem to sit and talk with.

Here are a few more photos…

grandmas 96th_54

. The above shot is another from the 96th birthday celebration. I never did share on my old blog what an intense night that was. As you can see, things appear fine and normal… quite fun. That is how the night started out. My sister and I were there with my mom at her sister’s house, where my grandma lives too. We had a great time laughing and talking and taking pictures. Then we went in to eat dinner. As we sat there and ate, my grandma’s head bowed lower and lower. We all initially thought she was falling asleep. But when my aunt attempted to wake her up so she could eat some more, she was unresponsive. Seconds turned into panicky {what seemed like} minutes, and we all sat there stunned until someone blurted out, “check her pulse.” So my mom did just that. Then we all tried to find it when she did not succeed. A couple other things happened that had us truly believing she had left us. I still sat stunned. I couldn’t believe that on her 96th birthday, while we were all there eating together… there to celebrate her life with her… she had left us just like that. I had never before been in the presence of another as they left their body. So to think it had just happened was something I truly could not grasp… or accept.

We quickly called the paramedics and, either once they arrived or shortly before, we realized that my grandma had not actually gone. She was just very, very sedated with an extremely weak pulse that we could not find. Long story short, she ended up going to the hospital and they never really could say what happened, but thought maybe it was due to changes in the dosage of her medication. Being six months pregnant at the time, it was one of the craziest moments of my life. To go from celebrating and being so happy to be there, rejoicing over her life and looking forward to meeting the one that was growing in me… to thinking we had lost her… to realizing we had not… and then all the commotion with the paramedics, and my mom and aunt leaving for the hospital while we waited there at the house late into the evening. I’ll never forget that unforgettable night.

Fast forward to tonight… three years later, and she is still with us, and still just as spunky as she started out that night.

Below are a couple of photos that are favorites of mine… an earlier photo of Grandma on her wedding day and one taken years later of her with my mom as a young woman.

grandma with grandpa and mom diptych

. I have so many good memories of my grandma. She is dear to me, and even more so over these past few years. In every visit I can think of from recent years, I remember my grandmother closely looking me in the eyes and telling me to always look to Jesus in everything and put Him first in my life. She said that life will be hard, but do this, and all will be well. Though I’ve known this to be true already in my head, there is something about having your old and wise grandmother say it to you that gets it through to your heart.

Indirectly {through her daughter, my mom} and directly, she is the reason I could {and still can} look to Jesus and cling to my faith through the loss of my own daughter. She and her offspring taught me about God when I was very young. In those younger years, I could only imagine having children of my own some day. In the later years, as a young adult, I could never have imagined experiencing what we went through this past year .

Okay. Now the hard part. What I am about to share is where my thoughts turned to today, making it hard to think about my grandma, even though I celebrate her so much…

I have always been told how much I look like my grandmother. So I was not surprised when, on the day Anysia was born, one of the first things I thought to myself {and remarked about out loud as well} was how much she looked like my grandma. It makes sense, of course… that my daughter would end up looking like a woman I have resembled all my life. And though I did not see myself in her, I was still comforted to know that Anysia must look somewhat like me if she reminded me that much of my grandma.

I was reminded of how much I could see my grandma in her when I got the photos of her a couple of days after she passed. I could see it just as well in photographs {one of the million reasons I am so glad to have them}. Below is one of those photos where I could see it most…

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{photograph by Sherah G Photography}

Part of my grandmother’s ancestry is Native American, which means part of mine is as well, as is also the case for Anysia {though most of our ancestry is German}. I don’t really see physical traits of that heritage in photos of my grandma when she was young. But I can definitely see it in the photos of her from recent years. And I think, perhaps, this part of our ancestry is where I get my high cheek bones and my olive-toned skin.

Anysia came out instantly beautiful to me. There are some web sites and literature out there that will give you a worst-case scenario about how your Trisomy 18 baby will look.

I remember thinking that it would not matter how she looked… she would be beautiful to me. But that said, some of the things we read made us feel like we should brace for being alarmed. Oh, how differently we felt when we saw her… not one bit alarmed. And I have seen photos of many babies with Trisomy 18 in which that is the case, or met moms of those babies who could say the same. Please know this if you are one facing what we did and you should happen to read this. Of all the fears and worries you will have, worry about being alarmed when you see your baby should not be one of them, so put your mind at ease.

She was very beautiful. Not just because she was mine. And not just because she came out bearing no trait that would alarm us… not even the omphalocele she had seemed alarming to us. But rather, because she was simply a pretty girl. No surprise to me there, as she really did look like my grandma. I was happy when my sister affirmed what I saw when she told me she thought Anysia looked like our grandma without even yet knowing that I thought the same.

Okay… so I have a short clip from a video of Anysia that my other sister took that day, and I find it hard to watch, so I apologize if you find it that way too. Watching the video in its entirety makes me weep sometimes. For this post, I only grabbed and included a portion of it… the portion that relates to this day and this post.

The moment in this video took place only about a half hour before she passed. That is what gets me the most.

I remember that after about five hours of holding my sweet girl in the delivery room… and after all the lovely family and friends {who had come to meet her, hold her, and say hello and goodbye to her} had gone… we were moved to a quieter wing of the floor where we would have more privacy in our recovery room. I remember that all our visitors had left by then, except for my twin sister {who shot the video} and my counselor. Mr. B, of course, was with Anysia and me as they wheeled my bed to our room. Angela and Sheri followed.

I remember that those five previous hours felt more like ten or twelve. And I remember that it felt like I had come to the hospital to be induced the day before instead of that morning. Of course, this is likely because I had not slept the night before… not a minute. So concept of time had sort of gone out the window for the time being. I remember I was still very much under the effect of pain killers and the epidural.

I remember thinking that we might go to sleep with Anysia in our arms and wake up the next day, her still with us, but realizing that she could pass at any time. I really had no idea when she would go. But I certainly had no idea it would be so soon after this video was taken.

I just remember feeling peace, but also feeling so tired.

I won’t share much more than that, because at some point in another post, I will hopefully be able to share more details about her birth story and the hours that followed. But I wanted to set up the video clip with at least some of the details.

What I say in it might sound a bit light-hearted. But bear in mind, this is just a clip of a longer video in which my sorrow at the thought of losing her and at the thought of how sick she was can be seen. Plus, that day was not only filled with sorrow. We also felt joy and had a sense of peace, as much as we felt sorrow… if not more. Also, I was sleep-deprived and drugged. So I think I was just speaking my mind with little strength to show the intense emotion I felt deep down, under all the effects of the drugs. I knew full well that I could lose her at any moment, but in that moment, I did not think it was close. And I knew that once we did lose her, she would be in the arms of Jesus. So, though I was devastated to lose her, I was expecting it and filled with peace to know that where she would be going is a good place where I will see her again.

Mostly, I just wanted to talk to her in a regular voice like I would have talked with Izzy as a baby… like I did talk with him. I wanted her to hear a mother’s voice that conveyed joy and peace and a confidence that God is who He says He is. So, among many other things that were said, I spoke these words…

{For anyone reading who was not there that day, the little lamb-like whimper that can be heard is Anysia’s breathing… a sound I will never forget as long as I live.}

What I must have known in my heart to be close at hand, happened just moments later.

I remember saying those words about possibly going to see Jesus before her great-grandmother does. But I remember that the enormity of such a thought did not really hit me until after she died. It was a thought that engulfed me one day. I could not wrap my head around the fact that I gave birth to a daughter almost 100 years after my grandmother was born… a grandmother who would, at 98, outlive Anysia’s brand new life. This happens all the time, I know. But when it happens to you, it takes on a new and almost incomprehensible meaning.

I am well aware that my grandma may not have long on this earth. Although, I would not be surprised if she is with us for a very long time yet. She has surprised us before, so I know she might continue to. But should that day be soon, and even if it is not, I am comforted to know they will be together… together with Jesus who I have been told and taught about since my birth day.

And this great lady here is where it all began.

grandmas 96th_83

. You are just as beautiful now as you were in the first photo above. You are still with us. And today, still grieving less than three months after losing my daughter—your great-granddaughter—I celebrate you and your life. Happy 99th birthday, sweet Grandma.