Holding her hand through the valley of the shadow of death.

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They say that the death of a loved one is something that gets easier with time…365 days have come and gone, and yet there is still an emptiness. They said, “when you return back to normal life things will get better”…but how can I ever go back to “normal life” when she was a part of my “normal”? She was such a significant part of my life, every single day, for the last 14 years.

I was fortunate enough to have a bedroom that was connected to her apartment…The walls of this house are so thin and as a result I could hear every movement she made throughout her day. I heard her make her daily phone calls, talking to our dog who loved her dearly, cooking dinner – the pots clanging, the cabinets opening and closing, all the while she was listening to Everybody Love Raymond…sometimes she would watch the same scene over and over…at the time, I thought I would go insane if I heard Raymond say the same line one more time…but the sound of silence that rests in her apartment now creates feelings that are much harder to deal with. I have the ever present reminder of her apartment door in my room that I have to face every day. That door that never opens. That door she will never come through again. No, I will never be able to go back to normal. But that day…I will never forget it as long as I live…that day we sat for hours listening to the beats of her heart slowly fade away to nothing…that was the day my life would change forever. Life would never be “normal” again.

Having to “move on” has been so difficult. But God is faithful, He was faithful to her all throughout her life and He will be faithful to me…and the promise of seeing her in heaven again certainly makes her loss easier to bare.

I will always cherish the last year of her life. What bittersweet memories… It was a difficult year for her to say the least. If you say the word “Cancer” you will see a grave look come over the faces of each one of my family members. We have seen more of it than any family ever should – Great Aunts and Uncles, an Uncle, a Mom, a Sister, Cousins, and now a Grandmother – It can be traced through each generation. So you can bet that she knew what kind of road was ahead of her when the doctor gave her the news.

It was hard for her. The feisty, independent Italian woman was forced to depend on the people who she had once been the caretaker for…but she was such a trooper about it. I took her to countless doctors appointments and had the opportunity to sit with her and hold her hand through chemotherapy treatments and emergency hospital visits, dinners together at her rehabilitation center. There were so many times I wanted to make it easier for her. I would watch them put the IV in her arm, how she hated it, I wished I could bare that cross for her…but all I could do was be there for her…so we’d sit there and eat some Italian bakery cookies together… I’d hold her hand until it was over, bring her some coffee, tuck her in with some throw blankets because it was always freezing in that office, be a shoulder to lean on when she needed help walking to the bathroom – struggling down the hall with a walker, and IV, and an 82 year old woman. It was all that I could do.

Sure, she had her weak moments. Moments when she was so riddled with fear it was hard to watch. But for every moment of sheer terror, there were moments when the love of God would just come out of her in abundance and she would fill the room with laughter. She never stopped cracking jokes. Not when she was stuck in a hospital bed, not when she had an IV in her arm, not even the day before she died.

Her doctors and nurses all knew exactly who she was…she would walk in and you would hear them say, “Hey! Mary’s back!”. She had a way about her…she could be a complete stinker at times and would really drive you up the wall, but you couldn’t help but love her. She loved to be the center of attention and light up a room…and she certainly left an impression wherever she went.

She was so Italian…she had three core values…God, Family, and Food…and she served them all well.

She loved being with family. It was her happy place. Being a Grandmother was such a pleasure for her, such a joy. She loved the fact that she had 20 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. So many times I would hear her on the phone bragging about each of our latest accomplishments to one of her friends…then when she had hung up the phone, she’d call another and share the news all over again. One day she came in and was so happy because her friend had made her a gift. She held it up proudly. It was a sweatshirt with all of our faces on it. If her friend had gotten her a key to Windsor Castle, she couldn’t have been more happy. It became one of her prize possessions. When I would come in to help her with her daily routine in the morning, there were many times when I would find her pouring over her Grandmother’s Bible. She would say, “Katie, come here I want to show you this. There is a beautiful prayer in here,” she would point to the heading…today it read “Prayer for a Granddaughter” . She took my hand and said, “I prayed it over you this morning”. One day she was praying for me, the next it was a different grandchild. “I prayed this over Melanie this morning,” “I prayed this over Diana this morning,” “I prayed this over Brian this morning,” “I prayed this over Kevin’s boys this morning”. It was such an honor to catch a glimpse of her prayer life and her devotion to the Lord.

I will never forget the smell of her house on a Sunday afternoon, the way she loved to dance to big band music, the laughter she shared with her sisters over their erroneous wedding gifts, her look of disapproval which was usually followed by a hearty chuckle, her chicken soup, the way she praised the Lord in church, her love for Frank Sinatra, the huge crush she had on the actor from “Love’s Long Journey”, the bedtime stories she would read to us when we were little, the way she laughed at her own jokes simply because she loved to laugh, the memory of her freezer being filled with Squeeze Ice Pops which never failed to cut up the side of your mouth, the countless times we were so content to just play in the dirt with a kitchen spoon in her backyard, the way she would critique your driving, the time she took me to Carvel to soothe my childhood nighttime fears, the way she would bring me a glass of orange juice every morning, the time she would take to just sit and ask me about my life and future plans, the way she would still try to tuck me into bed even into my adulthood, and how close she would sit next to you as if she couldn’t stand to be apart.

I will never be able to go back to normal without her…but I can smile remembering the love we shared, the memories we made, and the truth that we will one day be united again in Heaven. I hold onto these things with everything in me. The Lord has been faithful to be near to my family throughout the last 365 days and I know He will continue to uphold our hearts. We can have joy knowing she is pain free and being loved on by her faithful Father.

Today I am abundantly thankful that the Jesus conquered death! What can separate us now? “Nor life nor death”!

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