Yesterday my family came together to say goodbye to our beloved Granny. But instead of a traditional memorial service, Granny specifically requested a picnic in the park. She took the time to write down the details of this day before she left us. A casual gathering, a couple of songs, the release of helium-filled red balloons. I’m not sure why she wanted to be remembered this way, I never talked to her about it. But my guess would be that she didn’t want a big fuss, she just wanted everyone together and for everyone to get along with each other.

Granny treasured times with family. I remember her being the happiest when she was with the whole crew. Even in her later years, she seemed to enjoy watching the little ones running around playing just as much as being involved in the adult conversation. When I was younger her Christmas Eve party was something I looked forward to all year. She would rent a big clubhouse so there would be room for all the cousins. Santa would personally deliver our gifts and there was an endless supply of food.

I still can’t believe she’s gone. For some reason, I really expected her to outlive me. Up until the past couple of years, she was extremely active and healthy. She never was what anyone would consider a typical American grandma. She wasn’t a gray-haired, apron-clad woman who baked cookies. No, she was a beautiful professional woman – undeniably classy and unashamedly independent. And whether she was going to a 4 year old’s birthday party or out for a night on the town – she always looked good. As a young girl I remember bragging to my friends, I wanted to be just like her.

Before I became a teenager she would take me on special excursions. We’d shop for hours and hours and then she would treat me to a meal at a fancy restaurant. I would stay the night in her high rise apartment. She would talk to me about the way a lady should act. She would tell me I was beautiful and full of potential. I always felt grown up and sophisticated. These were some of my fondest memories.

So here we were, all of us a part of a family that she in fact began. Memories filled the air as we compared stories and shared fried chicken. Tucked away back in a little neighborhood park. She would have loved the atmosphere. Kids laughed and played in the playground, the teenagers enjoyed volleyball and the men competed at horseshoes.

Then the mood changed slightly as we each took a red balloon and stood in a circle out in the grass. An Irish bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace played loudly in the background and then the balloons were simultaneously released into the air. I couldn’t hold back the tears. It was a bittersweet goodbye.

I will see you again soon my sweet Granny. Someday soon.

Just over two weeks ago Granny suffered a severe stroke and heart attack which led to a decision for her to be placed in hospice. I will never forget that day. We all knew that the decision for hospice was what she wanted, she made that very clear. But it certainly didn’t make it any easier on any of us.

It was a blessing to be able to spend some time alone with her before she was moved from her hospital room to the hospice unit. I decided to ask her if she knew what would happen when she died. It wasn’t like this was new territory for a conversation between Granny and me. We had talked about her diverse “religious” upbringing many times. She would laugh about how many times she had been “saved”, walked an aisle, or been baptized as she and her mom traveled from home to home when she was young. But here, in this hospital room, I was asking point blank. “Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins Granny?” She shook her head yes. “Do you know for sure that you will go to heaven when you die?” She nodded again. “Do you want to hear about what heaven is going to be like?” She shook her head no and put up her hand. Apparently, she didn’t want to hear anymore about it. So I prayed. I prayed out loud and boldly. And she held my hand tightly.

Over the next six days family members would be in and out of her room. She could hear us but her responses grew weaker and weaker as the days passed. We would pray and cry. We would read to her and play music for her. I read the entire book of John to her when we were alone together. And with many others in the room, I read about heaven.

I was asked many times if I thought she would be in heaven. As sincerely as I could, I would answer that there was no way to know for sure. But I have faith that I will see her again. I have faith that Granny understood who Jesus was and why He came and accepted it as her only way to eternal life. My prayer is that every person in my family will also make this decision. I know Granny would want us all together again.

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