The Hardest Thing

I’m on the verge of something.

I can feel it. I was last time I posted (3 months ago, unacceptable) and I’m closer to it now than I was then.

I’m a believer in the cliché “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” These past three months have been a mix of both, but the darkest part just passed through. I did the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do: say goodbye to my grandma Edi Swenson, until Paradise. The fact that I call this the hardest thing speaks to my privilege, but also to how much she meant to me and our family.

Grandma was there when I was born. She and my grandpa Gordon lived in Shoreline, WA at the time, north of Seattle, and my parents were in Redmond. She stayed with us for the first little bit of my life to help out. While they were still living there, they took care of me when my parents had to be places. They moved to Boise in 1994, which I don’t remember happening, but we went to visit them several times a year after then. They got involved with King of Glory Lutheran Church, where the memorial service was held. My grandma supported their ministry by singing, playing organ, and making lefse to name a few things, while my grandpa contributed in the financial realm. When I’d visit Boise and go to church with them, I’d sit next to Grandma, and occasionally I’d see her shed tears during hymns. This was especially after her own mother, my great-grandma Gladys, died in 2000. Of course I was distraught at seeing anyone cry, so my mom told me that Grandma was crying because singing hymns reminded her so much of her mom, who had a stunning voice of her own.

Thinking of this memory is a comfort as I miss my grandma. I know she is back with her parents now after missing them sorely for 16 years. She served as the “matriarch” of the Anderson family, especially at our family reunion last year in Tahoe. She was the oldest of five siblings, four girls and one boy. She was married to Grandpa for almost 55 years. They had anniversary photos taken just two months ago, and she looked absolutely beautiful in them. They were on display at their house over the weekend of her memorial, where my Anderson and Swenson relatives reunited in Boise to celebrate her. I was thrilled to see them, but the circumstances were not what I’d have wished for.

Grandma was one of the healthiest people I knew. She cooked delicious meals, took walks, encouraged us to drink water, kept track of family members far and wide, and had a strong social circle. I’m thankful for that last one right now, because that circle has risen up and shown how much they appreciated her friendship by being there for my grandpa. Grandma also was a quilter. At the time of her death, she’d been working on a piece for her first great-grandchild, Judah, who was born June 16 in Walla Walla. She also made quilts for Grant, Laurel, and me when we graduated high school. She knew us so well that she knew just the right pattern pieces for each of us. Mine is mostly purple (my favorite color), but there’s also myriad shades of red, green, yellow, and blue mixed in. When she saw it, my cousin Marta exclaimed, “That is so Brita!” I couldn’t agree more.

Spending Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa was always a treat. She had all the special Scandinavian recipes I craved – Swedish meatballs, lutefisk with white sauce, lefse, rice pudding… My mom and aunt have both made these recipes with great success, so I know those traditions will never die. But I can’t imagine Christmas without Grandma. I’ve done it once already, this past year, since she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in early December 2015. It’s a cancer I still don’t fully understand. I read the Mayo Clinic’s definition of it right when I learned of her diagnosis, and even from that, it seemed like the prognosis would be positive, as in, she could live with it for a few more years. But cancer is unpredictable.

Grandma fought it hard. She wanted to live fully like she had for 75 years. I was in denial about her sickness perhaps the whole time. When I visited Boise in February, she had good moments and not-so-good moments, which was typical of how this thing went. She underwent chemo and radiation at a local hospital and was looking at changing treatments at the time of her passing. I believed – and prayed – that something would work, that would help her heal. But she died on July 6, 2016, a bit suddenly, but not without saying her goodbyes. She said it to me over the phone, the hardest phone conversation I’ve ever had.

That night of July 5, I was constantly in contact with my parents, assuring them I’d jump on a plane whenever they needed me to. I did on July 8, with the service on the 9th, and actually planned to drive back to Rochester with my dad, since I was swapping cars with my mom and they’d driven to Boise in the car I got. We didn’t end up doing that, but rather drove back to Seattle and regrouped. I’m really thankful I got to be home for a night. Then I quickly booked a redeye flight back to Minnesota on July 11 – those are never fun, unless they end in Europe. So it was very rapid-fire in terms of travel plans. I was pretty loopy that week, with moments of intense grief bound to hit at any time. I became paranoid, with Grandma having died so quickly after doing everything right to take care of herself. How could I trust anyone or anything? (Especially with He-Whom-I-Refuse-To-Name in the presidential race.) This was the real darkness, trying to regroup on life after the service. My dad drove my new car out here and spent a few days with me, which I was also very thankful for. He got to meet my boyfriend Bill for the first time, and he even played with the Bridge worship team at Gloria Dei, a fun experience for all of us. I think I had the most fun 🙂

Now, after two weeks of processing, I am at peace, and the darkness has passed. I have reminded myself of my internal empowerment, that anxiety and paranoia are neither helpful nor rational, and I am grounding myself in my faith to weather any more storms that come my way. That’s probably why I’m not bawling my face off as I write this. There will always be an Edi-shaped hole in our lives, because she is irreplaceable. But I know we will keep on living. And I know she is still praying for us in heaven.

This peace tells me something good is coming. However long it takes to get here, I will wait. I know I can do it.

Brita

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One response to “The Hardest Thing

  1. Kathy Swenson

    You described your Grandma perfectly. It seems her strength, tenacity, and optimism are already showing in you.

    Like

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