I thought this tied in well with Monday’s post.
In full disclosure, I edited the ending because originally I said we were getting a hummingbird tattoo. We still haven’t gotten it yet because life happened, then the pandemic happened. But my mom and I should do this together this year once it’s safe. A bird tattoo of some sort should be in the cards for us. 🙂
First published March 5, 2018
“Often, our Angels and loved ones in Spirit choose hummingbirds to relay their messages. They may guide hummingbirds to hum to validate their spiritual presence and to send us signs and reminders to follow our joy, stand in the light, and stay present in the moment. Your loved ones in Heaven may choose a hummingbird to enter your space as validation and assurance that they are well and their soul lives on.”
I haven’t written about my grandmother much on this blog other than sharing her recipe for waffles, which makes me sad.
Her name was Ella Lucille, but she mostly went by Lucille or “Ceil” to some.
In her later years, she loved the Chicago Cubs, crossword puzzles, and her beloved grandchildren.
In her heyday, she was one hell of a cook; she loved her friends; and she and her daughter (my mom) were the best of friends.
She didn’t get married until she was in her late twenties. Something that was kind of unheard of back in those days. She wasn’t interested in being tied down at a young age. She was a social butterfly with many friends, both female and male. My grandmother was a trendsetter.
The man she married was the perfect match for my strong-willed grandmother. He was loving, kind and hardworking. After getting married, they lived on a farm and worked together to maintain it. They made a great team.
My grandma was almost forty-two years old, my grandpa fifty-four years old when my mom, Sara, was born. After many years of failed attempts to get pregnant, my grandmother thought she was beginning menopause when she got the news that she was pregnant.
A late in life baby in those days was risky, so when my mom was born, my grandma had said to her sister Mary, “I hope I live to see her graduate high school.”
I’m always saddened that at such an auspicious time, my grandma was worried thinking she might not live to see her daughter graduate high school.
My grandma not only lived to see my mom graduate high school but also attend college.
Sadly, my grandma would outlive my grandpa, but she would get the chance to give her daughter away at her wedding.
She would live to meet not only her first grandchild (me) but her second grandchild as well, when my brother was born three years later.
Then she broke records by watching both of her grandchildren graduate high school and get married. She then got to meet her first of three great-grandchildren, Anna, my oldest daughter who would name her “Great”.
The name fit.
We didn’t realize the magnitude of how amazing all of this was.
For “Great” to live to meet her great-granddaughter after having a child at 41?
That’s a miracle.
But our grandma wasn’t a miracle; she was just “Great”.
In our minds, it felt like she would live forever.
When Mike and I were trying to conceive a second child in 2007, we decided on our girl name even before getting pregnant. Ella after my grandma. Grace because it was Anna’s middle name and since they would have different last names, we wanted them to share middle names. Once we decided that Ella Grace was our girl name, all I really wanted was a girl.
Of course I would have been equally excited to have a boy, and I loved our boy name, William James, also a family name on my side and my husband’s side. But I really wanted to honor my grandma in that way. Many months later, I was pregnant and starting the stressful beginnings of pregnancy stage.
While all of this was happening within me, my grandma’s health unexpectedly declined.
I remember a very specific memory at the beginning of my pregnancy while visiting with grandma. I was wearing a lavender maternity summer dress that tied in the front. My grandma reached up from her bed and touched my growing belly while she looked up at me.
“I think it’s a girl.”
“Well, I hope you’re right because we’re naming her after you.”
“Oh, I love that.”
“We are going to find out if it’s a boy or girl in September!“
“I can’t wait!”
That’s the last conversation I had with my grandma.
The night my mom called to tell me that grandma was dying, I was sitting on my couch with Anna after her soccer practice. I was craving Quizno’s subs and thought there was one just down the street. So Anna and I got into the car and drove a few blocks away to get our subs, only to realize it was now an H&R Block. We were so disappointed because we both had a taste for their subs.
The phone rang as we walked into the house, dejected. It was my mom.
“Grandma is probably going to pass away overnight,” my mom said with deep sadness in her voice.
“Oh mom. I’m so sorry. What can I do?”
“Just keep praying.”
“Okay. I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
I remember feeling helpless and so very sad.
But also guilty. The night my grandma was transitioning, I was preoccupied searching for a Quizno’s sub sandwich because of pregnancy cravings. That night, I went to bed thinking of my mom, three hours away. I wished I could lie with her and comfort her. I filled my weary head with thoughts of my grandmother. Thoughts of her dying and wondering what that journey looked like for her.
In my grief and in my pregnancy foggy brain, I forgot to turn the ringer on the phone next to my bedside. I cried myself to sleep and slipped into a deep sleep.
When my dad called at around four in the morning, I wasn’t awake to answer it. I didn’t get the message until almost three hours later when I woke up at seven to his messages.
My grandma died at four in the morning.
My mom feels guilt because she wasn’t at my grandma’s bedside when she passed. It was the one moment she took a break. I don’t think my grandma would’ve left this earth with my mom sitting next to her. Their connection was so deep, my grandma would’ve felt like she was betraying her.
My mom took such good care of my grandma for all of her elderly life. She shouldn’t feel guilt at all. I wish I could take it away for her. But you can’t make someone else feel less of it. That’s not how any of it works.
I used to feel guilty for not being there for my mom when my grandma passed away, but I can’t carry that guilt either. I was pregnant; I had a seven-year-old and my husband worked unforgiving hours. I was trapped in a life that was also unforgiving at that time. If I could do it over now, I would, but that’s also not how any of it works.
My brother went down alone to be with my parents the day my grandma died. My mom has said it was so healing to have him there. My dad, mom and brother crying, reminiscing, laughing about good times, and drinking a shot of whiskey in honor of grandma. It made me so incredibly happy that they had those moments together.
I’m so thankful that my brother stepped in during that time.
That’s the beauty of having a sibling.
Something unfortunately my mom knew nothing about, being an only child.
As they took the shot of whiskey in the kitchen, my mom noticed movement outside of the window. They turned and noticed a hummingbird looking right into the house. It was looking right at my family. My mom didn’t even have a hummingbird feeder on her porch where it was hovering. So nothing was outside attracting it to the window.
My mom has always loved hummingbirds, but no matter how hard she tried with feeders and sugar water over the years, no hummingbirds were ever attracted to her feeders. But that day, the day my grandma died, was the first time a hummingbird visited my mom.
“Your loved ones in Heaven may choose a hummingbird to enter your space as validation and assurance that they are well and their soul lives on.”
The day my grandma died, I wore her old farmhouse apron over my growing pregnant belly. It was a gloriously sunny and relatively cool late July day. I remember it felt like a perfect fall day. I stumbled around the house trying to be a mom to Anna, trying to babysit for a child of a friend of ours, and essentially muddle through the day.
My friend Rebecca came over with her daughter to help comfort us and bring us lunch. We sat on my couch by the front window talking about my grandma while the kids played throughout the day. I kept saying, “oh grandma, where did you go?” all day long.
At one point, we looked out onto the lawn, and there were birds all over our grass. This wasn’t unusual because we have bird feeders and a birdbath, but it was the amount of birds on our lawn and the intervals in which they appeared. They were on our lawn all day. From morning to late evening. The front yard was covered in birds. Non-stop birds.
When I was little, my grandma used to sing a song to the birds in her little country kitchen when the windows were open. Nothing significant, just humming and making up nonsensical songs as she went along. But she would always talk about Jenny Wren. When she would hear Jenny Wren sing, she would say things like:
Good Morning, Jenny Wren. Are you singing to me, Jenny? What a pretty voice you have!
When I was little, I idolized my “Nanny”. I loved visiting her magical home in the country, surrounded by corn stalks on dirt roads. I can smell the bacon frying in the cast-iron skillet. I can taste the corn flakes and whole milk. I can see her working at her sink with the window above it, the breeze coming in through the window. My grandma talking to Jenny as she’s making my breakfast.
When grandma’s sing to the birds and the birds sing back? That stuff is magic. Grandma Magic.
I have always associated birds with my grandma. So when the birds showed up on my lawn the day my grandma went to Heaven, it felt comforting.
In one of our phone conversations during the week she died, my mom told me of her hummingbird visit and I told her of mine.
We’d each had a beautiful visitor.
I had an appointment on September 11th, 2007 to find out the sex of our baby. When they said “it’s a girl!”, I wasn’t surprised. We’d already been told. It was like grandma had one foot in the door of Heaven and was giving us a sneak peek.
Four months later, on the day our Ella was born, I felt my grandma in the room with us. When our Ella came into this world, I like to think that Grandma Ella was there whispering into her ear last-minute tips for life on Earth.
Our Ella is an old soul.
She lives up to the name so well. My grandma would have adored her and vice versa.
Once, when our Ella was just a toddler, I walked into her room and heard her talking. I thought she was talking to her dolls. Then she said to me, ‘I am talking to grandma Ella and grandpa Albert, Mommy!“
I’d never told her my grandfather’s name before.
All of my other grandparents passed before I was born or when I was very little. My grandma was the only grandparent I’d ever known. I feel like that’s why she lived to be 102. So that she could live the lifetimes of four grandparents.
She left a gaping hole in our hearts. We miss her every day.
My mom gets hummingbirds all the time now. At her feeders on her back porch, they come daily. I love that for her. She makes a potion of sugar water that she keeps in the refrigerator so she can tend to her feeder so the hummingbirds always have something to eat.
I am comforted by the sound of birds’ songs; especially in the morning. They will forever remind me of my beginnings. In a little white house, where I am sitting at a kitchen counter with my “Nanny” while she’s making my breakfast and talking to Jenny Wren. Bacon is on the stove and there is a bowl of cornflakes in front of me.
Nanny, why does Jenny Wren always sound so happy?
Because she’s free, sweetheart. Because she’s free.