Grandma reaches final destination in Heaven Aug. 23, 2007 By Will E Sanders Staff Writer
I've made wisecracks my whole life. I made them when I was feeling up. And I've made them when I was feeling down. But the downfall of making wisecracks is, if you make enough of them over time, people stop taking you seriously. Ten minutes ago, I found out my grandma has cancer; a rare, painful kind that ultimately will end her life in no more than two years.
I wrote that July 17 for a column I began but didn't finish. It wasn't because it was too emotional a topic to tackle; it was. And as I sit here a month and three days later at 4 a.m., it still is. My grandmother, Betty Jane Shroyer, 83, died five hours ago. I won't begin to diagnose how I feel or my current state of mind. We all know what it's like.
She was the only person that called me "Willie" and got away with it, saying it in this tone that parents reserve for mischievous children. I always showed off for her, too, trying to make her giggle with a dirty joke or two that inevitably resulted in her calling me a "goofball."
She never cursed - at least that I heard - and whenever the situation arose when she might be spurred into cussing, she'd always say "Ju-das Priest." She had trouble saying the words "Cincinnati" (Sin-sah-na-da), "jalapeño" (jal-la-pino) and "chimney" (chim-el-ly), and I never let her live it down. She hated any story I told her that began, "The other day I was on the roof of my house ..."
She made me laugh so hard once in her backyard under her apple tree when I was 10 years old or so. I asked her, "Grandma, I never heard you pass gas before. Can grandmas do that?" As if God had ordered her to do it, my grandmother did it right there on the spot, grinning at me with this look of surprise.
Humans have a way of remembering the most insignificant circumstances about a person when they perish. In this occasion, I can't help but think back to the day when my grandmother, underneath her apple tree with gnarled limbs, proved me wrong. But she spent the better part of her life proving people wrong, including doctors.
In 1962, back before chemotherapy and during the time of radiation therapy, Grandma beat breast cancer despite medical forecasts. As recently as last week, she told me, "God gave me 42 years I never expected to have." She had no regrets. Two months ago, I asked Grandma if she was afraid to die. She said that she was. But then I asked Grandma, the longest serving member of her church, if she believed she would go to Heaven and Grandpa would be there waiting for her. "Yes," she said.
As I sit here in this dark room sporadically drinking lukewarm tap water, that image eases the suffering. But it does not vanquish it. For that, I have only time.
One of the biggest regrets in my life was refusing to spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa's house a few nights before my grandpa suffered a stroke. Grandpa said he really wanted me to stay so I could play church hymns for him on the guitar, because I played guitar for the church choir at the time. I declined. He was never the same after that. Lynn Oscar Shroyer died shortly after that.
It was a hard way of learning that today's decisions have tomorrow's consequences. To this day, when I find myself alone with only my dog Silas around and feeling the most lost in this world, I strum the chords to church hymns.
Tragedy has a way of placing "concerns" into perspective. Five hours ago, I was obsessing because the latch on the storm door wasn't working right. I thought it was the end of the world. And now I know better. Suddenly, petty concerns like that disappear. Actual concerns rise to the surface. My grandmother is dead.
Days leading up to her death, my older brother Dustin told me: "If you put a piece of paper in front of me that guaranteed I'd live to be 83, that I would be able to watch all my children grow up, and watch all my grandchildren grow up, I'd sign it." And so would I.
That's an interesting prospect, but life carries no such guarantees. My mother is filled with heartache and agony over the loss of her mother. Grandma was her best friend. And while my mother is a great mother, she was an even greater daughter.
There's an old Rand McNally globe Grandma had; it's sun-faded and out-of-date. A keen eye will notice a vanishing black line that travels around the globe. The black line is from a marker Grandma used more than 60 years ago over a three-year period, tracing the course of my grandpa's three-year journey on an aircraft carrier during his service in World War II.
She waited three years without seeing my grandpa, her fiancé at the time. Over those years, all she had to remind herself of Grandpa was an occasional letter from one corner of the Earth or another. That, and a black marker. And a globe.
I keep thinking about that globe, but more specifically the vanishing line upon its entire surface. The black line shows just how far love is willing to travel to find its true destination.
Five hours ago, that dulling black line rose off of the surface of that faded globe and began rising to Heaven. And there is where it shall stay for the rest of eternity.