Today we’re sharing an memoir I (Meg) wrote a couple of years ago, recalling the October day in 2002 that changed my life forever.
Well, mostly because today is October 26th. And because October 26th was the worst night of my entire life, probably.
Because 12 years just wasn’t enough. And because 16 years and 1 day has been far too long. The last time I saw them, the very last encounter with them as living human beings - October 25th, I’m pretty sure. And a strange visit at that. A Friday visit past sun down probably hadn’t happened before, as Grandma worried about us walking back home after dark. She always had us on our way before night. But not that night, not October 25th, 2002. She carried on, making me feel like I should stay despite the barn light flickering on over the dim back yard. I noticed it through the kitchen window overlooking the back porch. She didn’t fuss about me needing to take that grocery bag of hand-me-downs and hurry back home. She lingered, she tootled around the kitchen, in no hurry and with no apparent attention to the time, or to the night spilling out over the pasture and our dirt road. She sat me down on that kitchen stool. She read me her poems and sang me her songs. She stayed with me, and that night I stayed with her a little longer too. And then, before it got too dark, she let me go. Little did I know that I was letting her go.
Thank you, Grandma. I’ve treasured that night, the last time, the last visit, more than I realized. Thanks for always staying, and letting me stay. Thank you for October 25th, as I remember it.
Just seeing this date or hearing it spoken still leaves a bit of a sting. The throb hasn't diminished, even after 14 years.
October 26th, 2002 started out as any other fabulous day of a 12 year-old. This day was about to be super cool, considering I would be going to my best friend's birthday party at a roller rink that night. A perfect Saturday in the life of an average American junior high girl from the middle of nowhere (also known as the "thumb" of the mitten state). Actually, this day had the potential of being the best day EVER (pre-teen dramatic effect thrown in for hilarity). And guess what? Despite my serious lack of rollerskating skill, I still had the time of my life. Saturday night out, out of what I considered the worst place EVER - my own home, with my bff and her family...This was the simply the coolest.
I remember getting dropped off at home later than I told my dad I would be. So I was anxious and terrified that I would be in serious trouble. Remember, this was before all 12 year-olds had cell phones. However, I was greeted by an anxious dad, not a furious one. Apparently, he worked himself up over seeing that there was a car accident at an intersection he knew my friend's family and I would have passed through on the way home. He knew we were riding in a van and this very accident involved a van too. I, of course, had not a clue what he was talking about. I was just relieved that he wasn't yelling another lecture at me.
"We didn't see anything...There wasn't any accident when we went through." I told him cooly.
"Whew," I thought, "dodged a screaming match there."
As his fears were relieved knowing I was fine, he explained that he heard about the accident on the 11-o-clock news.
"It was fatal," he said. I remember thinking how strange it was that we didn't see any evidence of a crash given that it had been so serious.
"Well, I'm gonna go to bed, dad," I said, or something along those lines. Not giving any thought to the van, the victims, death, or anything other than the fact that I had arrived home close to midnight and my dad wasn't even mad about it.
I went into my room, plopped down on my futon bunkbed and put my headphones on. Yes, headphones to my nifty little portable CD player. My escape; those headphones held my haven.
I'm sure I relived the fun of the day, even the times I embarrassingly fell down in the middle of the rink, while listening to the NOW8 CD.
It seemed like it was no more than two songs later when my dad busted through my bedroom door. "You need to come out here right now!"
"Oh, great," I thought, "he's realized the time and now I'm done for. Does he seriously have to be so dramatic?!"
It took all of about 10 steps out of my room to realize that my dad was not at all concerned about my late arrival home. While the minutes, hours, days, and months after this moment are all just a blurry, teary, angry, dark mess to rummage through, this moment is still seared into my mind's eye. Sometimes hurt rushes back over me when I think that this moment may actually be clearer than any of the memories I actually have of them.
My two younger siblings were sitting, blank-faced and sleepy-eyed, on our living room couch. My mother was weeping hysterically, rocking back and forth like a psychotic person. I froze. Right there in my childhood home, I was frozen. Time stood still and my heart was about to burst right out of my chest or my throat or my butt, or wherever hearts burst out of.
"What is going on?!? WHAT'S WRONG?!" I screamed. This was a moment like none other I had ever, or have ever, experienced. It was as if I knew life was somehow already all messed up and I didn't have even the slightest clue why.
"Remember that accident I asked you about?" He asked me, seeming kind of annoyed that I wasn't already up to speed on what crisis had apparently happened.
"Yeah? So what? WHAT is going on?! Mom? Dad, why is she bawling?"
"That accident. It was grandma and grandpa, Megan." He quickly spit out at me.
"Wait, what? Grandma and grandpa who? They're going to be okay..?" I asked, but also tried to declare, as if my statement would undo what had already been done.
"WOODRUFF. Grandma and grandpa Woodruff," he said, still frustrated and now so with my disbelief.
"Where are they now? They're okay, right, dad? Mom? Tommy?" Panic started to paralyze me. My vision was narrowing like I was holding an empty paper towel tube to my face. The throbbing noise in my ears was so loud I couldn't make out what he was saying to me.
"No, Megan, no they're not okay. They died." He just said it to me, still in disbelief himself, as he put his hand to his forehead and paced through to the other side of the living room. I collapsed. Right there in that kitchen I collapsed.
My grandparents were dead. My grandma died. Their bodies were cold and lifeless in some morgue. I felt the same way; dead, cold, lifeless.
October 26th doesn't just leave a bit of a sting. It has left a gaping, wide-open wound that still has yet to become a scar.
The moments following this day were at times unbearable. Some may say, 'The death of a grandparent really shouldn't be so devastating. It's expected that we lose our grandparents sooner or later.' True, indeed. In fact, I can distinctly remember asking my mom about this "what-if" that obviously gave me anxiety far before it became reality. She was readying herself for work in the bathroom of our trailer house. I couldn't even see over the counter and could barely get my hands under the faucet of the olive green sink.
"Mom, what are we gonna do if Gramma and Grampa Woodruff die?" I asked her, anxious and scared. How was I already so gripped by this possibility? Of course we had decades and decades before then, we wished.
Not looking down at me from the mirror where her focus stayed, she said, "Don't think that way! They're not going to die, Megan," she continued painting on her pretty face, representing more than I knew at that time, and fluffing her hair.
"I know. But what if they do? What are we gonna do? What would we do for Thanksgiving and Christmas and who would watch us after school? Who would take us to church?" my sweet little innocent mind fluttered with worry. Somehow death got ahold of me and shook me up that day. I couldn't imagine our life, MY life, without them. And I didn't want to. That moment I learned not to think about their death or anything bad, and if I could ignore it or forget it, it wouldn't happen or be true. I pushed the notion far away and deep down.
My blissful ignorance could no longer calm me. The harsh, harsh reality set in. These grandparents, specifically my grandma, weren't just some old folks we got presents from on Christmas and birthdays. She was my safe haven, my confidant, my soft place to land, my example of unconditional love, hospitality, authenticity, simplicity, joy, gratitude, and hope; she was the truest portrayal of Jesus I'd encountered, even though I didn't know that yet. She was my source of never-ending red Koolaid and pb&j's, laughter, songs, poems, Shirley Temple movies, Bible verses, snowball bushes, silly stories, hugs, and adventure. Nevah Fern loved me when I thought no one did and she never once denied me the love she knew I was desperate for. She gave me Jesus, and at a high dosage.
At that moment in my family's kitchen, crumpled on the floor in pain and fear, I knew that was all over. Her unconditional love had finally ran out. It ran out of time. And for weeks and months, and even years, I kind of just wished my time would run out too. If not, I begged God nightly for a supernatural miracle of just one more day with her. But God stayed silent, and as He did, I grew louder and madder. I couldn't face a God who ignored my pleas and who was a thief. After all, was He not the one who stole them from us? He had to be.
This journey deep into deceit and despair lasted for longer than my grandmother probably would have liked.
14 years later I sit in my own kitchen crying over the keyboard of my ipad as I type the words of this memoir. While I have come to grips with my struggles and have joined hands with Jesus, as my grandmother modeled for me, questions and emotions still flood my heart and mind. What would she think of my husband? Would she be well enough to come visit our home? What would she have said to me on my college graduation day? My wedding day? What would she have said to me as I focused on boys in high school instead of discovering myself? How would she advise me in my broken relationships? What would she think of me now? Would she have a cell phone or a facebook account (haha)? Would she still be the first person I go to with questions or big news? Who would I be if she hadn't died?
I am so incredibly grateful to her for following the Lord so closely that she actually looked like Christ incarnated. That when someone left after spending time with her, they left having met with Jesus too. I'm grateful she answered that call.
And I'm grateful to a good Lord God who loves so deeply, so deeply and calls us to His side. He gives us love no matter what, provides hope in the darkest of valleys, and stays true in the best and worst of times.
He walks with us and He talks with us and He tells us we are His own.