Bigmama's Last Day

August 28, 2018

My Great-grandparents, Betty and Julian Henley, with me- 1975

I remember the Easter this photograph was taken.  My mother made the dress I am wearing and it had trim with strawberries on it.  I remember The Midnight Special being on the Friday night before Easter as Mother sewed the ribbon trim onto the white eyelet fabric.  She made a hairbow out of silk flowers and red ribbons that I did not want to wear.  My Easter basket had red cellophane to match and a red and white gingham bow.

Bigmama made chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, peas, corn, butterbeans, some kind of greens, cornbread, biscuits, a ham, the usual fare she prepared on holidays, and I am sure there was a cobbler of some kind and pies galore!  She made the best sweet potato pie in the universe.

Nine years after the Easter of 1975, Bigmama was gone.  She had been sick for years when she finally passed from a brain hemorrhage.  I tell you that she died from a brain hemorrhage, because we have to do that in the South.  Dying of old age isn't enough, we need details- how long it took once she went down, did she suffer, who was there, what'd we eat while she lingered, who brought the food, what we were wearing at the time she went to Glory,  and how many times did the preacher come by to pray before she passed- all of this somehow is important, because I have remembered it since I was twelve, nearly thirteen years old.

The Morning She Left Us

We had all been up for days sitting with her around the clock. Willie Fred had bathed Bigmama and rubbed her down with good smelling lotion.  Willie loved Gloria Vanderbilt, so I am assuming that is what she used.  I had on a boat neck, three-quarter sleeve t-shirt that was blue with skinny stripes on it that were white, red, and green.  I remember what I was wearing,  because my Mother worked as the office manager at the shirt factory my cousin Jimmy owned and he had given me two of the same shirt.  I had slept in it from the night before, in my jeans, fully dressed, because we knew the time was upon us.

I don't remember there ever being a second that one of us wasn't holding Bigmama's hand until she sat up in the bed, opened her eyes, and gasped her last breath.  What I do remember about the moment she passed, was that something woke me up, out of a dead sleep, and I ran out to where she was.  We all woke up like we had been shaken- my mother, my cousins, my Grandmother- we all were there.  It's almost like Bigmama wanted us to see her open her eyes as she left for heaven so that we would have faith that we will see her again.  She died on a Sunday morning around six o'clock, just in time to make it to the big piano in Heaven to crank out Keep on The Firing Line.

George, our neighbor, brought a sack full of biscuits from Hardee's that morning.  I remember having a steak biscuit with strawberry jelly smeared on it and thinking that I had uncovered the holy grail of culinary delights.  To this day, my favorite breakfast comfort food is a Hardee's steak biscuit.

After sitting up for weeks crying and watching our matriarch slip away, we were grateful for a biscuit and time together to love one another without the fear of impending death, because it had just come and gone like a thief.

She had been comatose for weeks, and I guess we all secretly wondered if she could hear us.  It was a relief  that Sunday morning, to know that Betty finally had her ticket to the one place she had always wanted to go- Glory. I must have played How Great Thou Art a thousand times while she lay in that bed dying.  It was all that I knew to do.  I believed she could hear it and it was her favorite song.  She had the round note version of the sheet music and could only read shape notes, so sending her off knowing that I had mastered it, was my gift to her.  Looking back now,  I can only imagine how everyone in the house probably wanted to set the piano on fire and me with it, but thankfully they did not.

Every morning as Bigmama drank her coffee in that old green mug, she would pray

"Dear Lord, I thank you for this day.  Thank you Lord for the promise of Glory.  Oh, Jesus, I want to see your face.  I want to walk the streets of gold.  Lord, if today is the day you come back, I am ready to go to Glory.  Thank you Lord for knowing that one day I will be healed and won't have the pains I have on this earth.  Come today, Oh Jesus, come today!"

I never could figure out why she was in such a hurry to go to heaven.  I was still figuring out things down here and I wasn't really excited about dying, so her prayers always perplexed me a little- until, until I saw her eyes open and her spirit leave her body, and then I knew.

Bigmama's farewell party was one of the best I had ever witnessed,  Devon Wiggins and the McKissacks sang while Miss Nelle played the piano.  Bigmama had been the piano player at the Bradley church for most of her life, so she was honored with a Southern Gospel musical celebration that the Gaithers can't rival.  My cousin Dean and I sang a song, I can't even remember now what it was, because as clearly as I can remember that Sunday morning she passed, I don't remember a thing about the Monday afternoon funeral.

Yesterday, one of my good friends lost her Mother.  It was only two weeks ago that my friend took her Mother to the hospital to find out that she had stage 4 colon cancer.  When she passed yesterday, Miss Bebe was surrounded by her family who loved her, holding her hands and loving on her,  and I have a sneaking suspicion she is having coffee with Bigmama marveling over the streets of gold.

I wish that I could walk in the joy of the unknown like Bigmama did- without stress or anxiety.  I wish I could find joy in my suffering and praise God for it, because I know it brings me another day closer to his Glory.  I wish that I had one more morning to sit on the floor in front of the space heater at Bigmama's  house while she drank her coffee from that ugly old green cup and prayed Heaven down into her dining room.

Hug your people and tell them you love them this week.

Love, y'all,


No comments:

Post a Comment

Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground