6: A Note from Heaven

6: A Note from Heaven

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

A Note from Heaven

Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.

~Author Unknown

I can still remember the feel of her hand the last time I held it. She lay very still in my mother’s bed, her kidneys failing. My thumb lovingly stroked her thin translucent skin. Her old wrinkled hands told a lifetime of stories: of cradling her children and grandchildren, preparing hearty warm Thanksgiving and Easter meals, skillfully handling dental tools, crocheting and tatting yarn into beautiful lace and flowers, and rubbing the sore back of a frail husband. I smiled as I saw the soft apricot nail polish on her long right thumbnail. Only yesterday I had knelt at her feet, oiling her dry legs and giving her a manicure. She was so proud of that long nail, holding it up and smiling, and with a wink, warning me not to file it down too much.

It was time to go back to Boston, to say goodbye forever. “I love you Gram, more than I can say. Mom will take good care of you,” I whispered into her ear. I rested my head against her shoulder, gently embracing her with my arm across her chest. How do you let go? How do you pull away when you know it will be the last time? I memorized the pattern on the bedspread tucked around her, the sound of her breathing, the feel of her touch, the smell of her Estée Lauder perfume. I wanted to keep those memories with me for a lifetime.

Two weeks later, 1,000 miles away, I received the call. “Gram is in heaven,” my mother said softly. Tears filled my eyes.

As the days unfolded, my mother asked me if I would sing at Gram’s funeral. I was honored, agreeing to do anything I could to help make this easier for her. I set aside my own grief to prepare the hymns, the music that would comfort all of us.

After my flight back, I walked into the house and felt drawn to the room, the bed, and the place where I had last held her hand. The same pattern on the bedspread, the same quiet now filled only with the sound of my own breathing. I knelt on the floor and gripped her pillow and breathed in, searching for a little bit of the familiar Estée Lauder perfume. But there was none and I wept.

Seeing my despair, Mom quietly came over and slipped her hand in mine, leading me into another room where a shrine of sorts had been set up in my grandmother’s memory. The green marble urn containing her ashes sat on a table surrounded by her red rosary, the faceted beads worn by years of prayerful touch. There were pictures of Jesus welcoming someone to heaven and lovely images of Gram in healthier days. I stood quietly taking it in.

The funeral went as well as could be expected. I made it through the emotional hymns, keeping myself together, and doing what had to be done while my mother cried her tears of loss and gratitude. After the service, I rode in the car with my dad and uncle to the store where we shipped my grandmother’s ashes to Chicago to be buried next to my grandfather. My uncle and I added a single rose next to her urn before the box was taped shut.

As I flew home I watched the palm trees and beaches shrink below me as we soared over the sparkling ocean water. I felt closer to Gram, to heaven, as we slid through the white clouds.

Walking into my house, I set my luggage down and was greeted by gentle hugs from my family. As everyone dispersed, I headed downstairs to be alone.

Suddenly in the quiet of the basement, I felt overwhelmed. I fell to my knees near a closet under the stairs where I kept boxes of old photos and mementos waiting to be sorted someday. It’s the kind of place where you could not put your finger on something even if you wanted to. There is no rhyme or reason, just cards, negatives and photos thrown in random boxes for “someday.”

My grief bubbled to the surface at last and all the goodbyes poured out on the floor in my tears. “I miss you so much, Gram,” I sobbed out loud, bringing my hands to my face. As the pain of missing her filled my heart, I called out to God, “I know she is happy being with you in heaven, and I wouldn’t want to take that away from her, but I miss her so much . . . .” I cried as I had never cried before.

Suddenly, an unexpected wave of complete, warm peace moved through my body from head to toe like a wave. I sat up on my knees and caught my breath. My shoulders relaxed as I brushed the tears and damp hair from my cheeks. I heard a whisper: “Reach into the closet.”

Still on my knees, I reached for the handle, twisting it slowly. I slid it open just wide enough to slip my hand and arm into the dark. Reaching into a box I could not see, I grasped the first thing I felt, a piece of thin paper. I slowly withdrew my hand. I was holding a fragile yellowed piece of paper I had never seen before. The edges were torn but the words were intact: “Cathy. I love you! Gram.” Somehow, my dear grandmother had reached out across the universe to send a message to comfort a hurting soul.

~Cathy Stenquist

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