The New Normal
Greetings family! It's been a while since we've been in this space and the only explanation I can give you is that God has been working on me. He has shown me my own strength that I NEVER saw in myself. See, sometimes we get so comfortable in our regular routines and the blessings that we have around us, yet we never realize just how amazing He has made us. In addition to that, He has shown me just how much of a keeper and a healer that He can be.
**Warning: this post will be longer than usual and it's difficult for me to write about, but I promise that I've poured my heart and tears into it. Please bear with me.**
Here's my story:
June 1, 2018, I received a voicemail from my grandmother saying that she was in the hospital. Messages like that never upset me because if you know anything about Joycee P., my dad's mom, you'd know that she was always in the hospital, but she was a fighter. She had quite a few bouts of cancer and she was victorious every time. In my mind, she was time enough for the disease because it would never take her out. All except this last time; her breast cancer became leukemia and the doctors said that there was nothing else that could be done. I heard the diagnosis yet I believe(d) that my God was greater. I would drive to the hospital a few times a week and call a few times a day just to remind her to stay positive. I would also tell her all of the "tea" as I would normally do everyday just to give her a good laugh. Within days my normal conversations with grandma started to change and eventually started to dwindle. By June 13th, I made it a point to make a stop at the hospital before heading back to my side of town. That night she opened her eyes and told me goodbye and that she loved me. I asked her where she was going, thinking that she was just talking out of her head, but she sang in a joyous tone that she was going to heaven. I couldn't fathom hearing those words come out of her mouth. As much as I thought I was prepared to let go, hearing her say it was a reminder that I am not in control. That night I dreamt of her walking around a new residence. Seeing her walk perfectly after having a leg amputated was a blessing. She was so excited to show me her new place. She then stopped in the middle of the tour and said, "I can have them prepare a bed for you if you want." I declined and I woke up to check my phone to make sure she hadn't transitioned while I was dreaming of her. I called my mom and my step-dad about the dream and they both comforted me letting me know that the dream is a reflection of John 14. My step-dad explained to me that my grandmother was in the last stages of life and that I should grieve now so that I would have strength to bring comfort to my family when the transition occurred. I made it a point to return to the hospital as much as I could. The last day that I was physically present she asked for someone to pray. I unselfishly prayed that God's will be done even though I knew that it would be difficult. She squeezed my hand as hard as she could. After my prayer, she asked for a drink of water, took a sip, relaxed, and said, "I'm ready." In my mind she was going to take one last breath but she took several and continued to hold on. It was heartbreaking to watch someone that I love so dearly go through the final stages of life. My grandmother held on in agony because we all were afraid to let go of our matriarch and best friend. I caught a cold and decided not to return to the hospital until I was well, but I continued to call with the hopes that she would be able to talk on the phone again. However, that wish never came to fruition.
On Tuesday, June 19, 2018, I was holding a conversation at work when my phone started ringing. I ignored the call from my cousin with the intention that I would call her after I was finished my conversation. My phone rang again. I ignored it. On the third time I figured it was an emergency. I answered the phone, heart pounding, thinking that this was the call that I was dreading. The voice on the other end said, "Lester [my step-dad] died." I was numb. Here I am dealing with the on-coming transition of my grandmother and God decided to take my step dad...unexpectedly. I spent 50 minutes driving from my office to where they lived asking God why? I know I'm not supposed to question God, but I had to ask, "God what is it about me that you see that I don't see? Why do you think I'm strong enough? God I'm barely holding on to my sanity and I have to deal with this and one day, deal with my grandmother too? Why God?" Because I have a relationship with my creator I knew I was wrong in asking why. I know that there is power in the mindset so I started saying thank you instead. I went from why me to thank you God for knowing that I could handle this battle. Thank you God for lending your son to my family so that we would be blessed by his presence. I screamed and I cried all the way up i-95 but I knew that when I am weak God is strong. I finally arrived to my step dad's house and there were family cars everywhere and one police car. I knew it was real because the medics had already left. I walked in and everyone was still in disbelief. I didn't even bother to ask what happened. All I could utter was, "Can we pray?" Everyone in the house grabbed hands and looked to me to start while I was looking at everyone else expecting someone else to pray. When Lester told me that I would have to comfort my family, I didn't know that it would be after his death. Nonetheless I prayed for peace, especially for my mom and nephew because they discovered his body hanging off the side of the bed. They, with the help of my cousin, tried to revive him but their efforts went in vain. I never imagined that I would one day walk into their bedroom to see my step-dad lying where he took his last breath. You could've never told me that 1/2 of the "Party People", as I affectionately named him and my mom, would no longer be partying with us. After the funeral home took the body out of the house, I got a video call from another cousin who was at the hospital with my grandmother. My grandmother looked at me with tears in her eyes as if she felt my pain, which she normally did. I was too busy mourning to realize the importance of that moment. That night may have been one of the most difficult nights of my life. My mom and I cried off and on all night. I've never appreciated the sunshine so much in my life. Listen, the way I praised God to see day break, you could never understand. Joy comes in the morning and I can attest to that. To see the sun come up represented the fact that trouble won't last always. Even though we had to make funeral arrangements that day, the fact that I made it through the night was a BLESSING!!!! He turned my midnight into day! Even though I was still in shock at what happened, I couldn't and wouldn't complain.
As if that Tuesday wasn't bad enough, Wednesday night I got a call that my grandmother's breathing was declining and to get to the hospital as fast as I could. I drop to the ground and cried out that I couldn't do it again. My mother picked me up from the floor and told me to go lay down instead of going to the hospital. She told me that there was nothing that I could do. Instead of attempting to drive, I got in the shower and prayed to God for strength. I laid across my mom's bed, yes the same bed where her husband took his last breath, listening to Perfect Peace when my dad called. When I saw his name a little after midnight, I knew. I answered the phone with my heart pounding yet again. He said, "I love you. Grandma's gone," and he broke down. It doesn't matter how prepared you think you are, when you get THAT phone call, you're never really ready. I told him I loved him but I had to go pray. On second thought, I probably should have prayed with him, but my first instinct was to drop to my knees. I fought the air as if I was in the fight of my life. I felt like the devil was trying to take me out. I felt like my world was ending. How can one be sane when my loved ones are transitioning back to back? How am I supposed to be normal? How am I supposed to go on with life? How? I prayed until I couldn't cry anymore. No words, no gifts, no person could EVER replace the hole in my heart.
Following the death of my grandmother, we had another member of the family pass away. They say that death happens in threes and it did. Who knew that it would be within a span of four days? This is where the lesson comes in. Despite my pain, I know that JOY comes in the "mourning". Yes, I know what I spelled. You see, I could've easily been taken out after the first death but the way God is set up, His people are too precious to let go. He said that He has all the strength that I will ever need. Strength that will surpass all understanding. Strength that can fight even the toughest battles. Listen, one thing that I have learned is that there is nothing my God cannot do. My grandmother's pastor eulogized about learning to live the new "normal" but I was too busy crying to really comprehend. I didn't know that everyday I would have to find my own sunshine. I didn't know that everyday I would have to choose joy when I'm one blink away from letting the Nile River flow from my eyes. I didn't know how difficult it would be to just live my everyday life. It took me five months to want to even write my blog again. Knowing that two of my supporters weren't even here to read it was hard for me.
When you lose a loved one, people tell you that it gets better with time. I came to tell you that they lied. It doesn't get better with time. It gets better with faith. It gets better with knowing that your creator still has His hand on your life. I have triggers that set me off. One time, I broke down in a restaurant because their bathroom code was my grandmother's birthday. I'm learning to take these moments as signs that my loved ones are still near me. You never know the battles that other people struggle with daily. I challenge you to be kind to others and offer a smile. Your energy and your smile might be just what someone else needs for their new "normal".
This post is in loving memory of Alfred Lester Brownley, Jr. and Joyce "Peanie" Peterson!
PS. Please lift a prayer for my mom as she celebrates her first wedding anniversary (November 1) and birthday (November 2) without her beloved. Send love her way.