“Quite often, our Angels and loved ones in Spirit choose hummingbirds to relay their messages. They may guide hummingbirds to hum to validate their spiritual presence and to send us signs and reminders to follow our joy, stand in the light, and stay present in the moment. Your loved ones in Heaven may choose a hummingbird to enter your space as a validation and assurance that they are well and their soul lives on.”
I haven’t written about my grandmother in detail on this blog but I have written about her in other places. When I used to write for Chicago Parent, I had writer’s block one month which happened to fall on her birthday so I wrote 21 reasons why I miss her. Which is just stupid because there are way more than 21 reasons why I would ever miss her but deadlines being what they are…..
Her name was Ella Lucille but she went by Lucille or “Ceil” for most of her life. She was petite but mighty. She did things with grace but had strong opinions and wasn’t afraid to voice them. She was an amazing cook, a hard-worker her whole life, she helped form who I am today, and I miss her desperately still.
My mom was an only child, a miracle child really. Sara Jayne was born to my grandma and grandpa late in life (my grandma was almost forty-two years old, my grandpa fifty-four years old) after years of failed attempts to have a child. My grandmother thought she was beginning menopause when she got the news that she was pregnant with my mom. Forty-one was considered a late in life baby in those days and when my mom was born, my grandma had said to her sister Mary, “I hope I live to see her graduate high school”.
I am always in awe of my mom’s birth story, how my mom almost didn’t “happen” and how it really was a miracle. I am also saddened that at such a happy time, my grandma was worried thinking she might not live to see her daughter do amazing things. When I came along in April of 1970, my grandma became a “Nanny” when she was in her mid-sixties thanks in part to my mom having me at the age of twenty-three, My grandma not only lived to see my mom graduate high school then college, but also would go on to attend her daughter’s wedding and meet her first grandchild. She went on to meet her second grandchild when my brother was born three years later. She saw both of her grandchildren go through school, meet boyfriends and girlfriends, go to prom’s, award ceremonies, and get drivers licenses. She also got to see her grandchildren get married as well as meet her first of three great-grandchildren, Anna, my oldest daughter who would name her “Great”.
The name fit.
We didn’t realize the magnitude of how that was even possible back then because to us, our grandma wasn’t a miracle. She was “Great”.
She would live forever.
When Mike and I were trying to conceive in 2007, I remember out of the blue asking him how he would feel that if it were a girl we name her Ella Grace. Ella after my grandma, Grace because it was Anna’s middle name and since they would have different last names I wanted them to share middle names. Once it was decided that Ella Grace was our girl name, all I wanted was a girl.
Don’t get me wrong, I would have been equally excited to have a boy and I loved our boy name (William James, also a family name on my mine and my husband’s side), but I really REALLY wanted an Ella. I really REALLY wanted to honor my grandma in that way. Plus I really REALLY wanted Anna to have a sister to share a middle name with.
About a month and a half later, I was pregnant and starting the stressful beginning of pregnancy stage. The praying it will be okay stage. The worrying about every little new thing happening to the body stage, and for me and my pregnancies, the wretched morning sickness stage.
While all of this was happening within me, my grandmother’s health started to decline.
While I was working hard at making life, she was losing hers.
At this point in time, my parents and grandma lived a solid three and a half hours from us. My mom was going through my grandma’s slow transition all alone. My dad was there but he was working full-time at a very stressful job and he couldn’t always tear himself away even though he was truly a support for my mom.
My mom is an only child, never having a sibling to rely on during all the stages of having an elderly parent but especially during the death of a parent. My mom lovingly took care of my grandma for many years and only put her into a wonderful nursing community after my mom was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to for once, focus on herself.
I remember being very early in my pregnancy and visiting with grandma at her nursing home. I was wearing a lavender maternity summer dress that tied in the front. I got it at Target and I wore the hell out of that dress. My grandma reached up from her bed and touched my growing belly, she looked me in the eyes and said: “I think it’s a girl”. I told her that it would be named after her and she smiled. I said, “Grandma, we are going to find out the sex in September!“. She said, “I can’t wait!”.
A month later, I went down with Anna, my brother, and sister-in-law to see my grandma in the ICU of a local hospital when she was ill. I had a urinary tract infection, headaches that I could only treat with Tylenol, felt like shit all of the time and was vomiting most of what I was eating. I need to explain this because it’s my blog and I don’t want to look like a total ass.
That trip was hard for me physically and emotionally. Seeing my grandma in that way, being physically ill, the unpredictability of it all and knowing that this might be the end. I wanted to make it okay for my mom, but I also worried about my child, the baby in my belly, and my own health. But this was my Nanny. I never thought she would leave us. Why now, God?
The night my mom called to tell me that grandma was dying, I remember sitting on our couch with Anna after her soccer practice. Before she called, I was craving Quizno’s subs and thought there was one just down the street. We got into the car and drove a few blocks away to realize that it was replaced by an H&R Block and were so disappointed because we both had a taste for their subs. Mike was working a late night at the dealership (one of many each week) when the home phone rang. It was my mom saying that she thought grandma was going to pass overnight. I remember feeling helpless, sad, but also guilty that the night that my grandma was transitioning, I was preoccupied searching for a Quizno’s sub sandwich.
I felt guilty that I couldn’t be there for my mom but the thought of driving while pulling over to puke every half hour was not something I wanted to do. I was afraid of what seeing my grandma dying would do to Anna. But writing this now, I would have driven my ass down. Sure, I am not in the same place mentally and physically that I was over 10 years ago but if this happened now, I would do it.
That night, I went to bed and in my grief (and pregnancy brain), I forgot to turn the ringer on the phone next to my bedside. I had the phone next to me but I didn’t turn the ringer on. When my dad called at around 4 in the morning, I wasn’t awake to answer it. I didn’t get the message until almost three hours later.
I will never forgive myself for that.
Sure, I was there for my mom via phone calls throughout that day, throughout that weekend, but I wasn’t there for her when her mom passed. My mom is one of my best friends, my supporter in tough times, and one of the loves of my life. I wasn’t there to reciprocate that and for that, I will never forgive myself.
My brother did go down alone to be with my parents the day she died and my mom has said it was so healing to have him there. Just the three of them, crying, reminiscing, laughing about good times, and drinking a shot of whiskey in honor of grandma (because it was a really tough day) and it made me so happy that they had that. The guilt didn’t feel as awful because I knew he was there comforting them, giving them one on one time, and being their rock.
That’s the beauty of having a sibling. Something my mom knew nothing about.
It was as they were taking that shot of whiskey in the kitchen that my mom noticed movement outside of the window. She turned and noticed a hummingbird looking right into the house, looking right at my family, its wings fluttering away.
My mom didn’t even have a hummingbird feeder on her porch, the porch where that hummingbird was hovering while looking in the window.
My mom has always loved hummingbirds but to her dismay and however hard she tried with feeders and sugar water over the years, no hummingbirds were ever attracted to her feeders. But that day, the day my grandma left us, was the first time a hummingbird visited my mom.
“Your loved ones in Heaven may choose a hummingbird to enter your space as a validation and assurance that they are well and their soul lives on.”
The day she died, I wore her old farmhouse apron all day long over my growing pregnant belly. It was a gloriously sunny and relatively cool late July day. I stumbled around the house trying to be a mom to Anna, babysit for a friend of ours, and just muddle through the day. I remember my friend Rebecca came with her then 9-year-old daughter to help comfort and bring lunch. We sat in my living room and talked about my beautiful Grandma all day while the kids played. I kept on saying, “where did she go?” all day long.
WHERE DID SHE GO?
Then late afternoon as I was sitting in our living room crying, I noticed something peculiar.
All over the lawn.
Like a scary amount.
Like, if you had a fear of birds, you’d be all HOLY SHIT WE NEED TO MOVE.
When I was little, my grandma used to sing a song to the birds in her little kitchen when the windows were open. Nothing really just humming and making up nonsensical songs as she went. She always talked about Jenny Wren and when she would hear “Jenny” sing, she would say things like Oh Jenny Wren, good morning! or Jenny Wren are you singing to me?
When you are little, idolize your grandma, and love visiting her home in the country, stuff like that is gold. Grandma Gold.
I have always associated birds with my grandma. Even giving her a cool ass bird feeder for Christmas one year when she was getting up in age and couldn’t get around as well. It was plexiglass and attached to her bedroom window so the birds would come up to her window and eat.
So when the birds showed up on my lawn the day my grandma passed on, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
In one of many phone conversations the week of her passing, my mom told me of her hummingbird visit and I told her of mine.
We’d had a beautiful visitor.
When I found out in September of that same year that we were indeed having a girl, my mom and I sobbed on the phone. Grandma would have been so happy. She knew! She knew it was going to be another Ella and it gave me comfort knowing I was carrying a child to be named after her.
The day our Ella was born, I felt my grandma in the operating room with Mike and I. When our Ella came into this world, I like to think that Grandma Ella was right there whispering in her ear last-minute tips for life on Earth.
Our Ella is an old soul. We say it all the time because it is true. She lives up to the name Ella so well. My grandma would have adored her and she adored her grandma as well.
Once when our Ella was just a little one, I walked into her room and heard her talking. I thought she was talking to her stuffed animals or just playing when she said, ‘I am talking to grandma Ella and grandpa Albert, Mommy!”
I believe she was.
I think my whole life, I knew how special and how much of a gift my grandma was. That I was lucky to have her, that God knew I only had one grandma (all of my other grandparents either passed before I was born or when I was very small). It’s like He knew that everyone needs a grandma, and my grandma lived to be 102 so that she could give the love of four or six grandparents.
She lived to see so much, she left such a huge legacy, and she is missed daily.
Sometime soon, Anna, my Mom and I are getting a tattoo in honor of Anna turning 18 and also in honor of the path we took together as a mom, daughter. and grandma. Something small, special, spiritual and representative of all of us. Something that reminds us that we will always go on, thanks in part to stories, memories, and family.
I’ll give you one guess as to what it will be.