Ten years ago today my grandmother, Eloise Sadler Hills (aka Gammy) breathed her last breathe. I wasn't present, but in the car on my way to Salt Lake City from Seattle. Here is how I remember the days surrounding her death.
It was one of the most emotionally draining weeks ever. The Twin Towers had fallen and there were still questions about survivors and who was responsible. Many of us had watched on tv as things unfolded and were stunned at what we saw. I can't even imagine being in the thick of it all. I remember several phone calls to family and friends discussing what had happened and wondering if something was still coming.
My brother, Don was stuck in Chicago. He had gone on a business trip and with all flights grounded; he had no idea when he would get back to Salt Lake City. I remember chatting with him and thinking how glad I was that he was ok and hoping that he would be able to get home soon.
On the afternoon of September 14th, my mom called to tell me that Gammy wasn't doing well and they didn't think she would make it through the night. I remember thinking that travel would be difficult with no flights and with the end near, taking a bus wasn't really practical. I asked my mom what she wanted. If she wanted me there, I would figure out a way to get there. She said that she wanted me there and I told her it would happen. We got off the phone so she could call my aunt Lynne and I spent the next 20-30 minutes trying to figure out how to get to Salt Lake City.
Anyone that knows me is aware that I can only make it about 2 hours driving and that is pushing it. I was sitting in my apartment with Sonya and Heather. Sonya couldn't go - she had something going on at work. Heather volunteered to go with me. Suddenly we were in MUST GO mode. I called my aunt Lynne to see if she wanted to go with us and it took FOREVER to get hold of her. We finally left my apartment about 6pm and headed to my aunts office. It took 20-30 minutes to get there and when we arrived she wasn't ready to go. We ended up waiting 45-60 minutes and finally we were on the road.
The drive between Seattle and Salt Lake City can take anywhere from 12-14 hours depending on the speed and conditions. We drove on through the night - making stops as needed for food, drink and potty breaks. About 6:25am my cell phone rang and it was my mom telling me that Gammy was gone. We were about an hour outside Salt Lake City. I was sad I hadn't been there to say goodbye but then I remembered that I had said goodbye the last time I saw her. I passed the phone to my aunt and she and my mom chatted for a few minutes before the phone was passed back to me. My mom asked if we wanted to see Gammy before they moved her. I had never really thought about it so I asked my aunt and she didn't know. I answered for both of us - "Leave her where she is. We are almost there". The last hour was the most difficult. It's a blur except that I kept thinking we should have left earlier.
When we got to her room at the care center her roommate was in bed, my cousin Donna was sitting on the floor by the bed and my mom was standing next to her. We walked in and Donna said something like “Yup – she’s still dead” and I remember looking at my grandmother’s roommate and seeing utter confusion in her eyes. I went to my grandmother’s bed and she looked so peaceful. We all took some time and said our goodbyes. The next few hours we ran around making arrangements. It was a blur of activity.
It was a another day before Don was able to get back to Salt Lake and then we had a wonderful memorial service at Tuscany on September 17th. The staff was so respectful and quiet. They kept everyone happy and you rarely saw them. My mom had gathered several stuffed lambs for all of the grandchildren and great grandchildren could take one home. Don made the following toast: “We are here tonight to celebrate Gammy’s life and the 2 birthdays we had this week will remind us of the continuity of our lives. I am sorry I wasn’t here for the events of the past week. Let’s raise our glasses to the times we’ve had, the times we’ve missed and the times yet to come”.
The things I remember most about Gammy:
She was so beautiful. I don’t think she ever believed it.
She had a radiant smile that always made everyone else smile.
She also had a devilish smile that would creep up and catch everyone by surprise.
She loved flowers and birds. Hummingbirds were her favorite and every now in then when I see a hummingbird I think it’s her – flitting by to say hello and to remind me of the beautiful things.
She loved lavender. Yardley’s Lavender soap specifically.
She smelled of Coty powder and Tigress perfume.
She introduced me to Lillian Jackson Braun’s “Cat Who” mysteries.
She was always upset that she didn’t have a middle name.
She loved aspic and peanut butter cups.
She always had a tissue handy.
All of these things still make me smile and remind me of the wonderful times we spent together. I often find myself thinking of her and regretting that I didn’t take notes when she was telling the family stories. I miss her and I am so grateful for the time we had.