Lucille Beaty was 96 when she died. She and my Grandpa Rapheal Beaty had had four children, 10 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. For 50 of her years, she was the organist for the First Church of God in Lagrange, IN. My Grandpa Beaty died when I was three or four. I remember only snippets of him although he was the subject of one of my first illustrations (he owned a diner in LaGrange, IN and I drew him in a chef’s hat). My father’s parents died when my dad was seven. Grandma Beaty was the only grandparent I had for most of my life, but she was more than up to the task.
Those who knew her can attest to the fact that she knew her mind. She was supremely confident of her opinion and more than willing to share it in no uncertain terms. She never spoke in the passive voice. Her life was composed of active sentences.
On August 14th, I received an email from my brother-in-law, Russ, that Grandma was ill. My family had been trying to get a hold of us, but in typical fashion, I had forgotten to get them our new phone numbers and never checked the voice mail on our cell phone. They had to resort to the internet.
Grandma had been living for several years in an assisted living home, but on the 13th she had stopped eating and there was fluid in her lungs. She seemed to have made a decision that it was time. The doctors didn’t know how much time that would be, so the next morning I drove to see her. I hadn’t kept in very close communication with Grandma since moving to PA and I was afraid I was going to be too late. I wasn’t. When I walked in to see her, she was laying in the hospital bed they had wheeled into her room. I walked to the side f her bed and told her I was there.
“Jay?” she said and smiled at me.” Ooh, I thought I’d never see you again.”
I sat down beside her and held her hand. We sat that way talking for several hours. My Uncle Larry tried to get her to drink but she only wanted her lips swabbed with water. I dutifully complied. I joked with her, she told stories I’d never heard, I thanked her for my mom and we agreed that my mom and dad were pretty good parents. Through it all she held my hand. Tightly. It could easily be said that Grandma’s body didn’t have the endurance of her mind. Her faculties seemed so sharp even as bits and pieces of her stopped working. But make no mistake about this: she still had a grip. There was nothing cold and weak about her hands. They help mine as tightly as they ever had.
During the course of our discussion, the topic turned to teaching. Teaching sort of runs in our family. Grandma taught elementary school and I’m a college professor. She noticed I was wearing shorts.
“You don’t go bare-legged into the classroom, do you?” she asked.
I paused for a second. “What do you think, Grandma?”
“No,” she said with certainty.
“Well, actually,” I admitted, “I do when it’s hot out or I’m going outside for lab.”
“Oh, well, that’s OK, then,” she added quickly and confidently, patting my hand.
I loved my Grandma. I could do no wrong in her eyes, even when I did. I see those same concessions made for Max and Jack by their grandparents.
Leaving was the hardest thing to do. Our hands did not slip slowly apart as violins played. I didn’t think of the perfect thing to say. I clumsily shuffled away from her bed and looked down at her. We said good-bye. I kissed her three times and I said thank-you one last time.
She died peacefully at about 11pm Tuesday, August 21. She was ready. I wasn’t.