Dear Gigi

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Dear Gigi,

Today you left us.  I miss you terribly.  I missed you the moment your mind turned inward and our words couldn’t inspire you to speak back to us.  Maisy even learned “Gigi” just in time to tell you when you were in the ER… and then spend the next several days, including today, saying it repeatedly and increasingly.  Your name is her new favorite word.  In the moment when you were lost to fighting to self sooth yourself out of the pain of your blood infection all I wanted to do was hold you in my arms like a baby and wash all your pain away with the sheer force of my love and compassion for you.  In that moment I saw you as I see my baby girl.  I also saw you as beautiful as I’ve ever seen you.  I can’t put my finger on it, but all I could tell you right then is that you looked beautiful and I loved the color of your hair.  But it was so much more than that.  Though you were going through pain I cannot even imagine all I saw was this beautifully, perfectly unkempt mop of grey-white hair.  It glistened like the water glistens when there’s a slight breeze, serene and other-worldly.  Your face wore the innocence of a sleeping child, with your eyes stubbornly clamped shut and all.  You were the most beautiful to me in that moment and that is the last memory of you I want to hold in my heart.

But I also saw you today.  Just after you left us.  I suppose I needed to see you that way.  But it was harder than I expected.  When I walked in and saw your mouth hung awkwardly to one side, drooping farther than humanly possible, I realized I’d never actually seen a dead person before.  I’ve lost a loved one once a year like clock work for 8 years straight and yet I missed this moment with each of them.  It simultaneously made me feel sick to my stomach (like the being in the same room as death just does to a person) and like a bunch of bells were chaotically but somehow pleasantly resounding around in the pit of my chest (like the joyful peace of knowing a loved one is Home and pain free also just does to a person.) Throughout today I’ve been mostly regressing inward into a zombie like state of being and working.  Dried up from tears I simply flipped through my overdue list of editing, picking away picture by picture on autopilot.  Thank heavens for autopilot.  This evening, however, I reflected a little differently.

I remembered the first time I met you.  I went to your lower level apartment in the most quaint, small town I could register in my memories.  We walked in and for the next hour or so I relished in listening to your tales.  I could not remember what stories you told but simply that you painted pictures with your words and that you were the sweetest grandma I’d ever met.

The next time I met you it was my first official gathering with the Calhoun family where I was accepted as “the girlfriend.”  First thing I did when I arrived was knock you over into the bushes.  I don’t remember how it happened, I simply remember feeling mortified and that you simply melted into a fit of laughter as we tried to right you.  I loved your bouncing belly laugh.  You were the first and only person I’ve met that had a true belly laugh.  When you laughed, your belly bounced, laughing with you.  Then I grew a beachball of a belly and would think warm, fuzzy thoughts of you every time I laughed.

My favorite moments in our story were every moment we spent together after I increasingly became your go-to caregiver when Mom and Dad went out of town.  I would stay overnight and wake up, excited to bring you coffee and whatever treat I chose for the day (sorry Mom, I spoiled Gigi with lots of pastries).  I hope with all my heart that you knew I loved our morning coffee dates when I got to stay over to care for you.

These sleepovers became regular enough for me to get to hang out with Gigi every weekend.  I would cart me, the kid, and our little bag of things over there to spend the weekend in a sort of state of joyful bliss.  Sure, I usually took off like a rocket after our coffee date to go photograph some wedding or portrait or another but it was truly the pleasure of your company that made my weekend.  I wrote you many letters over the years, I loved being pen pals, so I hope if I didn’t adequately tell you in person how much I adored my time with you that you knew it either from my letters or simply because you just knew.

You were the perfect grandma to me.  You weren’t a motivated woman, in fact you were quite lazy, but you were very loving and giving.  I’m so thankful for all the moments and I had with you.  I do wish I could give you one more kiss on the cheek, share one more donut with you, hear you tell me one more story, and say “I love you” while you could still hear me with your ears here.  Instead, I’m left to settle for hoping that you understood I treasured every moment with you and held you in my heart as my own flesh and blood.

I realize now that I have a short but important list of regrets.  I regret not kissing you “see you later” on the cheek every single time I left you.  I regret not visiting you at least once more while you were at rehab.  And I very much regret not finding a way to visit you once a day after your last fall that sent you to the ER then to hospice – I wish I would have found a way to make the time to come in and tell you all these things that I’m writing now, to read to you, and to tell you “I love you” 100 more times.  For that, I’m so sorry that I ache inside.  I wish I could go back a few days to have a redo, but I suppose my “once more” would be “once more” no matter what – I’m just a kid asking for 5 more minutes after I’ve already been given five more minutes.

Gigi, I love you and I’m so thankful you are Home and pain free!  I’ll look forward to seeing you again when it’s my turn.

With all my heart,


Starts and Grief

This was written yesterday but I only got in WIFI now 🙂

Normally, starts are hard. Lately, they are impossible.

With the loss of my grandma it’s like the creative side of my brain walked out of my head, leaving only a suicide note behind. You might be thinking, “well, that’s not very convincing since you’re writing this perfectly normal blog right now.” Well, this was the only idea I had – sometimes when I can’t write or do anything else I write about the inability to write. I think I’m hoping that by “admitting my problem” I will come out on the other side a whole person again 😉

Bottom line, I’ve learned that no two grieving experiences are alike. However, I have noticed that one thing is the same: I become someone completely different with each loss. This is never a permanent or complete transformation, it’s more like someone else takes over my emotional and mental capacities for a time.

In my first grieving experience I melted into a sort of numb, nothingness. It felt like sleepwalking but with a vague awareness and the ability to access my mental capacities. This form of grieving had everyone fooled – on the outside I appeared to not only be back to normal but to be conquering the world while on the inside I was hollow,

Another grieving experience had me suddenly overridden by worry. Because of this I had a sudden appreciation for worriers. How do they manage to successfully get through the day? I am dumbfounded because in that season worry crippled me.

This time I lost half my brain. I feel as if any words I write are disjointed and confusing and any pictures I take or edit are clinging to what I know for lack of inspiration to go bigger. Every day I wake up hopeful, “today is the day I get my brain back,” only to find less of it there than the day before.

Finally I called my mom – she is a wealth of encouragement and wisdom and did not fail me in this predicament. She simply recommended I cut myself some slack and take a day off. On this day off I’m supposed to do two things: take a mental break and go get inspired. My job is to keep my computer off for a whole day and spend my time leisurely reading, wandering around outdoors, or doing anything else unrelated to my work. To get inspired she suggested taking a trip to the museum. I love that advice and am acting on it today.

Last night I got a call from my father-in-law asking me if I wanted to hitch a ride to see the guys play in Indiana and Ohio. I puzzled over the pros and cons of the scenario and ultimately resolved that, not only would this trip allow me to see Josh play, but it would give me my much needed break. So, this blog is me signing off for the weekend. Wish me luck in my hunt for the rest of my brain 😉

All the Things Left Behind

With the passing of my grandma we have come on the time when it is necessary to sort through all the things she left behind.  On Friday my mom and I drove to my grandma’s condo.  We spent the morning sorting things into three piles:  trash, donate, and pretty.  The trash pile consisted of normal every day trash and items that were unusable.  The donate pile was for the items we knew no one in the family would want or need. And the pretty pile held all the precious items from paintings to tea cups that need to be claimed by family members   Then we spent the afternoon going through the pretty pile with my aunt Julie, deciding where said items should belong.

Before the end of the day we ended up at my grandma’s assisted living apartment.  This is the place where my last memories, and some of my most treasured memories, were made with my grandma.  My heart sunk to my toes when I saw her empty bed.  I wandered the apartment in numbness.

The whole day was grueling and depressing.

At the end of the day I was mostly left with questions.  Is there a better way to go about this?  Why does it feel so yucky claiming my grandma’s things?  Why is it so hard wrapping up an estate?  Why do we have so much stuff and why does it all have to be left behind for our loved ones to deal with?  I know we don’t take anything with us to heaven, and I don’t wish we did, but I just wish there was an easier way to deal with those things we do leave behind.

Words for Grandma’s Funeral

In the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to finally get to know my Grandma Lu.  After the passing of my Grandpa Bud, Grandma seemed to become more receptive to family and visitors.  I totally took advantage of that by visiting her as often as I could and coaxing her into telling me stories.

The memories I’ll cherish are these that I’ve made in the past couple of years and today I will share my last three with you.  But first, Grandma Joyce insisted on being called Grandma Lu by all the grandkids so I hold to that in my little speech.

On Tuesday, February 12, I had suddenly had enough of fretting about Grandma Lu’s situation.  About a week prior she had decided to quit dialysis and a few short days following that she was moved to hospice care.  I had spent those several days wallowing in my empty house and, after melting into a sobbing puddle on my kitchen floor randomly one afternoon, I figured it was time to set my sails for Minnesota to see her.  I hit snow as I drove in the night but since I’m as much of a stubborn Norwegian as my grandma I kept at it and slowly, but surely, made it safely home.

The next morning I awoke to coffee time with Mom and then we headed to visit Grandma.  I was hopeful in going to see her because only a couple of days before my mom told me how Grandma said something like this, “all who believeth and are baptized will be saved.”

My time with Grandma was lovely and gave me peace.  Honestly, my Grandma is a hoot to hang with.  We talked a lot about Josh, I think she had a little crush on him , and I tried to get her to tell me stories from her childhood.

On the last day I was home I went to visit her by myself.  I brought the dogs and Josh’s music so she could meet my furry kiddos and hear some rough cuts of Citizen Way’s new album coming out in the next couple of months.  She was amused by my pups until Sam tried to snuggle one too many times and drew blood on her fragile skin with his persistently knife-like claws.  So, I put them away and put the music on.  She reclined and listened intently to every tune I played for her.  I’m pretty sure she couldn’t have possibly understood the lyrics but I was praying all the while that the words would sink into her heart anyway.  After she tired of music we chatted. At one point she dozed off and she was so still that I thought she died right in front of me!  But, just before I asked Gene, her 24 hour caregiver, for help, Grandma spoke again behind me.  Thank the Lord!  I was so freaked!

Before I left I asked if I could pray for Grandma.  ”Oh yeah!” she said.  A much more enthusiastic response than I expected so my heart fluttered even more hopefully for her.  After the prayer and a gentle, awkward stooping hug I said “I love you Grandma” and she said “drive safe” (she doesn’t say “I love you”) and that was the last time I saw her.

On Friday, February 22, Grandma Lu took a turn for the worse.  My mom called asking me to pray hard because she had gotten the call that Grandma was at her end and, if she wanted to be there to say goodbye, she had to get there right away.  With a 45 minute drive ahead of her, my mom was desperate for some divine intervention so she could make it in time.

After calling Josh and praying with him and sending a quick text to my small group pleading for prayer, I got on my knees and prayed as hard as I’ve ever prayed.  I prayed for my mom to get to Grandma on time but I mostly prayed that God would claim my Grandma as one of His own before she breathed her last.  This was a common prayer for me in the last couple of years but never so desperately and fervently

As I prayed God kept talking over me.  When I finally was quiet for a moment all I heard Him say was “Kaia, stop praying for this, I already have her in the palm of my hand.  She is one of my own.”  My heart soared and I was filled with such peace and hope.

My mom did make it in time that day and my Grandma decided she wasn’t done yet.

On Monday, February 25 at around 6:30AM my strong-willed and spunky grandma breathed her last.  I awoke at 7:30AM to a voicemail from my dad with the news and my heart was so glad that she was finally safely home and no longer in pain.  As I listened through the voicemail I was given this beautiful vision of my white-haired, though obviously healthy, smiling Grandma.  It was a smile free of pain and struggle and a face so full of life and peace and love and joy.  She truly was so beautiful!

In her last days my grandma taught me a lot about “being joyful in the face of suffering.”  I truly hope I can live out her example of perseverance when I grow old.  I respected her so much for the way she carried herself amidst the pains of so many health issues, especially at the end with the excruciating pain that comes with kidney failure.  I really loved my Grandma Lu and I hope she realized how fully I loved her and how greatly I will miss her.  My heart grieves that I can’t share and laugh with her anymore but I am so excited to see her again when I get to travel to paradise.

My Grandma’s Obituary

In Memory of…

Joyce Maxine Hammond (Tollefson)

April 10, 1930 – February 25, 2013
Joyce Maxine Hammond (Tollefson)
age 82, of Minnetonka, (formerly of Golden Valley, Brooklyn Center, and Edmore, ND). Beloved wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and sister, she passed through the gates of heaven on February 25, 2013. Joyce was born on a farm outside Edmore, North Dakota. After graduating high school, she moved to Minneapolis where she met and married Walter “Bud” Hammond. They were blessed with three children. Joyce is preceded in death by her husband of 59 years and her parents Art and Alvilde Tollefson. She is survived by children Julie (Ed) Pasicznyk, Steven Hammond, and Amy (Craig) Hagberg; grandchildren Dena Rasmussen, Amanda Pasicznyk, Kaia Calhoun, Connor Hagberg, and Kaylin Hammond; great-grandchildren Jensen and Boden Rasmussen; and siblings Lorrayne, Duane, and Don Tollefson. The family thanks the caregivers at Meridian Manor and Methodist Hospital Hospice for their compassionate care. Memorial service on Tuesday, March 5 at 12 noon, with visitation one hour prior. Sunset Memorial Park Chapel, 2250 St. Anthony Blvd. NE, Minneapolis 612-789-3596. Lunch to follow service. Memorials preferred to the National Kidney Foundation , or in honor of her late husband, the Alzheimer’s Association . Joyce courageously fought many health challenges with tremendous grace. Her spunk and tenacity will be greatly missed.