For the last 15 or so years of her life, my Mama had a dear and wonderful best friend named Gaynell.
Gaynell was the epitome of those wonderful Texas women I grew up around. She was smart and funny and strong and Christian in the best sense of the word. She was a wonderful cook and homemaker, a mother and grandmother, a powerful volunteer and fundraiser and always had her hair perfectly coiffed and her nails beautifully manicured. She was also a lot of fun, and she and Mama consumed quite a bit of bourbon in each others company.
She and Mama met at church, and were both active members of The Ladies of Charity , in fact, between the two of them, they pretty much ran the whole shebang.
When Daddy died in 1987, Gaynell was one of two of Mama's friends who came to the hospital and sat with us and his body while waiting for the funeral home to show up and take him away. After Daddy's death, Mama and Gaynell became even closer, and after Gaynell's dear husband Dow's death a few years later, they became virtually inseparable.
After Mama died, I stayed in touch with Gaynell. We called and wrote each other. While Gaynell had children and grandchildren of her own, I know that she felt a responsibility to Mama to be there for me. I'd call her and let her know whenever I was going to be on tv, and she was one of my biggest fans. She's the one I would call if I needed a good Southern recipe, and she never failed to provide a tasty one.
At some point in the mid-90's, I went to visit friends and family in Austin. I had written Gaynell a couple of weeks before, to let her know I was coming, and told her I'd call when I got in town. I hadn't heard back from her, but didn't really think much of it.
When I got to Austin, I gave her a call, and was surprised when her daughter, Pam, answered the phone. When Pam heard I was in town, she started to cry, and said "Thank God, you can come and say goodbye to her!"
It turned out that Gaynell had had a catastrophic stroke, from which she would not recover. She had a living will which stated that she did not want to be put on life support or fed by a feeding tube, but chose to die naturally. And so, her family had taken her home, surrounded her with beautiful things, and had come from far and near to tell her goodbye. She was only expected to live another week or so. I rushed over.
When I got there, Pam told me that the doctor claimed that Gaynell wasn't really aware of what was going on around her, and was unable to communicate, but Pam knew that this was crap. She said Gaynell recognized everybody who went in, and though she couldn't speak or write, she was very expressive. She also told me to prepare myself.
I walked into Gaynell's bedroom, and was greeted by a beautiful sight. She was lying in her bed, her hair and nails done, wearing a lovely white nightgown. A rosary was draped in her paralyzed right hand. The room was filled with the fragrance of the many flowers, and a CD player played soft classical music. The walls were covered with pictures of her family and sweet drawings by her grandkids. The room was filled with grace, peace and acceptance.
Pam said softly "Mother? Look who's here."
Gaynell turned her head toward the door, and when she saw me, she gasped and reached out to me with her one good hand, a huge smile on her face. Pam left us alone, and for the next 30 minutes, we held hands, laughed, cried and said goodbye.
When it came time for me to leave, she held tight to my hand, her eyes filled with emotion, and I paused, unsure of how to take my leave. Finally, I said quietly, "Mama is going to be so happy to see you again, she loved you so." Again, Gaynell gasped, smiling and nodding her head emphatically. We both started to cry, but the tears weren't from sadness. She knew where she was going, knew she'd see Mama there, and knew it would be wonderful. It was the most perfect example of grace and faith that I've ever witnessed in my life.
She passed on a week later.
I have thought of Gaynell's death often since then. Of the amazing synchronicity that I just happened to be in Austin when she was dying. Of her expressive eyes. Of the beautiful death her family arranged for her. And I hope and pray that when it's my time to go, I will be able to muster the acceptance that Gaynell had, and the faith to release and move on with such grace.
This post was inspired by...
Prompt #2 - Release
Prompt #4 - Acceptance