Breathing, Winter, and Resting in Peace

It’s been really cold this week in Chicago – if you don’t go outside, or are in a warm weather climate, you can just check people’s facebook status updates to find out what the windchill is outside.

The extreme temperatures always seem to challenge me to see how tough I am.  I like going out in the really cold (safely, of course) and breathing deeply.  As I breathe in through my nose, the frigid temperatures freezes it’s contents.  [Boogers, to use the technical term.]

I breathe out, and this cloud of CO2 exits my mouth and wafts in a white cloud away from my face.  As a kid waiting for the bus outside, I would try blowing rings in the frigid air.  Sometimes I still try this as I walk in the cold – still to no avail.

As I”m walking to my office, I get a call from my Dad that if I wanted to see my grandmother one last time, I should head up north to Wisconsin sooner rather than later.  I also get word from my mom that our long time neighbor, Kay Richardson, just passed away as well and her funeral is on Saturday.

I drive the all too familiar route I’ve driven hundreds of times before, and first stop at the visitation for Kay.  I mowed Kay’s yard and sat with her and helped her in her house for a few years as she wasn’t doing well.  I stop at her visitation and greet my neighbors – tears, laughter, and grieving.  We joke around – the neighbor who has been around the shortest has been there for 39 years. She’s the “rookie.”

But I can’t get Grandma Lois out of my mind.  “I need to see Grandma,” I say to myself.  I do my best to be fully present there, but my mind is elsewhere.  Something on the inside tells me I need to go.

I drive through the backroads to her home, looking at the snowscaped cornfields and forests.  It’s winter in Wisconsin – the drifts on the cornfields look like white waves of an ocean.  The wind blows snow across the road, sending the frigid temperatures down even further with windchill factors that have closed school the last couple days.

I think about the seasons of life – how the rhythm of life is governed by suns rising and setting, seasons coming and going.  And Grandma is in the winter of life.  The sun is setting.

I arrive and am of course greeted by family and folgers.  Grandma’s sister-in-law, my Aunt Ruth, greets me warmly and hugs me and says she’s glad I can see her one last time.  I see my cousin Michelle and Uncle Red – the one who gleefully tormented my brothers and I as kids and we loved it.  But we aren’t full of glee now.

I sit with Grandma, and she is a shadow of herself.  She can barely speak, and the words only come in small numbers.   She’s a tough woman – you wouldn’t know it because she’s so sweet, but she’s tough as nails.  But even she can’t tough this one out.  Last night, she said, “I need to get out of this body.”

Breathing is hard for her – it’s like she’s breathing the heavy cold air of winter, with each breath getting heavier and heavier.  Her entire body moves with every breath, and she’s in pain unless the morphine is in.  I pray for her to have the opportunity to go home soon.

I tell Grandma  how grateful I am for her persistent love and tender care.  Loved is the best word I can use to describe what it meant to be her grandson.  It’s the only word worthy.  I say a few other things I’ve always wanted to say, and she squeezes my hand. That’s all I needed.

I hold her hand for some time, and say goodbye.

The next night I spent with my small group and we watched a video by a trendy hip young pastor called, “Breathe.”  We’re skeptical at the depth of the content with which we will go.  We learn the Hebrew word for God is made of four letters in Hebrew – YHWH, or what we say as Yahweh.  But these four letters said in succession sound like breathing.  We also learn the Hebrew word and Greek word for Spirit is the same worth for Breath.

I think of Grandma trying so hard to breathe.  I think of my breathing the cold air on my walk to the office. Breathe in, breathe out.  God is present with us – like breathing.

My friend in my small group tells the story of when he saw his father’s final breath on his deathbed.  He said it was longer – like he kept exhaling well beyond the point of a typical exhale.  And it was unmistakeable.  The spirit of this life had left him. He was now resting at Jesus’ side.

I imagine my Grandma and her last breath.  I sense it will be soon.

As I drive home, I call my mom and ask on my Grandma’s condition.  It’s not good, she says.  My Dad is on the way in to see her.

Just minutes later, my dad calls as I’m in the checkout line of the grocery store.  It’s the call.  The breath of this life has left her, and she’s now asleep at Jesus’ side in no pain, no crying, no cold of winter, no heavy breathing.  She’s at peace.

Lois means, “more desireable” in Greek.  As I talked with her for the past two months, it’s clear that her life was one to be desired – it’s rare to see a life so well lived.  Sweet, tough, tender, persistent, and loving.    She loved us even when we weren’t loveable, foreshadowing a greater love that we found in God.

Thank-you, Grandma.

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2 Responses to “Breathing, Winter, and Resting in Peace”


  1. 1 Susan Buhrow Durocher January 21, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Andy,
    I am very sorry about your grandmother. She was a lovely lady! She and your grandfather were true testaments to God’s love.
    Susan

  2. 2 Benjamin Dodgson October 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Almost 4 years later, the truth, the life, the “breathe” in this story still hits home. Thank you for sharing a bit of your life with the world Andy.


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