January 5th is the actual date that my grandma passed, but January 4th will always be significant for me.
I’ll never forget the way I felt when my mom called and asked where I was. She said to me, “Come on over to Grandma’s.”
I knew…but I didn’t know.
Is she gone? Is she going?
I remember coming over the hill on Cushman Road so fast that it felt like my wheels left the ground. I prayed, “God don’t let me hit anyone…God don’t let her be gone when I get there.” I parked in the crowded driveway and ran into the house. Faces wrecked with heartbreak met me, comforting me as I was clearly panicked. “She’s still here, slow down.”
I peeked downstairs where I could see her. A small crowd gathered around her. Her brother, sisters, daughters, closest friends. Faces stained with tears. They were singing and praying. I was a little confused about what was happening, but I waited for my turn to speak.
I got as close as I could and hugged her. I don’t think she could see me very well, but I know that she knew I was there. I told her in that moment, “I give because you always gave.” It’s so true. She was such a giver, and she taught her daughters to give. And my mother taught us to give. In that moment I needed to know that she knew how greatly she impacted my life path. Directly and indirectly.
My Aunt Damo, who’s our family nurse, informed me that she didn’t have a pulse or blood pressure that could be detected and that very soon she would be transitioning. I couldn’t believe it. How was she still here?
There was something very profound about watching her in those final hours. To know that death was impending was heartbreaking. I could literally feel my chest caving every once in a while.
Despite that sinking feeling, there was an overwhelming energy of calm and peace in the house. People were actively experiencing the heartbreak that was to come but it was hard to succumb to that sorrow, because she was still there. Literally right there. Talking. Laughing. Eating. Making jokes. Acknowledging new visitors. It was amazing. She chimed in and helped sing “No Not One.” She made faces at those who were crying to help ease their pain and make them smile. She was fearless.
Throughout the night, we witnessed countless miracles. She walked from her chair in the living room to her bed with some assistance from my Dad & Uncle. In her final hours, she requested chitlins and apple cake and enjoyed every bite. She looked up at her pastor as he visited and told him that she was “going out in style.”
As she began to slip away, I remember my mom and aunts asking her older sister to grant her permission to go, to reassure her that she’d be ok. My Aunt Sallie Mae, her best friend, tearfully went to her side where she had become restless in bed and gave her the blessing. My grandmother leaned her head on her sister’s shoulder and chuckled a little, mumbled something inaudible. Inaudible to us at least.
From there she didn’t speak again. She fell into a deep rest. But she still wasn’t gone.
We all gathered around her. She was now comfortably seated in her recliner. The room was dim. Her breaths were deep and laborious. Five and six seconds would pass before she’d take another one. I sat at her feet and rubbed them with holy oil. We took turns reading scriptures. I thought my chest was literally going to fold into itself. The pressure I felt was unbearable. I didn’t feel panicked or afraid, but my heart was shattering, slowly but surely.
Gospel music filled the room and we all found spots to get as comfortable as possible while we waited. We gathered around, waiting for her to pass. It sounds so bizarre to verbalize, but there was a distinct honor that I felt to be in the room as this was happening.
When she took her final breath at 3:38 a.m., we were all there. I remember us all looking at her closely. I couldn’t believe it. We kissed her, examined her, waited for the funeral home to come.
I remember one of my aunts turning off her oxygen machine, a hum that we had become so accustomed to over the years. And I felt relieved. Relieved that she was no longer depending on a machine to breathe for her. Grateful that God decided to deliver her from a disease & cancer that could’ve caused her to suffer terribly. Grateful that God allowed me to witness what it looks like to know where your eternal home is. She knew where she was going, and she was confident that she had done enough here. I want to leave like that. Empty and at peace. Eager to meet the one who gave His life for me.
So today, I’m sad. I miss her, but I am grateful for the time we had together, though I desperately wish we had more. Today, I wear a pin with her signature red frames, in hopes that someone will ask the significance. Then I can tell them about one of the most amazing women who has ever lived.
It’s been tough adjusting to a world without Naomi Hills-Geiger. It still feels foreign to me. But I know that God has prepared us all to continue to walk in the light. We have to. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
Featured photo: Writer Zakiya Esper with her daughter Ryan, mother Twanda, and late Grandmother Naomi Hills-Geiger.