Becoming Holy

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” ~Luke 12:34

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March 5, 1987.  

St. Mary’s Hospital, Cottonwood, Idaho.  

My Senior year in high school.

My treasured Grandma lay dying of cancer at the age of 83.

Twenty-six years ago today, my sweet Grandma Geis entered eternal life.  It was one of the most life-changing days I would ever experience.  My first experience being with someone as they exchanged an earthly body for a glorified one.  

The photo above is of my grandparents on their wedding day.  Grandma Josefa was in her mid-thirties and Grandpa Mike was four years younger.  Grandpa died in 1953, so I never knew him, but Grandma was a pillar of my childhood and that of my nine brothers and sisters.  Grandpa and Grandma married later in life and had their three beautiful daughters in rapid succession.  My mom is the youngest of the three and remembers her dad being in the hospital a lot with a weak heart.  He died when she was 11 and Grandma was left behind to provide for their family.  Grandma had a fifth grade education and worked hard in the hospital laundry, she also worked as a cook at the local school, provided day care for children in town and much more.  She didn’t want the girls to be home alone, so she got jobs for them where she worked.  In the hospital, she laundered and the Geis girls folded clothes.  In highschool, the girls worked at Riener’s Grocery store as clerks to earn money to help pay for their Catholic school tuition.  Grandma brought them to daily Mass and trusted that God would carry them through.  I marvel at the lack of “rules” my Grandma had, but then I see her wisdom in forming the girls with Jesus at the center of their hearts so that she would not need rules.

Grandma couldn’t drive and that didn’t even seem strange to us.  Mom would pick her up and bring her back to our house for the day.  Grandma would fill our house with love and warmth.  I picture her in her house dress with her apron, sitting at the kitchen table and peeling dozens and dozens of apples.  She made apple sauce, baked apples, and apple pie.  The walls of the house fairly burst with the smell of warm deliciousness.  For some funny reason, I loved the smell but couldn’t stand the taste.  Grandma knew that and always managed to find fresh or frozen rhubarb to make a special pie that I could enjoy.  I know that is a small part of why she is my treasure.  Being one of ten children, it is very memorable to have a grandma who noticed something you didn’t like, who didn’t scold you for the fact, but actually went out of her way to “fix” the problem!  When I see a recipe for rhubarb pie, I break into a smile and think of Grandma and all that love she had in her heart.  One cannot live on apples alone, so invariably there would be a pot of beef stew simmering on the stove.  We got off the bus at 4 pm, ran down the lane to the house and were instantly warmed by Grandma’s presence.  We always prayed our night prayers at 5 pm.  Grandma had a line up~first, we would say the Rosary, then  we said an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Act of Contrition, Angel of God and the Fatima Prayer.  

Grandma loved the Rosary.  She was a little girl when the three children of Fatima saw the Blessed Mother in Portugal.  She remembered the news of the miracle of the sun~October 13, 1917~when the sun danced and the whole world took notice.  http://www.ewtn.com/fatima/apparitions/October.htm  Grandma was 13 years old and became a devout prayer warrior, seeking the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary.  She was not about to let us miss out on this opportunity and led us to our knees to pray whenever she was with us.  When I was eight years old, there were eight of us 11 years old and younger.  We were quite a festive pack of kids and I remember Grandma getting us settled down, calling us “hund schwitzt” which translates from German as yipping dogs or dog sweats!  That totally cracks me up!  Poor Grandma, dealing with a pack of hounds~herding us to pray.  At least Jesus was leading sheep!  I’m sure there are extra blessings for Grandma  for volunteering so much of her life at the dog pound with us!

A HUGE gift Grandma gave us was her love for the faith.  Everything about Grandma was about Jesus.  She walked to daily Mass until she broke her hip in 1980.  If we were at her house, we walked with her.  She sang the old hymns and prayed through her prayer book.  She was never without her rosary.  She had a strong devotion to the First Friday promises of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alocoque. ( http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/MARGMARY.htm  ) so we did too.  This meant going to Mass on the First Friday of each month and praying in reparation for all the sins against Jesus’ Sacred Heart.  We could not go to Mass, go back home for breakfast and get to school on time.  Mom and Grandma took care of that.  Each First Friday, we loaded up in the station wagon and went to Mass in town.  Afterward, Mom drove us to Grandma’s house where she had fresh baked cinnamon rolls and TANG instant breakfast drink waiting for us.  (We LOVED TANG~it was the 70’s, right!)  Then we were hurried off to school.  Those Friday mornings are priceless to me.  To have a mom and Grandma so devoted has stuck with me to this day.  My prayer is that my own children continue this devotion with their families.

Grandma didn’t have many possessions.  Her home was spotless and everything had a place.  She ate simply.  She dressed simply.  She loved always~without the words, but with all the actions.  We loved every minute we had with her.  Staying the night at Grandma’s was delightful.  Listening to the ticking of her clock, smelling the Noxema she used to wash her face, watering the strawberries with the water she caught in a pan in her leaky sink so as not to waste.  She taught so many valuable lessons without saying a word.  She had one box of toys for us to play with.  One board game to share.  She taught us to play solitaire.  She let us help her bake and clean. 

When Grandma was diagnosed with cancer, it wasn’t the first time.  She’d had cancer when my mom was in high school.  She had it again years later.  This last time, it was fierce.  Grandma was in so much pain.  I was working as a nurse’s aide at the local hospital and I remember Grandma being admitted.  Her face was contorted by the pain.  This was the strong German woman who’d worked in the laundry after breaking her leg when some equipment fell on it.  She finished out the day’s work before reporting something was wrong.  I knew her pain tolerance and I knew this had to be horrible.  I remember checking on Grandma every fifteen minutes.  I reported to the charge nurse that they had to do something to help her.  It was beyond my ability to endure.  That night, Grandma slipped into a coma.  It was February 28th.  

The following week, my parents kept a constant vigil at the hospital.  Grandma received the last rites on two occasions.  Mom and Dad gathered the eight kids who were still living at home.  We drove from school and met at the hospital.  We prayed the prayers for the dying, somehow not believing this was real.  On March 5, Mom had been with Grandma all day.  After school, my sisters, Kristie and Jeannette and I met Mom at the hospital.  She was going to run home long enough to make dinner for everyone and then come back for the night shift.  Shortly after Mom left, I felt compelled to pray the rosary for/with Grandma.  Jeannette was down the hallway, visiting with a friend who had her tonsils out that morning.  Kristie was out in the parking lot visiting with a friend.  I found both of them and suggested we say the rosary.  Typically, this would have resulted in a squabble about timing…a let me finish talking to my friend kind of thing.  That day, they both dropped what they were doing and we headed to Grandma’s room.  We had barely begun saying the Rosary when Grandma took her last breath.  We waited for her to take another, but she didn’t.  We rang the call bell and continued a chorus of Hail Marys.  The nurse on duty came and said in her beautiful Norwegian voice, “I’m sorry girls, your grandmother is dead.”  

I don’t remember how things unfolded exactly after that.  I just remember knowing that Grandma was in heaven.  My treasured Grandma, gone from the earth.  A piece of my heart went with her and remains there with her.  I believe that I was allowed to be in the room with her when she passed as a preparation for things to come.  Death was not as frightening as it once had been.  One breath was the difference between here and there.  Grandma had lived an incredible life.  Her pain was gone.  She was united with Grandpa Geis after 34 years apart.  As I look back on the memory of this tremendous loss, I see the absolute beauty of my Grandma’s life, of her pain and suffering, of the way she ran the race keeping her eyes on Christ.  I continue to be blessed by this amazing woman.  Our daughter, Nicole, carries her name, Josefa, as her middle name.  So does my niece, Avery, born this very day five years ago.  Grandma Josefa lives on in her daughters, her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  She was and continues to be a spiritual pillar in our family.  

Happy Heavenly Birthday, Grandma Geis!  I love you and miss you!  Pray for us.

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Team Buna

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