I may have grown 10 years older from this weekend. And I am okay with that.
To all my friends and family, I pray that your Thanksgivings were full of the utmost joy, and that you made memories with your family members that will last a lifetime.
This week I learned about God’s grace... and it was the best lesson I have ever learned, in the hardest possible way.
If you have not heard, my Grandma Starr Bitterman passed away this past weekend in Wenatchee, Washington. Her funeral was this Saturday in my mother’s hometown of Cashmere, Washington. For the service, I created a short video from the many many hours of footage I had with Grandma Starr over the years (you can see it below). I pray that it is able to comfort those who were not able to make it this weekend.
Grandma’s passing has taken me to an entirely new depth of emotion that I have never known. And for someone who already was pretty emotional, this roller coaster has been quite the experience. Needless to say, I am so thankful to all those who have taken the moment to share in my family’s grief, to reach out a caring hand, and to teach me how to navigate through these emotions. I feel it is partially my duty to share exactly what happened with those who loved grandma.
Cause of Death: Grandma had broken her hip and was unable to be operated on. I didn’t even know that an elderly person could die from the repercussions of a broken hip. Since the doctors could not operate and the pain was too great she would have to be kept partially sedated to help ease the pain. Being a woman with an already deteriorating health condition, this was not good news. Morphine does nothing good to organs that are already wanting to slow down. What began as a two week life expectancy soon became a 2 day life expectancy. Grandma passed away 1 day after breaking her hip, valiantly holding on to say goodbye to her kids and grandkids.
Your prayers, thoughts, and hugs during that time were needed so much more than you could possibly imagine. And that is what I am here to talk about. The Grace of God, poured out through His people, in a time when they didn’t even realize how much their support was needed.
The wife of one of our old pastors said it perfectly, “This moment in time isn’t about death... it is about my family’s journey together as we rely on the Lord.”
And that couldn’t be any more true.
To put it brief, the journey my family took this weekend was much more than just emotional after my grandmother’s death, but spiritual and physical as well:
-The day I received news of my grandmother’s fall, my brother happened to be in Los Angeles. For those that know me, I DO NOT DO WELL even for an afternoon alone on a normal day. I love being around people. I feel the Lord most present in moments when I can be near my loved ones. Hearing the news and being states away was the hardest moment of my life. Shaking on the couch, alone in my apartment... I was comforted knowing that I had a loving brother near, and my best friend, Gemalene Sunga, willing to come and sit with me as I processed what was going on. I will never forget God’s grace through these two during that moment. He surrounded me with the support I needed.
-I work for UCLA Women’s Basketball. Last weekend we had two games. Within moments of getting ahold of my bosses, Cori Close and Debbie Haliday, I had confirmation that I could fly out to Washington the next morning. My coworkers, Caren Nicdao and Maggie Galle, took on the work without hesitation, despite their incredibly busy schedules. God’s grace came through the instant support of these people who don’t even know Grandma.
-Arriving to Washington, the day of my grandmother’s death, hardly any of my family was in the area... and by area, I mean within 100 miles. Spread out between California, Colorado, Tennessee, and Seattle... this family journey didn’t start with the emotional, but the physical. All of my relatives were able to get flights back, including myself. Holly’s (my sister's) story was particularly incredible. I will explain in further detail after I say how gracious the Lord was for allowing us to make it back.
-Once I got to the hospital, my grandmother was moments away from being put on her morphine drip, a Pic Line. This meant that she would soon be sedated, to the point where she would be able to hear you, but would not be able to respond. I grabbed her hand immediately. I held it there as I prayed she would wake up one last time... And even despite the pain, grandma opened up her Moroccan eyes as I whispered, “I love you, Grandma” into her ear. She clenched my hand, and then fell asleep. That was the last time I would look into my grandmother’s eyes, 10 minutes after I arrived from Los Angeles. GRACE. GOD’S SWEET GRACE.
-The doctor’s told my family that she still had between 2 days and 2 weeks to live by the time evening rolled around. My sister holly, by that time, was just boarding her flight to Seattle from Nashville, Tennessee. There was no reason to think she wouldn’t make it home to see grandma. My dad and I were told to go home and get some rest. My mom was going to spend the night with grandma. My cousins would be arriving around 11 PM from Colorado and Seattle to see her, and we would be back in the morning. However, as soon as my dad and I had driven an hour back home, my mom called saying that grandma’s situation was getting worse. The nurse informed us that the end was coming and much sooner than anyone had anticipated. We rushed back to the hospital and were able to be by her bedside, alongside my cousins, aunts and uncles. The next few hours spent with my grandmother, I will never forget... Telling funny stories of her as I gripped her soft hand for what would be the last time, alongside all my loved ones. God’s grace filled the room as we were able to comfort each other, even up until the end.
-AND FOR THE BIGGEST MIRACLE OF MY LIFE.... Holly was not going to make it. She landed in Seattle when my Dad and I were on our way to the hospital the second time. Seattle is 3 hours drive from where we were. Grandma’s lungs were already filling up. She was hardly breathing at all, and the doctor’s wouldn’t even turn my grandma over in her bed because in doing so she might actually pass away. PRAYER IS POWERFUL, people. I Face-timed Holly and with the hardest words I have ever said told her that she might need to tell grandma goodbye. She was still 1 1/2 hours away. “I love you grandma, and I am going to tell the world your story and how strong you were.” I will never ever forget those words. Holly loved my grandma as deeply as I did. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t make it from Los Angeles. But knowing that she might not make it was just as bad. She had spent countless hours taking care of this woman in her final years. Not to mention Holly had been in Nashville, recording a song ABOUT GRANDMA’S STORY! Yet somehow, Grandma held on. Holly got to the hospital. As she got to the front door, I texted her to run as fast as she possibly could. Grandma was heaving, and it seemed as though holly was going to arrive only moments too late. As my family screamed down the hallway for Holly to run, I just kept whispering to grandma that Holly was almost there. “Holly’s just about here, grandma... You’re doing so well. Just hold on a second longer.” Grandma took a deep breath right before Holly entered the room and it appeared as if she had passed. My mom let out the first of her built up sadness, feeling as though we had just missed the moment. Holly threw herself on top of grandma and told her over and over how much she loved her. That moment is ingrained into my mind because of what happened next. Grandma took another giant breath. She had held on for holly. And then she took another, and another... only minutes later signing off to the world, as her family surrounded her, grieving, but also completely astounded at the Grace of God in that moment. It can’t be expressed, but I felt God in that room that night. I felt him in my tears. In my grandmother’s heavy breathing. In the wails of my mother. In the coldness of my grandmother’s hand. He was there. He was watching. And He held me up as I lived the saddest day of my life. He did not have to let us have that time with grandma at the end, and yet He did. And it was beautiful.
-My dad became the physical manifestation of the Lord’s arms for me as he held me for what seemed hours, grieving the loss of one of the most inspirational people in my entire life. I gave grandma a kiss on the forehead, and with one final je t’aime (I love you), dad supported me as he guided my weak steps out of that hospital. I cried myself to sleep that night, and woke up crying the next morning... but God’s grace was there to hold me up. He gave me my dad. And I won’t ever be able to thank the Lord enough for that moment.
The rest of the week was filled with what I am coming to know as the grieving process. It is much more difficult than I could have imagined; and yet, I also am feeling so much more support from friends and family than I could possibly explain. So so so much grace.
And yet there are still 2 occurrences that almost no one in my life knows about that took place this weekend. And it was God that carried me through in those moments.
-The night my grandma passed away, my mom also received news from a mammogram she had recently done that the doctors had found a lump in her chest. Having already been through thyroid cancer, this was a dagger to her heart, as well as ours. You can only imagine the mixture of grief going on in my grandmother’s hospital room when we found out. Yet, this was a journey God was taking us on. We would claim that... and Mom, being the strong woman she was decided to put it out of her mind for the night. I tried to do the same, but had a much more difficult time. Why would God have me fathom the idea of my mom getting ill, when her mother was passing. Little did I know the lessons on grace that I would learn that weekend. My mother was scheduled for a biopsy two days later. After the procedure, my family waited... and waited. God kept me busy (making the video, moving my grandmother out of her house, ect) to whereas the waiting period went by quickly. My mom received news the day before Thanksgiving that the lump was not cancerous! but contained atypical cells (likely leading to cancer). Although it still requires surgery to be removed, God’s grace swooped down one more time to remind us that He was in control. I learned so much from Him in those few days... and I learned so much about myself... but that wasn’t all.
-My other grandmother is diabetic, and has low blood pressure. The evening we received the news about my mother’s results, we received news that my grandpa had to rush my grandmother to the hospital. She had accidentally taken too much medication and her blood pressure was dropping. The doctors needed to monitor her. She was already pretty unstable from the medication she was on, and this could have be just a big enough wrench thrown in the equation to shut the whole thing down. Thankfully God held her in His hand, and the doctor’s were impressed with how her body reacted to the excessive amounts of medication. After her time in the hospital, they were able to release her for Thanksgiving to be with our family. God’s grace. God’s grace. God’s grace.
It can’t be fully described. But this weekend grew me in the hardest, but best way. I am sad to feel 10 years older, but happy to feel 10 years wiser in the Lord. Although I have much more learning to do, Grandma’s passing, and a few other events have taught me so much about life’s journey. That they are in this with me, I am in it with them... no matter what. And yet, it doesn’t stop there... I am on a journey with all of you as well. The ones that supported me so well through these last days... And as Grandma taught me, we can choose to love life, or we can choose to fear it.
Grandma’s funeral was the deepest, darkest, saddest day of my life. My heart was and is broken in so many ways. Yet because of God’s grace, my family, and friends sticking to my side during the difficult part of this journey, my heart is a lot less broken than it might be otherwise.
I am so thankful for life. I will choose to love this part of it no matter how much it hurts me in this very moment. I will forever mourn the loss of this beautiful woman. And yet, if there were ever a time that I believed that Jesus redeems... that time is now. In what should have been the worst weekend of my life, God taught me the most important lessons I have ever learned. Though my initial reaction is to want to withhold the love I have for people now in order to mitigate the hurt of losing them, God is making me see a stronger, deeper purpose for relationships through this all. I want to be there for people on their journeys in the ways that they were for me on mine. Though no one can live forever... I want to make sure that for every moment you are alive, you feel supported to feel those emotions. To not back down from the fear of grief, fear of failure, fear of death. I want to hold your hand in the same ways I held Grandma Starr’s.
I love you all!!
“I will not fear, for YOU are with me...” -Psalm 23
#lovelife, and love living it with others.
THANK YOU JESUS, for your incredible GRACE. Je t'aime, Etoile.