This was written by Ann Cory Dorsey after her beloved Grandmother Fanny Y. Cory died. It tells of a sacred moment that she and her daughter April shared with Fanny, who the family called Meetsy.
The room was filled with photos of the past and school pictures of the present. There was a yellow painted chair beside the bed holding a large hand wound clock and several bouquets of flowers. The people walked softly and most avoided the room. Meetsy was dying. Certainly she was dying this time. We had thought she was three years before when a neighbor girl had found her unresponsive lying on her couch. The ambulance had rushed her into the room in this big yellow house that had been my other grandma’s while she had lived with us. Meetsy would joke afterward how she’d always wanted to ride in an ambulance but when her chance came she didn’t even know it. But nobody joked about it then. My father, a doctor, and my mother, a nurse, did everything they could. The house was in a state of “emergency” for weeks to help ease her labored breathing and physical decline.
But then, miraculously, Meetsy rallied. She wouldn’t be able to live alone again in her beloved cottage overlooking Saratoga Passage viewing the Olympics that arched up behind Whidbey Island on clear days.
She was confined to a wheelchair because her legs were so unsteady but as she had been remarkable all her life her spirit remained remarkable under adversity. A routine of napping, writing letters or a log of the day’s events with a heavy felt pen and eating became more and more her way of life. I remember her sitting at the kitchen table with the morning sun glistening on her snow white hair. Although much of the time she could not hear, she would tell stories of her life that might well make a toad stool smile or, if she could think of nothing else she considered entertaining enough, she’d relive the characters and plots of anyone of a number of Dickens’, Scott’s or Cooper’s books. Very little happened in the kitchen about which Meetsy did not know from watching to make sure my mother had on her sweater to exposing the more grave infractions of a visiting great grand child.
Meetsy seemed to be particularly interested when one of her grandchildren was, as she described it, “in a family way.” My mother said that when she told Meetsy that labor had started when the birth of our first child was imminent, Meets had just bowed her head in silent prayer. My mom had tried to remind her that all births were not as difficult as hers had been. Meetsy had agonized for hours with her first child but because she was so small and the boy was so big, Meetsy almost lost her own life and the baby did lose his. She had been an invalid for a year afterward and the doctor had told her never to have any more children, But, as my mom would say, “Meetsy just had to have someone to love” and she successfully gambled giving birth to three more children, one girl (my mother) and two boys.
From the time she had been 17 until well into her seventies Meetsy had been a well known artist and one of the first professional women in her field. Under her maiden name, Fanny Y. Cory, she had illustrated books, designed magazine covers and been under contract with King Features Syndicate for two comic strips, Sonny sayings and Little Miss Muffet. Much of her art work featured babies and children which she depicted with great insight. I remember remarking that she must have loved children to be able to draw them so beautifully “No, but I did love my own.
She also loved her grandchildren and great grandchildren. The proud day I laid our three day old son in her arms the years seemed to vanish from her face and the softness of motherhood filled the silence. She was remembering her own and smiling softly she said it had been so long since she’d held a tiny one. During the next few years following Meetsy’s confinement at my parents we all hoped and prayed Meetsy from one event to the other. Days flowed swiftly into months and seasons like a handkerchief chasing tears. But now she was dying for sure. After a fall she’d been bedridden and stayed so almost, it would seem, by choice. Indeed her evening prayers had often carried the petition that she be “released” and each night she faithfully kissed the small photo of her beloved sister, Agnes, who had died when she was twenty five in Meetsy’s twenty year old arms. She had hemorrhaged from the mouth as a result of tuberculosis and Meetsy in telling the story would say that when the doctor finally came and announced Agnes was dead that she had told him, “I Know. I saw the life go out of her eyes.”
Indeed it seemed Meetsy had grown weary of what had become to her a lonely, limited world. My dad often said in that last prolonged month when she couldn’t or wouldn’t eat and hardly swallowed even water that if she would try to get well as hard as she was trying to die, she would recover. I don’t know; All I knew was a brooding sort of sadness that wanted to run to Meetsy’s house once more like I did almost every day after school when I was a girl and eat her cookies, lemon drops and gum she kept for grandchildren. I would spend the rime laughing, visiting, playing cribbage and listening to her read an exciting book until the sun set over the water and lights would start shinning one by one on Whidbey. Then we would finally bestir ourselves and break the spell for another day.
When my other grandmother had died the entire family had been there. I was still living at home that morning Daddy called me down to say grandma’s heart that had been weakening had given out and she was in a coma. She never awakened from it and the family watched and prayed as within a few hours she passed through the gates of eternal life. But, oh dear God, Meetsy lingered so. My mom and dad cared for her physically and when she had the strength at the beginning of that last sickness she would fight them vehemently for disturbing her rest. My dad felt bad for my mom and mom understood that it was not really “mother” anymore.
I didn’t get too close too often because Meetsy seemed to sleep most of the time and I didn’t want to incur her wrath. But there were sweet times too during those endless days when she was herself and so happy that someone cared enough to visit her. Still she got progressively weaker and we could only marvel that she lived at all. Her hear that had worked for 94 years seemed reluctant to let her go and so she stayed. She seemed only semi conscious much of the time but once in a while you could tell she saw and knew like the Saturday before she died when my sister rubbed her back and shoulders while visiting with her. You could tell that Meetsy was pleased.
Later that same day when I was relieving my mom so she could get some groceries, I got up my nerve to go in all alone and just sit on the bed in the shade drawn room hoping that perhaps Meetsy might be comforted just sensing someone was there even if she didn’t know who it was. We didn’t speak. She, of course, couldn’t and my heart was so full that all I was able to do was stroke her hair that was carefully brushed off her neck forming a white sculpture on the pillow, hold her hand and hope she saw only my smile and not the tears because, oh God, she knew it was I. Meetsy knew I had come. She observed as I went to get our three month old baby who was crying and when I brought her in Meetsy reached out and watched April try to touch and slap her hand. As the three of us were together I felt a voiceless identity with eternity. It was as though one small piece of it had been given to me in those precious few moments that hung like pearls being knotted on a necklace. I was with a woman whose involvement with me hung heavy with fulfilled love and dreams –and I held a baby who gurgled with sweet promises. They both belonged to me in a special way and though the two were so different, they were somehow the same as I bonded then to each other. I sensed a pact was made that day between the three of us –a pact of love that transcends years and mortal life itself. My grandma knew, April didn’t know and it had been put in my trust.
Soon Meetsy wearied and slept. April and I slipped out of her presence quietly as though she had been delirious with fever instead of age. A few evenings later while my mother was caring for her Meetsy’s breathing became further and further apart until it at last ceased. Meetsy’s prayer had been answered. She was released. Her soul had lost the confines of her small, frail body and soared to her Creator and the long anticipated rendezvous with her beloved Agnes, husband and infant son.