Wednesday, November 2, 2016
I was in awe of her. I watched her every move. I listened to her every word. I watched as others did the same. I was thrilled when people assumed she was my mother. I loved my Mom with all of my heart, but this woman had something, a spark, not many have.
She was the last of 7 surviving children, a surprise, an answer to prayer, born to farmers in a tiny, dusty, west Texas town. She was my grandmother, my safe place, my adventure, my heart.
As the story was told to me her mother had prayed, with each of her pregnancies, for a little girl with black hair, black eyes, and olive skin. It was a prayer that was seemingly going to be unanswered. My great grandmother was in her forties when my grandmother came along, more than a decade after her last child. Her father named her Roxie. Her mother, on the other hand, wanted something different. Her legal name was Roxie but she went by the name of Denia, pronounced “Dena.”
Fast forward through a nasty divorce, raising three girls, and working toward leaving the farmhouse in search of city lights, to her eldest daughter giving birth to the first grandchild, a girl, me. I was the sun and the moon to Denia. My great grandmother insisted her baby girl was too young to be a grandmother. She was forty one when I was born and “granny,” “grandma,” “grandmother,” were not names to be used, we, her grandchildren, would call her Denia.
I have many stories to write regarding Denia, this is just an introduction to the incredible woman that helped shape me into the woman I am today. I was young, fifteen, when she died of smoking related lung cancer. She was 56, only two years older than I am today, when she took her last breath.
Even while dying she kept her style, her dignity, her class. The doctors always looked forward to visiting her in the hospital. One never knew what exotic gown, and matching turban, she would be wearing. Would it have sequins, feathers, a combination, or something entirely different? Of all the times she was hospitalized I never once remember her wearing the traditional hospital patient attire, no, that would never fly with her. She was a celebrity of sorts at Baylor University Hospital in Dallas.
Many may not believe the words I’m about to write, and that’s ok. I know what happened, I was there. My mother had taken me shopping for a dress for the school Christmas dance one afternoon. The wind was terrible, there was a sandstorm like we used to experience in west Texas. The tiny bits of sand stung when they hit my bare skin. Mom and I spoke of how unusual it was for the area of Texas we were in to have a sandstorm. I couldn’t wait to tell Denia about it when she was coherent. Her time on Earth was coming to an end and much of the time during those last few weeks she was just not there.
That night I hung the beautiful dress carefully in my closet. I knew Denia would love it. I fell asleep with the excitement of being able to show her how beautiful it was. While I was sleeping I heard her call my name and immediately I was there beside her. Her eyes were open, sparkling with love. We spoke of the sandstorm, I told her all about my dress. She was so excited. I’m not sure how long we chatted, but I enjoyed every second. She was so lucid, so amazing, so her. I was ecstatic. She ended the conversation with, “Teri, I love you so much. I’m so proud of you. It’s time for you to leave. Sandy will be coming in here in a minute. Wherever you go, wherever you are, remember to shine. I love you.” Sandy was her second daughter. Denia was staying at her home during the process of dying.
Suddenly I heard my mother sobbing. I felt her hand rub my arm, I was in my bed still covered. I turned and opened my eyes. I could faintly make out the shape of my mother in the darkened room.
“Teri, Denia just died.”
“I know Mom.”
My mother collapsed on me and wailed, cried, sobbed, and grieved the death of her mother. I did my best to comfort her. It was one of the only times of my childhood my mother had held me, and allowed me to touch her. I had never seen my Mom cry before that night.
She pulled herself together, after what seemed like an eternity, gasping for air she asked if I wanted to go with her to her sister’s to see Denia.
“No Mom, I was just there. She called me to her and we talked. I told her about my dress and the sandstorm. She told me to always shine.” Mom must have thought I had been dreaming. She arranged the pillows for me, pulled the blankets up around my neck, and kissed my forehead before leaving for her sister’s to see her mother before they came to take away the lifeless body that had just minutes earlier held such a beautiful spirit.
It was a strange sensation for me, probably for many as well when a loved one that has suffered through a horrible illness dies. I mourned, I cried, but with that came comfort. Comfort in knowing she was free, free from the drugs, free from the cancer, free to soar the Heavens and dazzle the angels.
Denia will never leave me. She’s interwoven into my soul, my personality, my inner most being. The memories we made will carry me through until i am able to be with her again, and they make me smile. Within me she lives.