On October 2nd, at 430PM my grammy, Ethel Maude bowling, passed away. After four years of struggling with the aftermath of a detrimental stroke, her soul was finally set free from the prison that her body had become.

While the stroke had completely changed her life, she had kept her mind up until the end. She hardly lost her memory and her humor was still intact. It was only her outside that seemed to change so drastically.

About three weeks before her death, we were told that she had begun the dying process. Those were the longest weeks of our lives. My mom spent almost every moment possible with her mom. I spent all my minutes waiting to hear from my mom. The news of the progression of my grandma’s death was hard to grasp. But for three weeks she held on to life. On the day of her death, she hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in twelve days.

I had believed we were all prepared. I certainly thought I was. Even if she hadn’t become ill, my grandma was 88 years old (although I firmly believe that had she not had her stroke, she could’ve lived well into her 90’s). We had all talked about the day coming when she finally would pass away. We had cried and mourned for her, even while she was still here. Watching someone you love, slowly but surely lose their grip on life, is not the easiest thing in the world to go through.

Just four days before my grandma began her journey of death, I went to visit her. She didn’t talk much, but she was very conscious and happy to see me. I enjoyed telling her about the goings on of my life. I didn’t stay long because she was exhausted. When I hugged her and said, “Bye grandma, I love you…” She grabbed me stronger than she had in a long time, looked me right in the eyes and said, “I love you too baby” and started crying. I hardly made it out of her room before I broke down in tears too. All I could think about was the fact that she was crying - my mom said she had stopped really having any emotion, so her crying was certainly unusual. And I only had one thought…that that was going to be the last time I ever spent time with her alive, and that she knew it.

And…we were both right. When my husband and I returned two days later, she was hardly conscious. My husband said, “Hi grandma, we just want you to know we love you.” She woke up for a second, hardly had the breath to say it back, and went right back to sleep. I cried again after that and I told my mom I didn’t think I could see her anymore...it was just too hard on me. Little did I know, I wouldn’t have to be faced with that kind of choice again. She started the dying process hours after that visit.

I had only been home from work an hour when I got the phone call that my grandma had died. I was actually taking a nap when it happened. My mom had told me earlier that day that my grandma’s blood pressure was very low so it would be a matter of hours…which was “good” news after three weeks of being given all sorts of timelines of her death and my grandma still hanging on. But after it feeling like it took forever, it happened all at once. Just like that, she was gone.

I cried a lot that evening. I am one of those people who believe in signs, and from the moment she passed away, she started giving me signs. One of the more memorable ones was after my mom had finally come home that night. Her and my husband and I were sitting on the couch talking about my grandma when we heard a loud bang in the kitchen. My mom goes, “Hi grandma!” and I started bawling. I wanted nothing more than my grandma to give me signs but, at the same time, I wasn’t ready for it. Because I wasn’t willing to let her go. I wasn’t ready to accept her death was real. That night, I swear that I saw her standing at the foot of my bed. It scared me to the point where I couldn’t go back to sleep. My husband stayed up with my the rest of the night with me.

The days that followed were a blur. I cried a lot. I received a lot of signs. I struggled to accept it was real and not to be scared of what happened. I never knew my grandpa because he died before I was born, so when I'd get signs from him, they weren’t scary because he was always sort of mythical to me. My grandma, on the other hand, I had (obviously) known my whole life. So to think she went from being a living soul that I could see, hear, touch, talk to…to suddenly being a spirit that wasn’t physically there, was something that I was really struggling with. I still am struggling with that kind of idea now, but I'm starting to accept it more. I'd rather be scared knowing she’s watching over me than to have no sign or feeling at all.

The night before her viewing, I was crying so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t handle the fact that I was about to see my grammy, my best friend, laying in a casket. The day of her viewing, I had a panic attack. I almost took one of my anxiety pills, because it was getting so far out of hand, but I thought to myself, “I made it through the worst time of my life (my nervous breakdown) without anything to help me…I can make it through this.” If my grandma was strong enough to hold on for as long as she did, I was strong enough to face having to say goodbye once and for all. I kept thinking, what is she going to look like? I was worried I would either throw up or pass out once I saw her. But not only was I able to look at her without collapsing, but I also touched her hand and kissed her cheek.

We had many people come to the viewing. The family consensus is that grandma’s viewing was the loudest viewing any of us had ever been to, and that’s how she’d have wanted it. Although I did cry at one point during the viewing, saying that everyone was too busy talking to each other and they were ignoring her. But she wouldn’t have wanted everyone just staring at her, she would have wanted us to be spending time together and celebrating her instead. We were honored by who came, especially people who we thought would have never considered making the time. A death in your life really shows you who cares about you.

During the night between her viewing and her funeral, I swear that I saw my grandma standing at the foot of my bed again. When we arrived at the funeral home the day of her funeral, my husband and I walked up to her casket to spend just a few more minutes with her. While we were there, the room was quiet and suddenly an instrumental version of the song “Beauty and the Beast” came on. It absolutely scared me, floored me, overjoyed me, and broke me…because that was the song that my husband and I had our first dance to at our wedding a little more than a year ago. There is no way that that wasn’t a sign from my grandma. At that very second, she was saying that despite what I may think or feel, she really is with me, and she never actually left me at all.

I spoke at her funeral. I didn’t think I'd be able to, but I did. And I made it through the whole thing without becoming too emotional either. Everyone kept asking me, how did I make it through my speech (it was three pages!)? I like to think it was my grandma helping me out. And I knew speaking at her funeral was just something I had to do for her.

Before now, I had always felt sad when I'd see the line of cars during the processional to the cemetery with the flags on the roof. It was so strange to be a part of one. It was sweet to see that every single car we passed pulled to the side and stopped. I didn’t cry while we drove to the cemetery…but when we got there, the state highway patrolman who had led the line of cars got off his motorcycle and saluted us. It was the sweetest thing and broke my heart.

The most humbling part of her entire funeral was seeing my husband be a pall bearer. From the time that she died, he hadn’t cried. He firmly believed that she was so much better off and he wasn’t sad for the loss of her because he knew she was in a better place, that she was at peace, and that she was happy. But after he carried her casket to the burial site, he really started crying. My grandma adored my husband, and I felt that everything had come full circle to see him help bring her to her final resting place.

We went back to her grave site later that evening. I spent my whole life visiting my grandpa’s grave, being told that the plot next to his is where my grandma would someday go. It was very hard to be standing there that day and seeing that she was finally there too. We have always said that when we see or hear a train go by, it was my grandpa’s sign to us - since the night of my grandma’s death, we heard at least one train every day. While we were at the cemetery, we heard one going by. And we like to think that, now, trains are a sign from both of them. My grandma died the day before what would have been their 58th wedding anniversary. I am sure my grandpa was so glad to finally have my grandma back in his arms after 32 years (he had passed away 26 years into their marriage).

It’s been a week since she died. I am still struggling with the fact that it doesn’t feel real. I am still so sad and so heartbroken. I am still trying to process everything that has happened. I am still crying. She was the first death that I have had in my life that has ever really, truly affected me. I hope I never stop receiving signs from my grammy because I'll never stop looking for them. I no longer have just one guardian angel, I have two. But it’s still so weird to think that my grandma is really no longer alive on earth.

Life will get back to normal and the hurt won’t be so raw. Sooner than I'm ready for, she will become just as mythical as my grandpa. But for now, I still mourn, and I probably always will. Because she was one of the few people who I can actually say, was my entire world. She meant absolutely everything to me. but I know she will always be with me.