The Door to Heaven

When I was fifteen years old, I lost my Grandmother to Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ll never forget the day she passed through the door of eternity and to her new home with the angels in Heaven. November 10, 1992 3:40 pm.

Alzheimer’s is a silent killer because you don’t know when it affects the one’s you love until it’s almost too late. Sure it starts off small and harmless, maybe a forgotten name or two, leaving faucet running, maybe the stove on … small details that are easy to miss. Then one day they have this look of sadness and confusion, fear and anxiety because they don’t know why they are standing in the middle of their bedroom half dressed and what they were suppose to be doing. As time passes, it begins to affect everyone they know and love.

What a joyous occasion for a married couple to enjoy 50 years of marriage, quite an accomplishment in this day and age. Although it was a small gathering in the nursing home with a few members of the family, it was still an honor to have the memories created.

My grandparents were Portuguese, so it was traditional growing up to call them Papa and Vovo (Vo-Vor). Buffy, our family dog which was a mix of chow and shepherd, was trained by Papa to speak.You know how much dogs love treats, well Papa taught her to speak ..which always made me laugh. She was the only dog I knew that could say “Avo”, or better yet “AVA-VOOOO” it was the craziest thing to watch. She always knew when my grandparents would come to visit and just as they arrived she would stand up to the window sill, paws in place, wagging tail a mile a minute and then … yep, you guessed it! What a greeting every time.

My grandparents did everything together. When Alzheimer’s took control of Va-Vor it was extremely hard to watch. Yet, in the midst of it all this one night was like nothing in the world mattered. It was their 50th anniversary and all seemed right with the world. It was almost like “The Dance” the memories, beneath the stars above. How could we have known, she was slowly saying goodbye? Friends, cherish your family. Good times and bad, for those memories will be your shining light when they are no longer here on this earth.

One year later a song would play on the radio that broke my heart …

How do I say goodbye to what we had?

The good times that made us laugh

Outweigh the bad

I thought we’d get to see forever

But forever’s gone away

It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday

The day my grandmother passed away we all knew it was happening. Days prior her body began to shut down. Every organ, tissue, muscle began losing strength until all that remained was her moans and whimpers.She lay on the bed and didn’t even look like the same person. Her facial features had changed so much I almost didn’t recognize two days before her death.

It may be over 20 years, but still feels like yesterday. It was Sunday night, two days before she passed on when I saw her last. My mom who was a CNA at this time knew it was anytime and didn’t want my last memory of her to be her actual death. I remember walking into her room, slowly approaching her bedside and remain speechless for a moment or two. How do you tell someone you love them, when you know they may not respond or even know who you are?

I needed to find the courage in my heart to say goodbye… It was one of the hardest moments I had faced at that time. Many of you, I’m sure have seen a loved one at the door of eternity. You may or may not believe, but death brings the reality of what may lie beyond our breathe. One never knows when they will breathe their last one.

Mom was with Va-Vor throughout her sickness. Not a day went by without being there to care for her, even in the nursing home. During the final hours of my grandmother’s life she was surrounded by her sister Hilda, husband Gilbert (I was named after my grandfather), along with her two daughters Anne and Cecelia.

My mom knew it was time…. The air was filled with the aroma of flowers and death, yet there was peace and tranquility. My mom saw the signs and knew Va-Vor was slowly passing from here to heaven. Before she went through the door of Eternity, mom wanted reassurance Va-Vor would meet Jesus on the other side. You see my grandmother was raised Catholic and the phrase etched in her mind was, “Born a Catholic, die a Catholic”.

Mom began her relationship with the Lord in 1978 when she became a Christian.. Mom’s greatest desire is to see all of her family in heaven, so she proceeded to share the gospel message with Va-Vor one more time. Nights prior she had been reading the gospel of John and Romans to her because she saw the days were short. Simply ‘Believe’ is the message given.

So as my grandmother lay on the bed, with only sighs and moans to respond, mom began sharing one more time the gospel message. She read from the book of John. Time was slipping, the clock was ticking and only moments were left. Here is the last conversation between my mom and grandmother, to her final breath.

Mom — “Mom, are you ready to meet Jesus?”
Grandmother (sigh)
Mom — “look at the door, who is standing there waiting for you?”

Grandmother (sigh)

Mom — “It’s Jesus! Look who is with him, it’s your baby sister Madeline”

Grandmother (sigh)

Mom — “They are waiting for you to walk through the door”

Grandmother (moan)

Mom — “If you are worried about dad, I am going to take care of him. He will be fine.”

Grandmother (sigh)

Mom — “Its ok to go, Jesus will take your hand”

Grandmother (sigh)

Mom — “I love you mom, its time to be with Jesus”

As her breaths slowly grew heavier she slowly began to fade away. With her last breath, a sweet sound of chimes went through the room and a breeze passed by. She died peacefully and with a smile on her face.

Mom always called Va-Vor “My China Doll” yet her death through Alzheimer’s took away any facial features that made her recognizable. My mom’s prayer was that she would walk into the funeral home and see her “China Doll”. Its funny how we tend to think God doesn’t hear our prayers, but He does. Looking at my grandmother in the casket with her pink dress on and usual smile on face, with warm glow… we knew she was at peace in heaven with Jesus and her family who had gone on before her.