Heath's precious mom, Melissa Grimes Henderson, went to be with Jesus at 12:50 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on April 6th and has been fighting hard ever since! She has taken chemo like a champion and still been back at work (she owned a Lighting and Supply Store in Andalusia), but also working as a devoted wife, mother and grandmother. She was handling treatments EXTREMELY well, until two Thursdays ago when she developed a high fever. They drove her to Pensacola and she was put in the hospital. The first week she was walking around the hospital and frustrated because she was ready to get back home! They couldn't ever pinpoint why it was getting worse - she stopped responding to antibiotics, and it was more and more of a struggle to breathe each day. By last Sunday, they had to put her in Intensive Care. In the end, her lungs were just too infected by pneumonia or the effects of chemo plus pneumonia - we are not sure exactly. We just know God was ready for her.
When I say she delighted in her children and grandchildren, it is an understatement. She joked with us from when we were early married that she was ready to be a grandmother. I now see why. I am not exaggerating when I say she was the best grandmother I have ever seen.
Kate (my sister-in-law) has been saying all week that she was the grandkids' biggest fan. How true that is! She fell in love with them from the minute we told her we were pregnant. Seriously - I told her about Turner at a Cracker Barrel on Mother's Day in 2008. She literally stood up and screamed in excitement. If you knew her, this was completely unlike her tiny, quiet self!
She marveled at their tiny newborn selves, infancy and thought them perfect even as they were wild toddlers! We could call her to tell her that Turner pooped in the potty (rare occurrence) or went swimming without fear or that John Burke said "Daddy" or put his bottle in the sink - silly things that NO ONE else would care about - and she would throw a party over the phone. She LOVED to talk to the boys over speaker phone and tell them how proud of them she was and how much she and Pap loved them. A couple of weeks ago, Turner begged to call MeMe. I told him we would wait until Heath got home, and he said "But MeMe is sick, and it always makes her feel better when I call her." I don't want him to forget that. As I look at these pictures, I notice that Turner couldn't help but smile every time he was with her!
The boys have been lost this week in Andalusia. We have been here since Tuesday, and they looked confused from the minute we pulled up and they didn't have their MeMe to run to and snuggle up with. Turner and Ellie have both said multiple times "Where's MeMe?" I selfishly have been trying to call everything "Pap's house" and "Pap's room", etc. but it didn't fool them. Turner has woken up about every day here and says "I'm gonna go play with MeMe." The day before she died I found him wandering around in the backyard by the big tractors (his favorite thing). He looked at me, put his arms out and said "Mommy! I can't find MeMe and Pap anywhere!" I told him Pap was at work (easier than saying he had not left his wife's side in the hospital for 2 weeks) and I said "Baby, MeMe is really, really sick. She is going to go to heaven with Dink and Gordon." He looked at me, smiled and said "Oh!! Okay!" and wandered off. That is one refreshing thing - that childlike ability to be resilient and so innocent.
When John Burke heard MeMe's name the other day, he pointed to a big group of pictures of her and the family we had made this summer. They were hanging on the wall, and he either looks there or points there each time we say her name. I know he is 18 months old and won't remember much, but it has been so comforting to know this trip how much his baby self enjoyed and loved her.
To know Melissa was to know how generous she was. I don't just mean with the grandchildren - because she spoiled them rotten! Clothes, toys, beach trips, hugs and kisses, story times - anything she thought they would love. And they did. But, she did that for all of us, too. She showed love to us by giving - they have taken us on countless trips (including the National Championship this year - thank God for that time together as a family before we even knew she was sick!), and opened up their homes in Auburn, Andalusia and the beach for any and every time we wanted to come. Her favorite thing ever was having all of her little chicks and chickadees all in the same place - be it for a Fall football game, a holiday or time at the beach. She and Pap invested in things that would provide quality family time, and I am looking back forever grateful for that.But she also was generous in time. She considered it joy to stop whatever she was doing to talk to Heath (or Jay or Kelly or any of us for that mattter) on the phone each day on his way home from class in college or work these almost 10 years since I have known her. Heath told me the other day that the greatest legacy his mom left was the time spent loving him and his family, and that is evident. He was equally as close to her before her diagnosis and afterward, as were his brother and sister.
Melissa had a strong faith in Jesus, and that has been our comfort this week. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is dancing in Heaven with Him. When she found out she had terminal cancer, she fought it with every ounce of her 100 pound being. She enjoyed every second of life she had left - she didn't let fear encompass her. She believed Psalm 23:4 - "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff they will comfort me." She told their pastor a few weeks ago in the hospital that she wasn't scared of dying, she was just sad to leave her family. That was very true - and she made the most of the time she had left without having to change the way she was already living.
We were able to say goodbye to her in the hospital, and she was sedated but conscious. We were able to tell her how much we loved her and how thankful we were for her life, and I swear Frank had to wipe tears from her eyes. How comforting to know that she heard us! I hate that she had to fight such a battle with cancer, but what closure to be able to affirm her in those last days! And, praise God that she had 7-8 very normal months with a debilitating disease, and then only 2 weeks of true defeat at the very end. She turned so quickly, but in hindsight that was such an answer to prayer that it was not drawn out and that God ultimately healed her so fast.
As I sit here typing this, tears are streaming down and her little namesake is kicking the computer through my belly. What a weird but refreshing feeling to remember that God "giveth and He taketh away." We weren't near ready to let go of our mother/mother-in-law/grandmother, but we are secure in God's perfect sovereignty and plan.
As we head back to Birmingham today we are so many things: heartbroken, bewildered, exhausted, stir crazy, ready for cell phone service :). But overall, we are blessed. We are loved and we are grateful - for her life, for the legacy and memories, for the family and friends who drove hours in the rain to hug our necks and stand by us in the visitation and funeral, who sent flowers or food, or those who texted, emailed or even just prayed and called out to God for us. What a showing of our brothers and sisters in Christ - we could not be more overwhelmed with gratitude or comfort.
God tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to "Be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." We will claim this as we try to mend the MeMe sized hole in our hearts:)