My grandmother’s last words…to me

My grandmother's last words to me.
Nettie Lou Ernstberger

[Edit:  The picture at the top of the post is one of the few digital photos that could be found of my grandmother.  In fact, other than references to her in an obituary, the image is one of the few online testimonies to her existence.  Sad as it may be, I never took many photos of her–I was too busy spending time with her.]


I recently learned that my grandmother has pancreatitis. In fact, her condition is so advanced that she was given 2 weeks (minimum) and 6 months (maximum). When I went to see her, I was completely unprepared.

I knew that serious jaundice and disorientation had been what spawned the original visit to the doctor. Her disorientation was immense–including hallucinations. But, apparently, the jaundice, itching, and any of a dozen other symptons were related to her pancreatitis but no one had been a smoking gun on its own.

My Grandmother’s Last Words to Me

I went to visit her last week (over an extended holiday weekend). I spent most of two days with her. She slept so much of the time; she only saw me in infrequent glimpses between naps. This woman, my grandmother, was proud, loud, tall, strong, and defied every traditional definition of a post-depression era homemaker.  This weekend, she was defied, muted and slurred, weak, and resembled every definition of an invalid elderly person.  This was so shocking, so upsetting to me.

I made sure to let her know that I love her at every opportunity I had.  I hugged her and gave her kisses with every chance.  I tried to make her ridiculously comfortable.

When I saw her this morning, after telling her how I felt about her, I told her that I hoped she felt better.  Her response was “There’s not much chance of that.  Just pray that this ends soon.”  I had no response other than “yes, ma’am.”  I have certainly honored this last wish.

Let me fill you in some more.  Through the 1990’s, she took care (with her sister) of her octogenarian, dementia-suffering parents.  In the 1980’s, my grandfather (her husband) learned of  his suffering of Parkinson’s.  By the 1990’s, his Parkinson’s was clearly pronounced although not disabling.  My great-grandfather died in 1994.  My great-grandmother died in 1999.   In 2001, my grandfather died due to complications from his Parkinson’s.  For a decade, she took care of ailing parents and an ailing husband.  She has now been parentless for 14 years and a widow for 12.

Three months ago she told my dad that she was “tired, lonely, and ready to be done.”  It seems that she has her opportunity.

My Reflections and Memories

Am I sad?  Absolutely.  We’ve been gone from my hometown for 10 years (going on 11).  I spoke with her about once every two weeks.  These calls are typically long.  She has been understanding and an ear to talk to in hard times even though she can’t always relate.    On long cross-country road trips, I have called her at the most awkward times in the middle of the night.  She has spoken with me on countless occasions in just this way to help me stay awake–I’ve valued those conversations.  Perhaps my favorite conversation involves when I just asked her to tell me all about her dating my grandad.

Am I happy for her?  I’ll offer an odd “yes”.  As a Christian, her goal (and mine!) should be to pass from this life on to the reward that awaits–not that we have earned but that has been promised.  She has a chance to see friends, family (particularly my grandad), and her Lord Jesus.   My “yes” is odd only in that I am not able to embrace the concept of death as what I should want although I know that I should want to do just that.


I haven’t detailed her many wonderful qualities (and there are many) or her not-so-wonderful traits (they exist, too).  But I don’t need to do so.  Tonight, so many miles away from me, my wonderful, beloved grandmother lies while losing the last battle of her life.  I am thankful for all of the MANY hours I have spent with her (necessity and desire).  I will lose her for the remainder of my life on this planet but already look forward to meeting her again.  That time, no sickness will take her away from me and we can sing together for an eternity.

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