Tag Archives: grandma

The Broken Swan this Side of Heaven



My family had to say goodbye to a fantastic lady today. After 95 years, my grandmother, Violet Stephens, ended her journey on this earth. This special lady left this world just as a person of her caliber should have—surrounded by people who loved and adored her. I wasn’t there when she passed, but I did love and adore her. I was fortunate that she spent the last year living in the nursing facility where I work. So, I got to see her and hug her and kiss her anytime I want. She was precious.

The truth is, she wasn’t even my biological grandma. I was a step. Sometimes that can be complicated. I was 13 years old when I became her grandchild and there was little else more complicated than I was at that age (except for maybe ages 15-19). It wasn’t complicated for Grandma. She just lumped my sister and me in with the rest of them and loved us like she had been there when they cut our cords. I would like to say it was because we were so special, but that wasn’t is at all. It was because she was special.

Grandma was a gentile sprit and kind nearly to a fault. She was the type of person who would go out of her way for other people and wouldn’t expect anything in return. She was someone I didn’t want to disappoint, because she was just such a doll. Once, when my sister and I were spending the night with her and my grandpa, she brought us a flashlight. She said, “Girls, I am giving you this flashlight so you won’t get lost if you have to get up in the night to use the bathroom.” I can’t really capture how endearing this gesture was. The bathroom was literally three steps outside the room where we were sleeping. The house was tiny and cozy and there was exactly zero chance of us getting lost. She was precious.

There was something I should have told Grandma and I didn’t. This isn’t like me at all, because I am pretty forthcoming about my plethora of blunders. I was sixteen and attending a family gathering at Grandma’s. Nearly everyone had congregated in the backyard and I had made my way to the sit on the front step. I was sitting next to a concrete planter that was fashioned into the shape of a swan. It was full of blooming red flowers and I casually reached up and put my hand around the beak of the swan. A good-sized portion of the beak broke off into my hand. Looking back, I know that Grandma would have just brushed it aside had I taken the beak to her and told her what had happened. But I didn’t. I did what I sometimes do in sticky situations–I improvised. I used the gum I was chewing to stick the beak back into place. I am normally not a good secret keeper, but I kept this one for a long time.

Twenty-six years have passed and as of yesterday, that swan with the bum beak was still sitting in front of Grandma’s house. I came clean to my sisters and my step-dad a few years ago and they have all teased me about telling Grandma I broke her swan planter. They never told either. I should have told her. It wouldn’t have mattered to her. It mattered to me.

A few months ago Grandma became very sick and we had to take her to the hospital. I went and sat with her until my aunts and uncles could get there. She was weak and barely able to stay awake or talk. Several times she opened her eyes and I would smile and say, “Hi there, Sleeping Beauty.” Each time that day she said the same thing to me: You aren’t my real grandchild. You aren’t my great-grandchild. You are a really great grandchild. She had never said that to me before that day and never said it to me again. I should have told her then I broke her swan.

At her funeral, my mom (who is a dynamic speaker) shared that my Grandma had left a note to her and my step-dad on a visit to their home about fifteen years ago. It was also something Grandma hadn’t spoken to them about before or since she left it. It was a request to have the following poem read at her funeral:

“Miss Me But Let Me Go”

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom-filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little-but not too long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that we once shared
Miss me-but let me go

For this is a journey that we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the Master’s plan
A step on the road to home

When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds
Miss me but let me go.

Author: Anonymous

My Grandma didn’t have many worldly possessions. She didn’t need many. She was content in her family, faith and community. I am a step. Sometimes that gets complicated, but I have decided to ask for the broken swan. I think it would look lovely on my porch with the flowers blooming and a broken beak. Moreover, it will serve to remind me to strive to be more like her. Maybe I can choose to focus on the good in people, to serve others more and to put God and family first. I get that wrong a lot of the time. She got it right. If I am entrusted with the planter, I hope Grandma knows it will be the most treasured broken swan this side of heaven.


Impact Moments

Impact Moments

Baby Riley

The majority of moments allotted to me thus far have passed without greatly influencing the overall direction of my life or altering the composition of my heart.   There are, however, those moments impacting with such force the reverberation pulses in every moment thereafter. Some are positive in nature, other seemingly devastating, but all are life-changing.   November 12, 2014, marks the 23nd  anniversary of one of the most powerful impact moments of my life…the day my daughter, Riley, was born.

As a nineteen year old college student with a propensity for making poor life choices, discovering I was pregnant certainly didn’t seem like a positive impact moment.  I was terrified.  I was aware of my less than stellar track record for taking care of myself, which made me feel completely sorry for the Tic-Tac-sized fetus attached to the wall of my uterus.  I wasn’t even good at playing house when I was little and got into trouble for cutting the piggy-tails off my sister’s dolls.  There was no way I was going to be able to take care of an actual human baby!  I was screwed, but not nearly as screwed as the little he or she inside of me for drawing the short straw and getting me for a mother.

Smiley Riley

The next 8 months I read everything I could get my hands on regarding prenatal care, breastfeeding, childbirth and parenting.  I followed the doctor’s orders to the letter and set my sights on giving this baby a better mother than the person I had been up to this point.  As my due date approached, I had started to worry about the pain of actually having the baby.  I asked my mom if it hurt to have a baby and she said, “I will tell you exactly what your grandma told me when I asked her that question when I was pregnant with you.  She said: would it hurt to shit a square wagon wheel?”  The wisdom passed down through the generations of women in my family is priceless and, as I was about to learn, amazingly accurate.


Because I was not covered under my parent’s insurance for maternity service, I saw the doctors through the local Health Department.  During my 24 week checkup I was informed that I would either have to pay $400.00 before my next visit or sign a waiver declining the use of an epidural.  The amount of emotional and financial headaches I had caused my parents over my 19 years on the planet loomed in the back of my mind, but so did my grandma’s square wagon wheel analogy.  In the end, I couldn’t ask my parents for the money and I signed the waiver, which seemed like a very, very considerate gesture on my part.  In hindsight, however, it was a VERY, VERY, incredibly STUPID move on my part.

Riley and Daddy (and the Devil dog)

Where do mommies-to-be go, when they can’t stand the thought of being pregnant one more second?  They walk (waddle) around Wal-Mart, of course.  I think Wal-Mart might even hold breakout sessions at the OB/GYN conferences around the nation encouraging doctors to advise women that strolling the aisles at Wal-Mart is scientifically proven to induce labor.  In my case, that is exactly what happened.  I was with my best friend, Cheri, and we were walking through the store.  She absently put her hand on stomach and she said, “Oh my God! You are having a contraction!”  My stomach was tight, but it didn’t hurt so it wasn’t computing with me.  I said, “No I’m not.”  She insisted, “Yes you are!  That’s exactly what my Aunt Tina’s belly felt like when she had a contraction.”  Since her Aunt Tina had just had a baby a few months earlier, I figured she knew more than I did about birthin’ babies.  As it turns out   Cheri was spot on with her diagnosis-I was in labor and ol’ Grandma also hit the nail on the head- it hurts like hell to shit a square wagon wheel!!!!

Monkey Moment

After laboring more than sixteen hours I had finally achieved a whopping 4 on the dilatation scale.  The lady who was laboring on the other side of the curtain (OMG…they actually used to put two women in labor in the same room) had arrived a few hours after me and was already dilated to an 8.  I was exhausted and hurting and I yelled, “Are you kidding? I hate that bitch?”  My sweet angelic mother promptly poked her head around the curtain and said, “I am sorry.  She is so tired she doesn’t mean it.”  I loudly clarified, “YES I DO MEAN IT!”  A few hours later, I hadn’t progressed much further and the contractions were excruciating.  During the quiet moments between contractions, my mom asked my nurse to please see about getting me an epidural.  I wanted to explain my noble decision of waiving the epidural, but I was beyond fatigued and the nurse had to explain to Mom the epidural “fee upfront” policy.  My mother started frantically looking around for her purse, “I will write you a check.  Just get the kid an epidural!!”  My mom’s attempts to circumvent hospital policy were politely denied and she cried at my bedside through each contraction.

First Grade

My labor was approaching its 29th hour and my stubborn cervix finally made it to the required 10 centimeters and I was cleared for transfer to the delivery room.  I actually passed my former labor room roommate pushing her baby in the hallway as I was being wheeled to the delivery room.  She was fortunate I was too physically and emotionally tapped out to verbally accost her.  If I had any preconceived notions that things were going to soon be over, I was wrong.  I pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed.  The clock was ticking ever closer to midnight and my mom was determined that I was going to have my baby before November 12th became November 13th.  November 12th is Mom’s Birthday.  An intern assisting my doctor with the delivery tried to show pictures of his kids to one of the nurses and he ventured too close to me and I grabbed him by the tie and said, “Everyone in the hospital has seen those f@#@king pictures.  Put them away!!”  Between contractions I decided to take off my oxygen mask, remove the monitors strapped around my enormous belly and tried to climb off the table announcing, “I can’t do this anymore.  I am going home.”   My mom grabbed me by the arm and demanded, “You get up on this bed and you have this baby right now!!  It’s almost not my Birthday anymore!!”  And so it was; I pushed and pushed and the doctor and the intern pulled and pulled and at 11:51pm on her grandma’s birthday, our Riley was born.


The first time I held her was an impact moment of epic proportions.  The 8 pounds and 2 ounces of bald, cone-headed, swollen baby held the key to my heart.  I was smitten. She has been uniquely Riley from that moment forward and a source of immeasurable joy in my life.   It is hard to believe that 22 years have passed since the day Riley came into my life and I can’t begin to quantify the blessing being her mother has brought to my life.  Here are just a few of the things I love about Riley and some of the things I have learned by being her mom:

  • She was bald for so long everyone thought she was a boy.  I started to pray that she would get hair and when she finally did get hair, it was carrot orange, with a mind of its own.  I learned that I need to be very specific when I pray.  Riley has AWESOME hair now!!!  Her crazy hair days were worth it.
  • Riley has an innate nature to see people’s needs and meet them. This was apparent at a very young age, when she came home from third grade and asked if we could get some shoes for a little girl in her class.  She said the girl always takes her shoes off under her desk and Riley had asked her why and the girl told her that the shoes were too small and hurt her feet.  In addition, Riley asked her teacher not to tell the girl where the shoes came from because she didn’t want to embarrass her.  I would love to say this was something that I had taught her, but it is something she has always had inside her and a beautiful part of who she is.
  • She loves things that sparkle, makeup, clothes, 80s music, and naps.
  • She often doesn’t get the joke, but when she does, laughs the longest.  She has an awesome laugh.
  • She is smart, capable, and fiercely independent.  She struggles with making up her mind, but when she does….better get out of the way!
  • When she was nine, she tried to convince me that she shouldn’t eat in the school cafeteria: “They serve artificial corn.  It doesn’t come from a can or a cob.”
  •  She is the official grammar police of the universe.

On the day she was born, if I had taken every hope I had for her future, it would hardly measure up to the young woman she has grown up to be.  Thank you, Riley, for being the daughter that surpassed everything my heart could desire.  I love you infinity.

Riley Landing after Skydiving