Thursday, October 20, 2011

In Loving Memory of Donna Kay Pleva

On October 4th, 2011, my grandma, Donna Kay Pleva, passed away.  I was very close to my grandmother.  Thankfully, I had planned a trip to go back home for 16 days...I got back home on September 28th, so I was able to be with my grandma when she died. 

Really, over the last year Grandma and I were able to spend lots of really great quality time together.  Last October, we went on a week long cruise together along with my Aunt Bun.  That was a LOT of fun!  She was also able to come for a 5 day visit in May to South Carolina to meet Eleanor.  That was right after she found out the cancer began growing and decided to stop treatments.  It was her desire to have a few good months of life left before she died.  Because of that, she really was feeling pretty great on her trip and she was able to do lots of things with us...we went to the pool, and to a World War II reenactment on a plantation in NC.  We also had massages and pedicures- it was a very fun and relaxing week! 
Caribbean Carnival Cruise- October 2010

Gma's trip to SC- May 2011

Claire and Charlotte celebrated their birthdays in Indiana while I was home for my 10 year reunion, so everyone also enjoyed spending time with her there.  Shortly after that party, she was hospitalized for a few days.  Her doctors helped to get her medications fixed so she could be more comfortable, she signed her hospice papers, and she moved in with my Mom and step-dad so my Mom could better help take care of her for the remainder of her life. 
Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle Rob at Charlotte and Claire's birthday party!

On August 25th, Grandma and Grandpa celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary by going out to eat with my parents, my Aunt Bun, Uncle Rob, and Uncle Steve.  My gracious husband let me come back to Indiana again for an impromptu visit over labor day.  I knew I had my visit at the end of September, but I wanted to make sure to get one more week of quality time in with Grandma.  Amazingly, I left my house in one piece...and 1 week later it was still in one piece....and Jason SURVIVED! :) 

During that time, Grandma, Aunt Bun and I spent lots of time together just relaxing at the house, enjoying our meals, and as always had a little bit of pampering!  Some of her days were harder than others, but at that point she still had a few energetic days.  We made it to out to church one Sunday morning (to hear my Mom sing too!) which was very special for Grandma because she had been only receiving communion at home for quite some time.  Jason and I had just recently seen "The Help", so the next day, Aunt Bun, Grandma, Mom, Katie, Aaron and myself all went to the movies!!!  So much fun.... and they all LOVED it! :)  We also managed a trip back to her house in Hobart to get some things that week.  The week soon ended, and I said goodbye but reminded her I would be back in 3 weeks! 

My mom did such a great job taking care of her for those 6 weeks she was at home.  Even as a nurse, I must admit, I never realized how difficult it would be to take care of someone close to you in that capacity.  My mom did such am amazing job.  I know Grandma felt very comfortable during her last weeks and days because my mom was certain to encourage her to eat, drink, take her medicines, help to move her and get her situated comfortably, and always made sure to ask her how she was doing and how her pain/shortness of breath Mom doesn't have the initials "RN" after her name, but she should. 

By the time I got back to Chesterton, Grandma was much weaker.  She could pivot to the chair with help, but couldn't walk anymore.  We managed to watch a couple movies together...between rests.  She hadn't ever seen A Christmas Story, so we watched it!!!  On the Saturday before she died, Grandpa came over for dinner, and we were able to get Grandma up and to the table.   Grandpa was able to love on Grandma, which was very sweet .  Sunday we couldn't make it to church, so Grandma and I prayed the Rosary. 

Monday started as a normal day.  She watched her favorite soap opera, The Young and The Restless, and then her nurse Stacy came to put in a morphine pump.  She expressed the desire to have her family come because she felt like she was done, and was ready for this to be over.  It was hard listening to her say these things, but I can only imagine how she must have felt those last few weeks.  At 7pm she woke up from a nap and began breathing anxiously and with great effort....greater than before.  We gave her some medicine to help calm her down, but her breathing continued...laboriously. 

Mom and I prayed the Rosary to help Grandma relax and pass the time.  The night nurse, Kim, came out around 11 and helped us to get her comfortable.  She was there until 1am, and Grandma did seem to be more comfortable.  Mom went to lay down for a little while, and I stayed with Grandma.  We listened to soft music, and I talked.... hard to believe, I know :) 

Around 2 am, her breathing started to slow just a little.  It began getting irregular.  I was going to wake up my mom, thinking we were nearing the end, but she woke up on her own and came into the room.  We sat by Grandma's bed, holding her hands and talking to her.  Telling her it was going to be okay, and we were all going to be fine.  We began to pray.  Her breaths slowed even more.  There were periods of 30-45 seconds between some breaths.  That was very scary to listen to.  Then she would breathe some more.  Then a minute between breaths. 

Finally, her heart rate began to slow.  We told her how we loved her, and said our good byes.  She took her last breaths and was at peace.

Watching her pass was one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through.  I know she was happy to have me there to help, along with my Mom.  I will always have the memories that Grandma and I were able to make together.  And I know she is in a better place.

Jason was able to fly into town for the funeral thankfully, as Marie had the kids back in South Carolina.  I really appreciate having such a great Mother-in-law who was willing to come spend time with the kids to help Jason out while I was gone.  It really made me feel at ease knowing the kids were in such great hands!  And, of course, any Grandma appreciates the time they get to spend with their grand kids...Marie was on cloud 9! 
I was fortunate enough to sing a couple of songs at Grandma's funeral, one with my Mom, as well as give the Eulogy.  This is what I said:

"Good morning, and thank you all for coming on this very sad day to say goodbye to Donna Pleva.  I am her granddaughter, Kimberly.  This has been the hardest thing I, as well as many of you, have ever gone through.  Selfishly, I wish she could be with us forever.   I know however that she has gone to be with our most heavenly Father, and is full of joy and peace now in her heart and spirit.  Although she can no longer be with us in the body, we will all keep the memories of her very much alive in our hearts and minds.  I can picture myself as my children continue to grow, telling them about Grandma, the great person that she was, and the many great things that she did!

According to my grandma, there were two kinds of weather: golfing weather…and not golfing weather. Grandma and Grandpa spent their winters in Sarasota Florida…I am pretty sure this was mostly to extend their golfing season.  Clearly, grandma had a very serious passion for the game of golf.  According to her “golfing girlfriends”, “She was very fun to golf with, always positive and upbeat.  She was a good golfer with a great short game…she beat many of the younger girls”  I don’t know if she ever got a hole in one, but I know that playing golf made her feel very much alive.  She continued to golf throughout her illness, and only stopped 2 months ago.   

Grandma also kept busy with countless crafting projects throughout the years…Either her own projects, or the ones she was coerced into doing!  She was Martha Stewart before there WAS a “Martha Stewart”.  I probably contributed to about 70% of that “volunteered” work.  Being a fellow “Martha Stewart” myself, I enjoyed crafting and baking with my grandma.  One night, in Merrillville, I was spending the night with Grandma and Grandpa (which was always a treat!).  I was probably around 8 or 9; I asked Grandma if she would help me make a blanket for my mom.  Now, I am unsure of the exact details… I think Mother’s Day was coming up, and I have absolutely no idea what kind of a blanket we made.  Every time I reminded Grandma of this memory, she informed me the reason I don’t remember anything is because I fell asleep (probably after step #1) and Grandma finished the whole thing!  I like to think I made up for that by spending one Christmas season making fleece blankets with her for different family members.   She also made quilts for my sister Carolyn’s cross country team seniors one year, as well as her famous T shirt blankets.  There have been countless times she has mended holes, and tailored our clothes.  The pressure was really on the year Carolyn asked Grandma to make her prom dress!  It turned out flawlessly.  However, the following year for my senior prom, she gave me money to go buy a dress. She continued her love for sewing until the very end.   This past May, she came to see me and my family in South Carolina.  She hadn’t yet met Eleanor, her newest great granddaughter, and was very much looking forward to spending 5 days with her.  She came bearing gifts, of course, of homemade matching Mother/Daughter aprons.  She also made a set for Carolyn and her daughters.  Last month, when I came for a visit, I told her I wanted to learn how to make cloth sewn bows… soooo, her and Aunt Bun got out some spare fabric, needle and thread, and helped me.

There wasn’t a holiday that Grandma didn’t make special in some way.  Whether it was being a little different like having chopped suey on Easter, or making homemade tree skirts for the family, she always managed to find someway to make it extra special.  One Christmas, many many moons ago, she found a sparkling egg nog recipe…this was an alcohol free kid-friendly egg nog recipe (essentially, it had very little actual egg nog; mostly sprite and ice cream).  Grandma has made this egg nog every year for Christmas-even this past Christmas, where her great grandchildren were also able to enjoy this tradition. 

Although we spent many holidays together, it was the frequent presence of my grandparents in our daily lives that I remember most.  We were fortunate to live in close proximity to them throughout my childhood. The gift of their time and attention was priceless.  Grandma and Grandpa attended almost all of our sports functions, plays, schools programs, etc.  They persevered through rain, snow, cold, heat, humidity, dark of night, and hardness of bleacher seat.  They were well known and their faces became so familiar, our school friends often referred to them as “Grandma and Grandpa” as well.

My sisters and I, all being newly married , wonder how  it is you are able to stay in a loving and committed relationship for such a long time...55 years debating the daily idiosyncrasies, such as “the toilet seat position” or “squeezing the toothpaste from the middle or the end” seems like a very long time.  If you had asked Grandma, she would tell you compromise and patience go a long way.  Just a week before she died, my sister Katie was having lunch with Grandma.  Katie was venting about the service she was receiving on the construction of her house, and she expressed the desire to call and complain to them.  Grandma emphatically put her fork down and said “Where will that get you?”  Katie said “Nowhere.”  And Grandma said, “Well then I guess you shouldn’t call and complain”, reiterating the importance of being patient.  John and Donna Pleva went through their fair share of trials and tribulations during their marriage.  Having experienced one of the most difficult things to overcome, the death of their oldest daughter, Carol, instead of growing apart, they grew closer to each other.  Grandma was once described to me as the “glue” of the family.  She taught us not to waste our energy worrying about things we could not change, rather focusing on the good things in life, and counting our blessings. 
Donna Pleva lived her faith every single day.  By her daily example, along with my grandpa, her children were raised with sound morals, Christian values, and given a strong foundation by keeping faith and family a priority.  My mother, Ann Deckard, once said, “If you want to pay me the highest compliment, tell me I resemble my mother.  It is my mother’s character I strive to emulate.  She has the patience of Job and believe me…this has been tested.  Amidst chaos, she has the ability to remain calm, think rationally, and come up with a plan.  She enjoys life and makes the best of any situation. We are a huggie/kissy family.  “Hello” is always accompanied by a quick hug and kiss, and when we depart from each other, no matter if it is for a day, a week, a month, or years, it is with a hug and kiss and “love you.”  With this simple tangible expression my parents have instilled in us a constant reminder “you are loved” and they could have given us no greater gift.”

If I began to share all of the priceless memories I hold close in my heart, we would be sitting here for hours…so I won’t.  But, I need to tell you, never have I been more proud to speak about the great person that Donna Pleva was.  She was the best person I know.  I will always remember how special she was to me.  In the final hours of her life, I told her again how much I loved her.  I told her that her family and friends were all so lucky.  We were so lucky we had the time to tell her how much she meant to us in this life.  I told her she was the best person I knew…. She said to me “you’re grandma’s girl”.   Then, we exchanged I love you’s.  I will always remember being Grandma’s girl."
December 17, 1935- October 4, 2011