Erin Beams, Again


birthday girl and bud

Urgency Day 131

500 Things Items 365-69: The American Heart Association’s Stroke Workbooks

  • History: From the early days of my mom’s rehab
  • Value: In the early days, highly valued
  • Parting Pain: None, just hopeful they can be valuable to others
  • Un-possessing: Donation

Erin was a high-school senior when we got the word: Grandmom had a stroke.

And I was the mom of a nine-year old.

I had homework to monitor, lunches to pack, poster-board to procure for the project due on Wednesday. I had a husband who was in agony, far less over the intense training for his first marathon run the next weekend than over his imploding start-up business. I was scheduled to substitute teach that week, and the DC Sniper was still on the rampage. How was I supposed to lift right out of this intricate choreography and fly 3000 miles to my mom’s bed side?

“Come on, Suz,” Erin said.” Let’s go to Grandmom.”

My niece and my mom had always been close. When Erin was little, Grandmom lived nearby, and they were definitely two peas. They favored the same wardrobe—pink sweat suits—and the same meal—hotdogs. If they were awake, they were talking, right up until the very moment they fell asleep—that’s actually how you knew they had fallen asleep– and when they woke up, the conversation continued without missing a giggle.

Then Grandmom moved away.

Erin would get nervous when she was home alone. She was convinced there were bad-guy cowboys with tricky evil lassos at the bottom of her basement steps ready to emerge when her parents would go out. So Erin would call Grandmom.

In California.

From Virginia.

They would talk and talk and talk. Until her parents got home. Grandmom always knew just what to say to distract Erin from the cowboys.

It was also the days of landlines, and Erin’s father cashed every incentive check he received to switch phone companies.

We hadn’t been told many details, but we knew it had been a bad stroke. Her neighbor miraculously had been looking out of the window the very moment mom had collapsed. Ned called us. “Come quickly. I’ll meet you at the airport.”

Erin didn’t need another word.

“Come on, Suz.”

We got on the first flight to California we could, a daughter and a granddaughter. We told Grandmom-stories and laughed. We sat in the back of the airplane, heads together, laughing. We finished each other’s punch-lines and raced to be the one to tell the “kkkkkk” story. Trust me, it’s a good one, but you had to be there.

When the plane touched down at John Wayne Airport, I stopped laughing. The journey had been a temporary respite. What would we see at the hospital? Who would we see at the hospital? Would there be any trace of my mom’s sweet, indomitable spirit? I wanted to reassure Erin, to comfort my niece and start to prepare her for the heartache. And with all my heart, I wanted someone to reassure me.

Several lost bags and cars, wrong turns, second-guessings, and one regretful second-husband later, we were finally at the ICU. I had half a thought of pausing with Erin just beyond mom’s curtained-hospital bed to gather ourselves, but Erin walked forward with a fierce determination and one goal. Before I could react, she had pulled back the curtain, taken her grandmother’s hand and was leaning over her face.

“Well, look at you!” Erin beamed.

And her grandmother smiled.

Erin turns 26 today.

At some point, she will answer the phone and receive an almost-perfect rendition of “Happy Birthday!” from her grandmother.

They have always known the perfect thing

to say to each other.


15 Responses to “Erin Beams, Again”

  1. Emily Says:

    Suz, thank you for sharing this story. I had never heard specifics of Aunt Joyce’s stroke, and I didn’t know that you and Erin had flown out there. Isn’t it amazing how much she was able to recover? I remember visiting her and Ted in Laguna and how beautiful it was.

    I’m glad both of you were able to be there for her. This was a wonderful present for Erin’s birthday 🙂

  2. Donna Says:

    Don’t know if it’s true or not, but the older “little girl” in the picture doesn’t think she’s seen that photo before. She laughed and laughed. I’m sure the birthday girl will, too.

    • sthibeault Says:

      She may not have seen it! After all, you two are the good ones who get photos in albums! Mine just kick around in “unopened boxes.”(I’m glad it tickled her.)

  3. Laura Says:

    This is by far your best entry yet! Almost made me cry!

    Happy Birthday Erin!!

    • sthibeault Says:

      I guess I’m happy to make my niece/the big sister/the other beloved granddaughter cry… I am definitely happy to get such a sweet response. I love you!!

  4. Sydney Says:

    I love every blessed one of you Thibeault women.

  5. sthibeault Says:

    Note: Recognizing that this was a birthday tribute to Erin, I concentrated on her role in this story. Everyone in our family was anxious to race to mom’s side and help, but it was a maddeningly complicated time. Over the course of her extended rehabilitation, we took turns supporting mom and each other. By far the greatest roles have been played by Donna and Jim, having welcomed mom into their home over 7 years ago.

  6. melanie Says:

    Beautiful. You don’t have to be part of the family to feel the beauty of the story. I teared up too because of the universality and beauty. Did I say it was beautiful? You should be a writer, or something!

  7. james yarbrough Says:

    Well stated with love and heart. Thanks.

  8. Erin Says:

    This is my favorite birthday present of all! Suz, I love you so so so much. I have such wonderful memories from that very hard and exhausting trip. It would not have been the same with anyone else. We sure are lucky to have such a wonderful family! Thanks for the birthday entry! Now I just have to wait for my birthday HUG when I see you in May!!

    I LOVE YOU THE MOSTEST GHOSTEST… you win. You got me on facebook first.


  9. Erin Says:

    By the way, when I talked to Grandmom yesterday we started talking about that trip a bit. She has no memory of stressing out over that stupid cruise… or of us trying to kill her by giving her those strawberries. What were we thinking?! Oh my….

    Love you!

  10. Bill Says:

    Suz, It was nice to hear the story. I never heard it either. Erin has always been easy fun to talk to and matter of fact. I hate to admit it but I thought of you at first being in the picture with Grandmom. I remember when you were that small. Oh well I guess that shows my age. Happy Birthday Erin.

  11. sthibeault Says:

    Bill, you remember me at that age, but I never had Erin’s glorious blond curls. YOU were the tow-head! See, I remember you, too.
    I am lucky to have all my nieces, nephews and first-cousins-once-removed, which is what I think your wonderful kids are to me. Genealogy is so confusing; can I just be Suz?

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