“Gene’s Death”

This piece comes straight from my grandmother’s mouth (Ruth Gregory is her name). About two years ago, she asked me if I could help her record the story of her life, and we’ve been working ever since.

First I interviewed her and recorded her answers. I am now editing those notes into a narrative that chronicles her life, particularly focusing on her spiritual journey (she is a Christian). And the last steps will be to copy-edit and print and bind her book as presents for relatives (with the help of my artist husband).

It has been a very special project for me, and I will be sad to come to the end of it, whenever that happens.

CHAPTER 1: Gene’s Death
(March 28, 1965: age 39)

I was washing the twins in the bathtub when I heard Gene call for me in the living room. That day, he had been hanging balloons in the basement to get ready for the twins’ eighth birthday party later that week. We had just eaten a heavy dinner, and he was exercising in the living room. That’s when I heard him call my name.

I heard urgency in his voice and came right away. When I reached him, his face was grey, his expression pained. He was holding his chest with his hands, taking short, shallow breaths. Somehow I carried him to our bedroom and laid him down on our bed.

That’s when I called Walter, our next-door neighbor to bring over the nitroglycerin. After that I dialed 9-1-1. Walter came over right away, and I put the nitroglycerin under Gene’s tongue. In those days, we used nitroglycerin to treat heart conditions – it widened your blood vessels to pump more oxygen into your body.

I suspected it was his heart when I saw his face, though I couldn’t be sure. He’d had trouble in the past. Once, when he was mowing our lawn, he had felt pains in his chest. We went to the hospital, but they couldn’t find anything wrong at the time.

But the nitroglycerin didn’t seem to help. Gene lay on the bed, perspiring, and his face had turned green. He could not speak. My name, his cry for help, was his last word.

After a couple of minutes, a policeman appeared at our door, and two priests came after that – a friend’s brother from down the street who’d been visiting town, and Father Kennedy, our priest from the Catholic Church. The two men in black robes and white collars stood over my dying husband, giving Gene the last rites, as the policeman gave my husband mouth-to-mouth, trying so desperately to bring him around. The last rites were meant to prepare someone’s soul for death. Gene wasn’t responsive though. I think he was gone by then.

Father Kennedy told me later that because Gene had had last rites from two priests, he was surely going to heaven. In those days, they believed that.

In five minutes, two ambulances drove up my driveway, and the EMTs came into the house. They tried to massage the heart by opening the chest, and then blood and guts spilled out onto the carpet. I was asked me to leave the room after that.

I know everyone did everything they could to save him. It was a complete collapse of the cardiac wall, the complete collapse of the heart. My husband was only 40. He died a week before the twins’ eighth birthday, on March 28, 1965. It still feels like yesterday.

My dad and stepmother came right at the end too. I do not remember calling them, but I must have, and they must have jumped in the car the minute they hung up the phone. They must have been racing on the highway.

When they pronounced him dead, the twins were in towels, shivering and crying in the hallway, holding onto each other. They had gotten out of the tub themselves. I went over to them and I held them in my arms. I spoke. I do not remember my words, but I knew it was the Holy Spirit speaking through me. They calmed down immediately.

That was my first experience knowing the Holy Spirit. I knew that Someone was with me. I wasn’t alone; I didn’t even cry in front of the girls then. After that, I got the twins into their nightgowns, and Walter’s wife, Helen, took them next door.

I had been a devout Catholic for years. We learned in the Catholic Church about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I knew about the Holy Ghost. I realized that it was not me speaking when I was telling the girls what happened to their dad. I knew then that there was a power much bigger than me. At the time, I did not know it was Jesus’ Spirit, but it was. I knew the experience was unusual, but it made me open.

That was the beginning of really having more than a passing interest in God. Before that, I’d been more interested in religion than in God. Yet I still did not recognize how God had been pursuing me, and it still took me several years to give in to Him. But life can change in an instant, and this was the beginning of great change for me. When Gene died, I could have become bitter, but God’s grace made me better.

© 2014 Elizabeth Charlotte Grant

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