Granddaddy, Yvie, Me and a Band of Beaded Angels


By: Janet Marie Melton Sharp

This is a story about healing.  June 23rd, 1998 marks the anniversary of the death of my Granddaddy Tweed.  For a year and a half, Granddaddy fought a good battle against stomach and colorectal cancer.  For the past twelve years, I have carried around a great sense of loss and guilt.  I did not see my Granddaddy for the last three months of his life because I could not bear to have my mind’s last picture of him resembling a victim of the holocaust.
A few years ago, I entered into the Hospice volunteer program.  It was there that I began to learn how to heal through grief.  While my grief over Granddaddy’s death was not debilitating, I didn’t seem to be moving forward in the healing process very well.  I always thought that I would grieve hard for two or three years and then I would be completely healed.  Hospice taught me that there is no set time for grieving; that it’s okay to let memories move you to emotion and that there is a thing called good grief.
Upon completion of my volunteer training, I became a file person for the nurses.  My day job allowed me to work one day every three weeks or so.  Filing gave me the opportunity to get a feel for how Hospice worked.  From the doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, counselors – so many people working together to bring comfort and understanding to the chaos and bewilderment that is associated with terminal illnesses such as cancer.
A couple of years ago, I made a career change.  My new day job was no longer flexible enough for me to maintain my Hospice filing duties.  I was left with a sense that I had abandoned the one thing that was helping me to heal.  I began to look for other ways to keep Hospice in my life.  I became a contributor to the Super Flea event.  I like going through my treasures and sending them on to some else’s house for dusting.  I got so wrapped up in it this year that my husband and two cats run every time they see an empty box come out.
It was that career change that brought Yvie (short for Yvette) into my life.  I was not able to have a child of my own due to an invasive reproductive cancer scare at the age of twenty eight.  It took five major operations and fourteen years for me to be free from the pre-cancer cells.  I have always found children of all ages to be fascinating.  Yvie was around fourteen months old when we first met.  She stood about two and half feet tall with cherub cheeks, wispy strawberry blonde hair and a familiar sparkle of mischief in her brilliant blue eyes.  My husband, Dale and I were babysitting Yvie in her home for the first time.  We played with her toys, ate goldfish crackers and danced to the number one hits on the children’s chart.  By early evening, Yvie had fallen asleep in my arms.  Dale carried Yvie to the nursery and placed her in the crib.  Lying in her crib, bathed by the soft light of a nearby lamp, Yvie opened her eyes, smiled at us and went right back to sleep.  We stood there in somber silence and amazement that we had had the fortitude to outlast Yvie’s young energy.  As I turned to leave the nursery, a picture frame caught my attention.  There elegantly hanging on the wall was a perfectly executed, cross stitched birth sampler for Yvie.  As I read the date, a lump began to grow in my throat –
June 23rd, 1995.  My eyes were already beginning to burn with tears when I pointed out the sampler to Dale.  It was at that exact moment I realized life does come full circle.  On the date that I had lost someone I treasured, Stuart and Leslie gained someone to treasure.  I remember looking at Yvie, still asleep in her crib and whispering, ‘Good night little angel and thank you.”
I began thinking about the upcoming Super Flea in March.  I knew that I wanted to do something special – something to show that my healing process was making strides.  Since my Granddaddy Tweed was an artist who upholstered and restored furniture from all time periods – I also knew that I wanted to make something with my hands.  I have been making beaded angels to tie on Christmas packages for many years.  I like to dabble in writing poetry and so I began to put my plan into action.  Each angel is made with seventy three iridescent beads and each bead represents one good memory or laugh shared with Granddaddy.  I have been able to make fifty angels in time for the Super Flea – that’s three thousand six hundred and fifty good memories so far!  The memories range from taking him to show and tell in kindergarten; making him sit down for an afternoon tea party; getting him to pick fresh mint to decorate my mud pies; walking on the beach and looking at the sea shells never picking them up so that other people could see their beauty; learning all the names of the trees, birds and flowers around us; planting seeds and harvesting a garden; picking up his favorite peppermint candy on weekend trips home from college;  watching him and his current wife and Mom and Dad play Backalley card games; making homemade ice cream on Sunday afternoons; splashing in mud puddles until our socks were soaked; taking my first new car for a really fast spin around the block – twice; to wondering if I would ever find that special boy in my Christmas stocking.
I realized that by not sharing my memories of Granddaddy I was punishing him for dying.  Sharing his memory lessens the loss because it makes me feel more connected to him.  The talent that I have for needle crafts and making things with my hands came from Granddaddy.  I can continue to honor his life by sharing my crafts with others.  These simple beaded angels have given me and my Granddaddy wings.
This story had to be written in time for Yvie’s third birthday because three was the age I was when I was queen of the grandchildren.  I was number fifteen in the line of twenty one grandchildren.  I reigned for two years before my aunt Betty Jane had the twins – but I’m not bitter any more.  Three was also the age that Granddaddy gave me my nickname – Miss Pooh.  I was being potty trained and I could not say the word through – all my th’s came out as p’s.  So when I called to Momma I would say, “Momma, I’m poo!”  My Granddaddy heard this and from then on I was known as Miss Poo.  Granddaddy gave all of us nicknames which we still call each other even today.
Healing feels better than hurting.  I think you have to allow yourself to hurt in order to heal.  I would encourage anyone reading this story, anyone having to deal with the loss of a loved one, to look at that person’s life.  Look at their passions, hobbies, talents and find ways to honor them by keeping what they started going so that you too can come full circle.  It is also very important that you forgive yourself for any decisions you made that might not have worked out as you thought they would.  Sometimes we think we are preserving ourselves – keeping ourselves safe from too much heartache.  Only to find out later that life inside a Mason jar can make you smell bad.  You need to take the lid off – venture out amongst people – share your stories and your memories – other people are hurting too and together we can help each other.
In closing, I am not going to lie to you and tell you that my days of shedding tears over the loss of my Granddaddy are over because I know that they are not.  My Granddaddy is worth every tear that I shed.  He continues to live in my heart where our wonderful memories are stored forever.  Holidays are especially hard but with this healing comes an approach of taking inventory of what I have rather than what I have lost – besides, I have a lot more angels to make!

Beaded Angel

I am a Hospice angel,
Made out of simple beads.
I will bring you compassion,
And listen to your needs.
I like to be hung in the bright sunshine,
Or on a branch of an evergreen tree.
I will cast a brilliant rainbow of colors,
For all the world to see.
I will remind you to treasure life’s simplest things,
And I promise to stay by your side until you get your wings.

Janet was raised in Hendersonville, NC.  Graduated from UNC-Asheville with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Accounting.  She has spent the last ten years as Staff Accountant for The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.  Janet makes her home in Asheville, NC with her husband of 26 years, Dale and their two Tonkinese kitty boys – Charlie and Oliver.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker