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Grandma's Parting Miracle

By Ann Hauprich

This story was originally published in The Evangelist, newspaper of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese on December 8, 1994.

There was little point in going to see Grandma on that bitterly cold December night four years ago.

For the two previous years, she had been bedridden and practically comatose. And, on those rare occasions when her eyes were open, they stared off blankly into space.

I wasn't so sure what good a prayer from the fallen away likes of me would do, but Grandma would be turning 100 in about a week, and I felt it important to at least bring a card and some flowers to help brighten her room in honor of the impending milestone.

As a good friend steered my car along the snow-covered roads en route to the hospital in Albany, I found myself apologizing for the inconvenience.

"Thanks for driving me tonight," I started. "I wouldn't have asked this favor except my night vision is getting really bad. Anyway, they think my grandmother's in a coma . . . I won't stay long . . ."

Then, choking back tears of shame, I made a confession. It wasn't just the driving I needed help with: I needed moral support.

"They say my Grandma has tubes in her nose, IV in her arms and doesn't even recognize her own children anymore. I haven't seen her since Easter, and my Mom doesn't think she's going to make it though the night. I just wanted to see her one more time -- to tell her that I love her, and," my voice breaking, "and that I'm sorry that I haven't been there for her lately the way she was always there for me. But I've never been with a dying person before . . . and I'm afraid."

As we drove, I tried to tell my friend -- who had never met my Grandma -- what this great lady had been like in her prime. For the frail, tired, silent body we were sure to encounter in that hospital room would not be my grandmother. Her aging earthly shell, yes -- but not her soul, not her spirit, not my Grandma.

No, the more I reminisced, the more I came to realize an important fact: my Grandma might be dying, but she was not about death. She was about life, and to enter her room in any other frame of mind would be to do her a tremendous injustice.

Born into a devout German-Irish Catholic household on December 15, 1890,Catherine Tiernan Bopp had devoted the best years of her life to the service of others in and around the Albany Diocese. Her many acts of kindness and charity were done quietly, never expecting anything in return. From feeding strangers at the family dinner table during the Depression to decorating altars and sewing vestments for priests, it was all just part of being "a good Catholic."

Though the Lord had called the first two of her nine children home during infancy and another just out of his teens, my grandmother had never questioned His will. Instead, she planned picnics and Christmas parties for underprivileged children and sent money to aid the mentally handicapped -- her way of thanking God for the healthy minds and bodies of her six surviving children, and later her nearly three dozen grandchildren and multitude of great-grandchildren in whom she took enormous pride.

Before old age crept up on her, eventually robbing her of the ability to walk and verbally communicate, my Grandma was a champion speller and math whiz who could deliver rousing recitations of epic poems, sing lively Old World tunes and dance jigs and polkas around Lawrence Welk. Even well into her late 80s and early 90s when Grandma was a resident first at The Teresian House in Albany and later at Our Lady of Hope in Latham, people would wonder aloud at how amazingly sharp she still was. "Nothing gets past Catherine Bopp." That's what people used to say.

But I knew her crystal clear blue eyes would not open again much less twinkle with glee. Never again would I hear her voice or see her sweet smile. For all intents and purposes, Grandma was dead. And it was this morbid thought that had almost kept me from filling the empty chair beside her bed that dark, cold winter's night.

Upon entering her sterile, almost barren, room, I felt an overwhelming urge to hold my sleeping grandmother's now swollen hand one last time.

As I gazed upon her pale face framed by short, thinning white hair, I thought about the faded photographs I'd seen of her looking so radiant in the hand-stitched wedding gown that had emphasized her delicate 18-inch waist, her long, dark hair fashionably arranged beneath her elegant bridal headpiece. No fairy tale princess was ever more beautiful!

It had been a long time since I'd last prayed out loud, but I felt compelled to do so now.

Remembering how Grandma and Valentine J. Bopp, her husband of 50 years, used to pray the Rosary aloud together every night, I cleared my throat and began: "Our Father, Who Art In Heaven." And then: "Hail Mary, Full of Grace . . ."

Was it my imagination, or was Grandma trying to squeeze my hand? I wasn't even sure I was saying the prayers right, but with each "Hail Mary," I became more and more convinced that Grandma could not only hear me, but might actually be silently praying along with me. Could it be?

Then it happened: a small miracle that proved beyond any doubt that Grandma could not only hear what I was saying -- but completely understood every word.

Not only had Grandma opened her eyes, but they were staring directly into mine. Even more revealing, they were brimming with tears -- though I'll never know whether they were of joy or sorrow. Perhaps they were a mixtureof both. The important thing was I now knew for certain that Grandma was still very much alive and with me in body, mind and spirit. This was, indeed, a miracle -- one that would forever change my life and the way I would look upon death and dying.

Unable to speak because of the large lump in my throat, I tried to hum -- then softly sing (however off-key) some of the Christmas carols I knew to be dear to Grandma's heart. First Silent Night, then Away In A Manger. Tears continued to fill her eyes and mine, and I ultimately did more humming than singing, but as time went on, a tremendous peace came over me -- and my grandmother.

Only when she had returned to a sleep-like state did I dare gently kiss her forehead and whisper: "I love you, Grandma." I never did say "I'm sorry" -- but somehow I felt Grandma knew that I was and that she had forgiven me.

A few days later -- on December 8, 1990 (The Feast of the Immaculate Conception)-- an emotional phone call came with the news that Grandma was gone.

Ann Hauprich with grandmother
Catherine Tiernan Bopp
and mother Audrey Bopp Hauprich
in November 1974.

She was "with the angels now," said my mother, choking back tears of her own. How she had loved her mother -- her "Mama" as she used to call her. And, how she would miss her. Every Sunday for as long as I could remember, they had "connected" -- either by phone or in person. Even those many months when Grandma appeared to be in a coma, my mother and father had faithfully looked in on her after Mass each week. Only now did I realize how important those visits had been.

Perhaps Grandma had sensed their loving presence, even if she hadn't been able to acknowledge it. For God alone knows what we are capable of feeling -- and hearing -- deep within our mortal hearts and our immortal souls.

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