Sat, 04/17/2021 – 14:46
Grace Collins was born Grace Louise Legate to Carl Christopher Legate and Maude Ellison Legate. Grace came into the world on May 16, 1939 in Lexington, M-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-humpback-humpback-i, and she grew up on one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi time. On April 5, 2021, eighty-one years and eleven months later, when time and place were no longer relevant to her experience, she returned home to her parents and her husband of 55 years, Dick Collins.
Also preceding her in death: elder brothers Claude, Bob, and Carl Jr. Legate, niece Melissa Doll, brother-in-law Bill Jackson, and nephew Lee Jackson.
Grace is survived by her daughter and son-in-law Kaye and Aldon Sanders, son Glen Collins, son and daughter-in-law Scott and Sheri Collins, and her grandson Brett Collins. Also surviving Grace: her two elder sisters, Sarah “Ditty” Brinkley, and Blanche Jackson.
Grace had to join her siblings placing mother Maude in a nursing home facility in the eighties to manage her care. So in her seventies, she took each of her children aside, looked each in the eyes, firmly grasped their hands and told them it was her greatest fear that her body would outlive her mind and that we might be forced to move her into a facility like she had to do with her mother. She prayed for God to take her in her sleep or however He saw fit, and spare her lingering in confusion for years in an assisted-living facility or nursing home. She told her children she knew we would feel guilty. She knew she would say anything, do anything to delay and prevent it when it became necessary, but that she wanted to tell us now, while her mind is clear, that she forgives what we may have to do, and she’s sorry for the awful things she might say. And, “It’s OK, and I’ll always love you, no matter what.”
Grace’s children did ultimately have to make that decision for Grace a couple years ago. Her pre-emptive forgiveness years before was a comfort we didn’t understand at the time how much we would need, and we’re grateful she had the courage to speak of it at all.
Sister Blanche, like Grace and their mother Maude, also faces Dementia related Lewy-Bodies (DLB) also referred to as Lewy-Bodies Dementia or Lewy-Bodies Disease (LBD). Grace’s family typically survive into their late eighties and nineties, so eighty-one is a little young, even for those in her family with a DLB diagnosis. The isolation of the past year unquestionably accelerated her mental decline. Parkinsonian Symptoms which occur in some but not all cases of DLB, began presenting in Grace as her disease progressed and resulted in falls and wounds, more frequently and severely, as it had in her husband’s case as his Parkinson’s disease progressed. During the pandemic, external “Home-Health” nurses and caregivers were allowed in the facility for wound care only. No physical therapy. No cognitive therapy. No volunteers to play guitar or lead sing-alongs on piano. No visitors most of the last year plus. No trips around the lake for milkshakes at the duck ponds. No outings to The Ponca Playhouse with friends of fifty years. Just humming air-conditioners, Hallmark movies, occasional bustle of staff in the hallway and intermittent interminably long buzzers, alarms and robot voices speaking in code to every room in the building at once so the staff gets the code wherever they are. Whatever the purpose, it’s not at all peaceful, it’s just business and noise.
In mid-February, we learned Grace tested positive for Covid-19 but was “asymptomatic”. Grace remained in isolation for two weeks. Her daughter arrived for a visit planned before the diagnosis. Having been vaccinated the day before travel, Kaye was granted permission for a “compassion visit” allotted to family members and clergy when a patient is in acute mental or physical crisis. Grace slept through most of Kaye and Scott’s “compassion visits” those two days, but was awake and alert long enough to smile and laugh with her kids. The third and last day of Kaye’s visit, Grace’s kids were called to the assisted-living office to be informed that the facility could no longer provide sufficient care for Grace, and we would need to make plans to move her to a specialized memory-care facility, the nearest two being sixty and seventy miles from her current home. Kaye and Scott returned to their careers and families and made plans to return at the end of May to assist Glen with facility tours, paperwork, and moving trucks. At the end of March Glen opened the bill for assisted living to find a formal letter from the facility advising that due to inaction on his part regarding Grace’s move to a different facility, they “must write to inform you this is your thirty-day notice we are discharging your mother,” because “under the Assisted Living Criteria in our contract, ‘she is exhibiting behavior problems disturbing to other residents which is inappropriate for this community’,” along with the invoice for another several thousand dollars. On April 3rd the facility contacted Glen to inform him Grace was “failing” and to prepare for the worst.
I’m Glen. When I visited I brought her bible, given to her by her closest cousin on Christmas in 1956, Sarah Evelyn Sudbeck, “Sut” who along with little sister Betty Lynn Sudbeck, “Bumsy” was Grace’s constant childhood companion. They remained close and in contact for Grace’s whole life. Trust me, if you’re not from Lexington, you’re not pronouncing “Sut” and “Bumsy” right. Any time they got together, they quickly slipped into a very specific and melodic drawl very few can mimic effectively. A decorative plaque hangs above the toilet in Grace’s home, our childhood home, and perpetual home-base. It may be hand painted by a friend or a particularly nice greeting card mounted in a frame, but it’s always been there. There’s a heart in the style of a crafted quilt and a quote, “Let not your heart be troubled: John 14:1.” I always found it quaint, but not particularly inspiring. I decided if she kept it hanging for fifty years, she must draw some comfort from it, so I would sit with her and read John from the Bible until we got to whatever 14:1 was and maybe even discuss it if she’s awake for part of my visit. She would certainly get a kick out of her problem child bothering to open a bible at all. Her middle child’s intelligence showed the promise of a future successful professional like his father, but proved ominous when combined with the social skills of a suburban raccoon, tolerated by the community because he’s kinda funny-lookin’, and it is a bit fascinating to see how comfortable he is climbing in and out of those dumpsters.
On arrival I approached her room with a staff member and noticed a printed sheet on her door insisting no one enter the room without a staff member. The sign prompted me to ask staff if Grace had tested Covid-negative since her positive test six weeks prior. They said they can’t test a positive person again until three months later to avoid false positives. That made about as much sense to me as everything else I’ve heard about the pandemic, so I entered, masked for a few hours, stroking her hair and holding her hands as I read the entire book of John, stopping periodically in confusion at where this 14:1 passage was supposed to be, and maybe I missed it because it’s an older bible with old-fashioned English. Grace breathed steadily and deliberately, unresponsive except for a few almost imperceptible moans when I interrupted my reading befuddled at the card catalog or whatever they call it that organizes this book, because I read John, all of it, and there was no 14:1 and there was no “Let your heart be” this or that I could see, so I correctly assumed I was just ignorant of the book my mother devoted her life to studying. I decided to just google Easter quotes from the bible, and read a few of those. Some of it was a little meh, but generally, the poetry is there. It’s worth a look.
After the bible stuff, I stared at her sleeping face, gaunt and strained with a black-eye and a bandage resulting from her most recent injurious fall. I hadn’t quite grasped it on a conscious level, but I was moved to tell her all her babies had grown into old people, and they and their loved ones are prepared to move forward in life without her when she’s ready to go. I spoke of my Dad and uncles and grandparents waiting to welcome her home, and of her departed friends who need a fourth for bridge and some of Grace’s homemade desserts. Partly out of resignation that she was not going to be awake any time soon, and partly out of panic that I just spent three hours in a room with a Covidpositive patient, and mainly to digest the severity of her condition so I could relay it to my brother and sister with confidence that I wasn’t just crying wolf to elicit pity this time, I kissed her forehead and whispered, “Sweet dreams.” On my way out the door, I said, “Goodnight gorgeous,” and by the time I got to my car, I texted my siblings. “This time it’s real.”
The next day was Easter, and I wasn’t really feelin’ it. My brother and sister responded to my reality-check text from the night before. Each having just travelled over a thousand miles two weeks ago to visit, they made plans to return by the coming Friday for me. I felt like I should be at her side already and not leave her before her other children arrived, but I was afraid. Afraid I already pushed my luck with extended exposure. Afraid I mishandled or halfassed my duty to my mother in her final months. Seems like there’s something in the bible about “Be not afraid for I am with you”, but it could be lyrics from a My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult song, so that’s not cool. Google suggested Deuteronomy. I referred to the index of the Bible for a page number and noticed something I didn’t catch the day before, there’s a complete whole other section of the bible called John. No wonder she moaned at my confusion. I thought I was reading The Gospel of John when I was reading the Epistles of John. I grinned at how we would laugh if I caught her awake next visit. The next morning, Monday,
The next morning, Monday, my phone rang way too early for it to be anyone but the assisted-living facility calling, and certainly not with good news. Staff advised me it was the assessment of Grace’s Hospice-caregivers, that she would pass within the next week, and family should be notified to prepare for this. I contacted my brother and sister. My sister responded that she would arrive the next day. My brother got the message after working a twelve hour shift and replied he would also arrive Tuesday. I spent the day in my head, working it out in Dad’s yard and Grace’s garden to keep from punching walls while I built up the courage to prepare to go sit with my mother until my siblings arrived to take over the watch. I found the two passages in the bible I wanted to discuss with her when she woke up, and I began copying files of my home movies to play for her on a loop, so that between obnoxious alarms and staff checks, she would hear familiar voices from happier days. I made a couple sandwiches, and as I headed to my car around 8:45PM, the phone rang. Staff informed me Grace passed away in her sleep at 8:30PM.
I drove over in a daze, her bible in my hand. I was let in by staff and left alone with Grace for a while as I requested. I played Harry Nilsson’s “Lullaby in Ragtime” to remember the sensation of Grace rocking me to sleep as a child. I closed her eyes and straightened her hair, and read her the passages I underlined the day before hoping to discuss with her and show her I figured out this thing about two John’s and found the passage I pondered when I felt ashamed for being afraid.
Deuteronomy 31:6 – Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
Gospel of John 14:1-3 (Christ’s Farewell Sermon) – Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
I clutched her hands and prayed for her forgiveness of my dusty dumpster ways and for forgiveness for my inadequacies as I cared for her. I thanked God for making such a wonderful person and for letting me know her for over fifty years and experience the warmth of His light as it shined through her every act and word in her time on Earth.
The days since she passed have been a blur of legalese and paperwork and random bouts of blubbering and reflection on a life well-lived and how to honor and celebrate that safely and sufficiently during a pandemic. Grace served God by treating each person as though they were the person she respected and loved most in the world and they were in need of love without judgement. Her reward was more friends and admirers than you can count. Grace’s family plans to hold a celebration of her life later this summer when perhaps the cloud of danger has lifted enough to gather safely. If delay seems unnecessary to you, I stopped watching the news six months ago, but I can tell you with first-hand knowledge that the morgues in Ponca City and across Oklahoma are overflowing beyond their capacity with the recently deceased. My family requested a viewing for final prayers and goodbyes, which Trout Funeral Home provided the best they can right now, in a storage building behind the funeral home. We are grateful to Trout for making the extra effort to create a respectful experience for us under the strain of record capacity at their Funeral Home. Grace would forgive anyone who may not appreciate the severity of her experience and our family’s experience during this pandemic. Grace’s daughter and youngest son also possess the capacity to forgive and love those who don’t know what to believe anymore and behave in a way that may put the weakest among us at greater risk than necessary out of ignorance, misinformation, or futility. The suburban raccoon in the middle is still a little rabid and should be approached with caution as he digests his recent pickings from the dumpster that is the American healthcare system, “Experiencing the worst tragedy of your life? Well, the American healthcare system has about twenty pounds of incomprehensible forms a week that require immediate action on your part, along with endless sales pitches for a better Medicare part A,B, or C plan and pharmaceutical plans and every elderly scam on the planet. Try not to die before your money runs out, for the economy.”
My own bitterness aside, Grace’s story is not the suffering and tragedy of her death. Grace’s story as she told it was one of blessings beyond her wildest childhood dreams.
Grace was the youngest of her father’s eight and her mother’s five children. Her daddy smoked tobacco and spent his last months in a hospital and died of “black lung disease” when Grace was eight years old. Her mother Maude honored Carl’s dying request, that all of his children graduate college. Maude never remarried, and as a single-mother in the 1940’s and 1950’s she worked multiple jobs, while regularly attending church and volunteering to serve her community. Maude tirelessly attended the improvement and nurtured the potential of her children’s lives. And all of her children were successfully graduated from college, and proved productive , industrious, and faithful to God through their lives.
After graduating MSCW with a a degree in Business Education, Grace followed her sister Blanche to work at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. I imagine her gentle soul softening the heart of a warrior prepared to destroy the world when she served in a civilian capacity under a Brigadier General in the Department of Defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It wasn’t about to happen. It was underway. And someone, someone Grace likely knew, decided not to destroy the world for some reason.
D.C. is where Blanche’s husband Bill introduced her to his best friend Dick Collins, who would become her husband in 1963 and the love of her life for 55 years. Together they started a family, and Grace shepherded their three children through a few moves during Dick’s career as a patent attorney in Oklahoma City, Memphis, TN, and Des Moines, IA, finally settling in Ponca City in 1974, where the family found home.
Grace grew up rich with family and community and love, but cash-poor. The example of her mother proved a roadmap for Grace’s future. The statue of the Pioneer Woman in Ponca City filled Grace with pride for her mother and compassion for every single mother she encountered. She acted on her compassion for single-mothers and all people struggling with poverty or despair through constant service to her fellow men and women in every charity that asked her and many more that didn’t have to ask like March of Dimes and Meals on Wheels and Friendship Feast and Peachtree Landing and so on.
As the children grew, Grace thrived in her element, volunteering for charities while enjoying bridge and tennis with Dick and her many friends, and never missing any of her children’s many activities and performances. As her children entered high school, she spent a few years working at Ponca City High School in the guidance office, providing a friendly presence there not just for her children, but for countless students. An avid reader, she also loved spending time with her book group and traveling, both with her family and with groups of dear friends, to places all over this country, from New York to Alaska to Hawaii and even to Ireland.
Grace was the mom who showed up with an extra cooler full of oranges at soccer games, always providing enough for everyone. She created a home that was a beacon of welcoming comfort to her friends, her children, and her children’s friends. The Collins house was a gathering place for the whole neighborhood’s children. In her daily life and charity work she embodied the belief that you are strongest when you are nourishing, nurturing, loving and forgiving the people around you.
I’m uncomfortable with the tone and content of this obituary, because I fear my anger and sorrow have tainted my ability to express my sense of loss tactfully. Please forgive my coarse, probably inappropriate attempt to summarize and honor my mother’s life. In turn, I forgive you for how you try to tell me you’ll miss her too. Words fail. It’s acts of kindness, not kind words, that communicate what’s in your soul. A stream of words spilling awkwardly over your intention to soothe, counts as acting, so forgive me if I forget your words. I’ll remember your kindness.
The celebration of Grace’s life later this summer will include clips of home movies, so we can all hear her stories, prayers, songs, and room-filling laughter, and all see her full-body smile, and feel the warmth once again of encountering a person who forgave everything we ever did and will do before she even met us. When we pass into her paradise, Grace will welcome us with a glass sweet iced-tea and our choice of a twist of lemon, a sprig of fresh mint or both. She’ll ask about your time in this world with genuine curiosity and say, “Wasn’t the world such an interesting experience? And doesn’t it feel good to be home?
In lieu of flowers, the family requests friends and family consider donating to Lewy-Bodies Dementia research at www.lbda.org or donating/ volunteering for Ponca City’s Friendship Feast food bank at www.fccponcacity.com/friendship-feast or for Peachtree Landing. Take time to reach out to someone in need. If you are in need or have lost your faith altogether, Grace would smile and say to you with sincere compassion, “Like it or not, God loves you. No exceptions,” as she placed your meal at her table.
Arrangements are under the direction of Trout Funeral Home & Crematory, 505 W. Grand Ave., Ponca City, 74601.
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