Even though my parents have been divorced over twenty years, they were married for nearly twenty-five years and my Dad came to my Grandma's Memorial. I wrote the following piece and he read it to everyone for me.
Having grown up an army brat and then marrying a man in construction, the longest I’ve ever lived in one place has been seven years, which happens to be in Colorado Springs where I currently live. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was the one and only place in my life that never changed. From my earliest memories the sights, sounds, and smells were all so comforting. As a small child the turn onto their long dirt driveway evoked an excitement that never faded over the course of my life. Grandma and Grandpa were always waiting and would emerge from the porch before we could get out of the car.
I always went to Grandma first. Her twinkling eyes, big smile, infectious laugh and warm hugs were things that drew me to her. Grandpa, although seeming more distant, was always there for an awkward hug, a pat and a smile. The sound of the breeze rustling through the leaves mixed with the dank, musty smell of horse urine soaked earth gave way to the warm and inviting smells wafting from the kitchen. Often times Marilyn’s music* was playing transporting me to a different time. So little changed in the house that stepping into it, especially those times when I had been away for years, filled me with a sense of peace and joy. My life has always been marked by change. Grandma and Grandpa were my touch stone and when I was with them, I was home.
Last summer when we visited Seattle I braced myself knowing that Grandma may not recognize or remember me. Gratefully, I was gifted with brief moments where I saw in her eyes that she did know who I was and was happy to see me. Somehow, as I was flying to Seattle this last time, I knew that would not happen. However, that did not keep me from hoping I was wrong. Dementia is most assuredly cruel...
As I was growing up I often slept with Grandma when we were visiting. Those were precious moments when I had her all to myself. We would talk long into the night. There was nothing she was unwilling to talk with me about and she tirelessly answered the questions I peppered her with. Even as an adult with a family of my own I would crawl into bed with her and we would talk.
On Grandma’s second to last night I was able to stay with her alone. The nurse and I shoved a cot along side her hospital bed. Grandma did not know who I was but I was okay with that. Through the night I remembered for both of us and after all the years she held my hand, I held hers.
It’s funny… when I was 25 and had just had my third and last child I had a conversation with Grandma that has always stuck with me. I asked her when I would feel like an adult. I was a wife and a mother yet still waiting for some feeling or knowledge that would let me know that I was in fact a grown up. She looked and me and laughed, then she looked at me again with her eyes shining and said, "This is it!". She also felt the same inside as she did when she was my age. Now, at 43, I still feel that way. It forever changed how I saw the elderly.
Only in the United States is it common to view the aged as a burden. As many of you know, my husband also lost his Grandmother last week. Like me, his Grandma was also in the care of his mother. It has been a blessing to us to see our Moms take on that responsibility and something of which we are both very proud. We both will consider it an honor to care for our parents when their time comes.
I find it interesting that although Grandma was confused she never forgot who Jesus was. Several days before she was hospitalized one of my Mom’s helpers asked Grandma who she was talking to. Grandma told her she was talking to Jesus, that she talked to him every day and that she was going to see him soon. A couple days before she died I was blessed to be present as she sang, “Jesus Loves Me,” as many of us were gathered around her bed.
Many of the nights I spent with Grandma we listened to Billy Graham on her radio. She adored Billy Graham! He ended his crusades with the song, “Just as I am.” In our humanness we often take the simplicity of the gospel and complicate it. We forget that Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Some people accept the gift of salvation only to then set about trying to earn it. Others run from it seeing it as a crutch for the weak or as rules and regulations to which they would be bound. It is not, “Just as I am,” once but, “Just as I am,” every day. We are all on different points of this journey we call life and where each person is in relation to God is between them and God.
So many of us here represent pieces of both Grandma and Grandpa and each of us has our individual memories in addition to our shared familial ones. Life is messy. Being part of a large family comes with challenges at times. But… we are a family. It is a family full of all of the aspects of life and while there are times of pain, there are also times of great joy. Together we are Grandma and Grandpa’s legacy.
*Marilyn is my 52 year old Down Syndrome Aunt. She loves to listen to music while sitting in a rocking chair. Her favorite music is all from the 1960's.
Here is a post I wrote after visiting my Grandma in June 2008.