Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In the Valley of the Shadow

My grandmother is dying.  

She is 97 years old and she is at the moment facing the last days, perhaps the last hours of her life.

I cannot tell you how many days I remember as a child waking up in her little home to the sound of the train next to her house and to the smell of fresh brewed Eight o’clock coffee as my grandfather prepared for work.  I recall pulling stalks from her giant rhubarb plants in the back garden and eating them raw with her.  I remember an always full cookie jar in the kitchen, countless Thanksgiving dinners with the whole family and the aroma of Mogan David wine set at each place for us to celebrate another year of abundance.  I remember going to church on Sunday mornings and the huge cottonwood trees around the house that would greet us as we entered the drive in the afternoon, and evening walks up the hill to her one-armed father-in-law's little vegetable plot.

For the last two years, her memory has been failing, such that she could not recall her grandchildren when she saw them and with a bit of a jog could recognize her daughter and son when they came to visit.  In a manner of speaking, until 4 months ago, she was healthy as a horse and clueless as to where she was.

I grieve the conclusion of her life.   Everything I recall of her dealings with me were actions of love and tenderness.   She always claimed privately that I was her favorite grandchild, but frankly I’ve always had the suspicion that she said that to each of us.  Part of the heartbreak right now is that if I called her, she wouldn’t know who I was.  And even worse, she might probably mistake me for her late husband, an unintentional deception for a poor old woman who has been left with nothing in life but a walker, a corkboard full of pictures she can’t identify, and a bed in a nursing home that isn’t really hers.

Especially, I grieve that there will be little remembrance of her life.  Soon after she flies away, her body will be cremated and what is left will be buried in a veteran’s memorial plot in northern Florida.  No memorial.  No service.  No “to-do”.  No family gathering to celebrate a life well-lived, and given in love and simple duty.  No formal pause to reflect on the certainty that we live in the same valley, the same shadow.

I hate this modern day that treats death of a loved one as just one more interruption, one more inconvenience to have to live through until we can get on with whatever we think is more important.  "No big deal" made of a passing on because "we just want to remember them as they once were" or "they wouldn't want it".  The fact is, WE don't want it.  It strikes too close to home.

Family secret:  my grandmother got pregnant with my mom in 1930 when she was 16.  She never talked about it.  It took us years to winnow it from family genealogies and slippery conversations.  No abortion, no release for adoption.  No one knows the whole story.  She simply decided to have my mom and figure out how to live.  My grandfather married grandmom and adopted my mom, then they had two more together.

I love you Grandma.  Thank you for all the joy and love you gave me.  Thank you for your gardens and your little home.  Thank you for your quiet faithfulness and your quiet faith.  Thank you for the gentle heritage you handed off.  Thank you for this gift of life.  I will miss you.  May God remember you in mercy.
Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
Elizabeth Elliott, In the Shadow of the Almighty
Gabriel Faure, Requiem
3 cups of Eight o’clock coffee


1 comment:

Inkling said...

Mr. B, I'm sorry that you are losing such a woman. She sounds lovely and like someone I'd love to meet. I know the familiar ache of watching a grandparent slip away as my own grandpa is in his last season of life.