For My Grandma

My grandmother passed away on April 2. She had been fighting Alzheimer’s and dementia for some time. She asked me to speak at her funeral, and I thought I’d post what I wrote for her here.

When my grandpa Glenn died seven years ago, Grandma asked me to share some memories about him at the funeral. This was an easy assignment: Grandpa was quite a character, and choosing a few things to say about him was hardly difficult. A few years ago, Grandma asked me to do the same for her, and I’ve had lots of time since then to think about what to say. But for Grandma, the memories didn’t come as easily. What made it difficult was that nearly all of my Grandma stories were also Grandpa stories. In my mind, that disqualified them from being used at her funeral. But after her death last Tuesday, I realized that concentrating on “just Grandma” memories was a fool’s errand.

The fact is, Grandma’s marriage was a large part of what defined her. The bond between Grandma and Grandpa was the strongest I’ve ever seen. She adored him, and he adored her. Grandpa was often a difficult person, to put it mildly, but Grandma put up with his orneriness with a smile. I can hardly wrap my mind around the enormous patience required to live with Grandpa Glenn for more than sixty years. (I suspect that all the wives of the husbands in our family have a fairly good understanding.) Her patience, devotion, and love made their marriage an example to us all.

Grandma was a homemaker. That term has negative connotations these days, but I mean it with the utmost respect: Grandma made her house a home. She was organized and hard-working, a wonderful cook, a world-class housekeeper. She even paid attention to detail, like the patterns left behind after vacuuming the carpet every day. The fridge and cookie jar were always full. Grandma always had things for us kids to play with: an ancient parcheesi set, half a container of pick up sticks, and a box of Lisa’s old comic books, my personal favorite. Whether it was playing a game, eating a meal, reading a book, or just watching a ball game on TV with a cold glass of sweet tea, being at Grandma’s just felt right.

It wasn’t just the immediate family that was welcome at Grandma’s house. She and Grandpa opened their home to hundreds of people. It seemed like they were always hosting friends, family, preachers and fellow Christians, a stream of folks from all over. Having all that company had to be hard for Grandma, but she never once complained. I’ll always be thankful for the hospitality of her home, as this was one reason why Deana and Brandon came my way. It’s a debt I could never repay to her, but I can try to show the same hospitality to others. (As long as they don’t worry about the vacuum patterns left in the carpet.)

My grandmother was an elegant woman. That sounds a bit snooty, but what I mean is that Grandma was always, always, put together. Her hair was always washed and done up perfectly. She may have been up early making breakfast, and wearing her nightgown and slippers, but she’d have lipstick and earrings on. I must have been ten years old before I witnessed Grandma with her hair down, and was likely old enough to drive before I ever saw her leave the house without panyhose on. I don’t believe this was vanity; Grandma just thought ladies should always be presentable, and she certainly was a lady.

There’s probably more that should be said about my grandmother. But I want to share a specific story that I believe gives great insight into the kind of person she was. The past few years were very hard on Grandma. Grandpa’s long illness and death took a toll on her physically. More recently, Grandma’s mind was affected by disease. Over time, dementia and Alzheimer’s eroded much of her personality away.

Deana and I went to visit Grandma on her 90th birthday. When we walked in, Grandma sat in her recliner, holding a half-eaten pink cupcake. I noticed crumbs and a spill of who knows what down the front of her nightgown. Not very ladylike at all. As was often the case towards the end, Grandma didn’t seem to know who we were. In fact, she looked a bit angry and a little embarrassed, like a kid caught stealing a cookie from the jar.

Deana and I talked to her as best we could, but Grandma was very quiet, keeping her responses brief. She didn’t smile much. I got the distinct impression that I wasn’t really welcome. That’s something I would never have thought would happen. Grandma had trouble eating the cupcake, just couldn’t quite remember how to eat one. After about half an hour, we stood to leave.

The three of us held hands as I said a little prayer. No sooner did I say amen than Grandma’s whole demeanor changed. It was as if a cloud had lifted from her mind. Grandma smiled, and her eyes widened. She immediately reminded me how I used to rummage around in her junk drawer for treasures. Forty-four years of my life have been shared with Granny, and that was the one remaining memory she associated with me, even to the end. She asked about smiley boy, which is what she called Connor after she couldn’t remember names anymore. And she told us that she was so sorry that she couldn’t come to church anymore.

Through the haze of disease, my Grandma was back to being herself. We sat down for a few precious minutes and visited a little longer. But then she began to fade away again. Suddenly she said “I’m so tired. I’m just so tired.” Deana offered to help her get ready for bed. Grandma had trouble standing up, and needed our help to pushing her walker. Abruptly, she stopped. “What am I doing here?” We told her she was home. “This is my house?” Yes, we reassured her, this was her house. I stayed just beyond the bedroom door, for privacy’s sake, as Deana got Grandma ready for bed. Every passing moment, her confusion and anxiety worsened. “Where’s my husband?” she asked. “Shouldn’t he have come see me today?” We told her he was gone now. Mercifully, that moment passed quickly.

At last we tucked Grandma into bed. She asked us one final question. “Am I going to be alright?” Deana told her she was a good wife, a good mother, a good sister, a good grandma, a good great-grandma, a good friend, and a good Christian. Yes, she was going to be alright. That seemed to settle it for her, so we kissed her goodnight and left her to rest.

In the end, I suppose that’s what we all want: to be told that it’s going to be alright. I’m so thankful that for Grandma, the aches and pains are gone, her mind is clear, and she’s finally where she truly belongs.

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