When you’re younger, you never dream of getting to the day where you have to begin to watch any of your loved ones dwindle away. The truth is, you also plow through your own life thinking you’re untouchable. Eating what you want, doing spontaneous things with an indirect carelessness. Never thinking of the later in life consequences that will be waiting. When those days come, they slam into you like a ton of bricks.
I can remember very clearly the seldom good memories that surround my adolescent years. I can tell you with absolution that most every one of them involve my grandparents. They hold such a huge piece of this puzzle that has been my life.
I can hear my grandmother’s laugh. Her incredible sense of humor lit up the entire room every single second she was present, and you absolutely noticed when she wasn’t around. Her immense sense of innocence from the time she grew up in was so humbling, and honestly to us growing up, hilarious. No matter what, she loved people with her whole heart. Even when they treated her unfair or unloving. She was the direct reflection of Christ. She cooked the greatest of meals, and had a perfect medical remedy for any sickness or ailment you were suffering. It was all right there in a medical search book that was almost bigger than she was.
The most fondest of times throughout my life was watching the love between her and my grandfather. 70 years of marriage and not a second of love lost. A type of relationship that will almost die with their generation. Her being 16 when they married, and living of poverty that most people only read about. I’ve heard time and time again, throughout my entire life, the horrors of their starvation, kids left wanting, tears from not knowing what they were going to do, but also the beautiful stories of togetherness, all the way up until the time my grandfather miraculously got the job that would change their life forever. It’s a story for the books. A story for the world. In the most humbling of sorts, and I want to hear it over and over. I hear something new every time that I do. The part that strikes me as rare, and as the realest form of love, is the fact that throughout all of these years of struggles and fear, they never faltered in their love for one another and their family. They never gave up on each other, even when they wanted to.
My grandmother, the great mother of this whole family, went through so much in her life. An alcoholic father, and a detached and seemingly emotionless mother. Yet, when you meet her, she is one of the most selfless, caring, and loving people you will ever meet in your life. She is one of the rarities that go through trauma, struggles and strife, and make it out in the end making the tough decision to not only not let it define her, but also choosing to love all people right where they are. She incredibly chose to love them with an unconditional love and kindness that is immeasurable. No matter what you were going through, she saw through the bad and could always find the good in anyone.
I can look back on an extensive amount of time I took for granted with my grandparents. Beautiful times I simply flushed down the toilet being selfish, being absent, and most of all, being angry in the most evil of ways. The way I spoke to them and the way I treated them and walked all over them is something that haunts me to this day. Being overly passive, they let me walk all over them. And absolutely never gave up on me. They are two that I can say with absolute certainty, that 100% believed in me, and loved me through every very horrible moment up to this very day. They were and are the reason that I learned the very basic of skills that started me out in this world and kept me alive in the hardest of times. Times that someone of such a young age should never have to experience. I credit them for the gift of prayers, protection, and immense amounts of love that at that time, and sometimes even now, I didn’t and don’t understand, and definitely didn’t and don’t feel I deserve. But my grandmother, she is the one that stands out. My best friend, my confidant. The one person I have always ran to when things were crumbling and completely hopeless. Always having the greatest words of encouragement, and never failing to remind me that I was capable of anything and everything in this great big world.
I never, not in a million years, thought that I would watch my grandparents dwindle away to nothing. My grandfather, now 92, is ate up with Parkinson’s disease, shaking and stumbling around, stubbornly, on a walker, and stumbling around like the tin man. He spends all of his days planted on the couch, a prisoner to his body, falling asleep and drooling on himself. I try to reach back in my mind and picture him out in his building tinkering with a new project, perfectly manicuring his perfect yard. Labeling everything, down to the fly-swatter and each lightbulb throughout the house with the date purchased, and/or the first date used. The memories of those days are fading from my memory, and being replaced with these sad days on repeat.
My grandmother, now going to be 87 this month, is just a shell of herself. Dementia tearing away at her entire being. You yearn in each moment with her to reach in and pull out that comforter, to watch her put on her signature red lipstick, to hear her incredibly encouraging words to pick you back up, but instead, each sad moment, current and long ago, playing on repeat in her mind like a skipping record. The recent death of her sister, the recent death of her pastor’s wife, her brother being in horrible health and on a defibrillator. All seeming to bounce around in her mind like a pinball machine and as each one makes its way to the front, she voices it again, as if it’s the first time.
We can’t and shouldn’t tell her any of the sad things anymore. Most in the family are the doing the selfish thing and telling her anyway. Which is the ultimate selfish act. It’s like writing in a diary that reads it back to you. I don’t. I no longer confide in her, or fish for her encouraging words. I cherish the days that they are offered naturally. There is no red lipstick, hair is never brushed, and she is always in the same outfit with the same house robe on top of it. She waddles around, door to door in the house, sitting blankly on the porch. Day in and day out, the same day over again. I want to hold her. I want to tell her everything is going to be ok.
She repeats a story to me. We took care of her mother who had and ultimately passed with Alzheimer’s disease. She has always repeated the same thing to me. I will go any way the Lord wants me to, I just ask him not to take my mind. And now, here it is. The one thing she didn’t want to happen. She still repeats it, even in her deteriorating state, that everyday she prays to hold onto her mind, and that home-health says she is doing great, even though we know she’s not.
I’m sure the black bird’s cry is louder than ever. I yearn to peek into that realm even if for just a moment to see what they’re seeing, to hear what they are hearing, to think what they are thinking, and to feel what they are feeling. But it’s for selfish reasons. If only just to comfort myself on the feeling of having already lost them, or even to understand it a bit better when it’s time for them to fly away swiftly with those waiting on them.
The grass grows up past the sidewalk now. The flowerbeds choked with weeds. Building in the backyard, in the past filled with noise of new projects being completed, now sitting in rot in the overgrown yard. A lonely shrill in the air. A sadness in the waiting and the not knowing. An almost beautiful feeling in thinking that every time you’re there with them, is the last. Teaching you, and forcing you to cherish each and every second of the time spent with the parts of them that are not already gone. For now, the black birds compete with the song of the blue birds, which is a lasting hope I’m holding onto.