Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Getting Yelled at by Grandma

I find it ironic that--just hours before my grandma yelled at me for the first (and only) time--I had taken a photo of a billboard for the Milton Hershey school: "Where Kisses Make Dreams Come True."  Jim, Cade, and I had spent the day at Hershey Park with my Aunt Ellie and her family, who had moved into the downstairs apartment of Grandma's house in order to keep an eye on her.  We returned from Hershey Park to find Grandma had forgotten that my family and I were staying with her in her upstairs apartment; she had locked us out.  We called and woke her up, and she came to the door yelling: "I'm so mad I could just spit!"

I was devastated.  This was in the first half of 2008.  On my next trip north, in early 2009, Grandma had relocated to an assisted-living facility.  I was pregnant with Clementine: miserable with the weight of her and sick from gestational diabetes.  I stayed at Grandma's house (where my mom and her sisters were cleaning out cupboards), and I couldn't get Jim's truck up her icy hill; my Uncle Danny had to come back and assist.  I have these random, vivid memories of checking my blood sugar outside the assisted-living facility, of barely managing to hold it together when--for the first time--it was clear that Grandma didn't know me, of bawling my eyes out when I climbed back into the freezing-cold truck, of comfort bingeing on a Filet-O-Fish and french fries from McDonald's on the drive home and subsequently feeling my sickest, yet: like I might just slip into a diabetic coma.

It's interesting to me how a hundred people can know one person and each love her for different reasons.  The grandma I grew up knowing was very authentic and comfortable with herself.  Nothing tended to go perfectly for her; things broke, tore, and caught on fire, and the animals always seemed to break loose when she was around.  But she always just kind of laughed through it, and--I guess after raising seven kids--she'd become this person who really didn't give much of a rip about anything unimportant.  She didn't wear make-up, bother much with her hair, or wear dressy clothes or shoes.  She was a decent housekeeper, but she didn't care if everything was put away just so, and she didn't seem to mind a little dust, especially on the high shelves.  She loved Grandad but found him irritating, often, and didn't mind his knowing it.  She was never a morning person.  She talked frankly on all subjects (including taboo ones) and especially enjoyed reminiscing about family experiences, which she remembered in great detail.  She loved to write letters, talk on the phone, embroider and sew for others, and make hospital and nursing-home visits.  She wasn't the best cook in the world, but she made killer cheesy eggs.  She went to church.  She loved all people, especially babies and children.  She ran around with my other grandma.  She liked me for exactly who I was. 

I am so disappointed that Alzheimer's Disease is stealing Grandma from me, bit by bit.  None of us lives forever, and she's ninety-two; still, I hate losing her.  I sit with her and try not to cry when I tell her: "I remember brushing your hair when I was a little girl, before you cut it short," or, "I remember staying the night and falling asleep talking to you in the dark." (This happened over and over, even after Cade was born.)  It rips my heart out to have become a stranger to this person who really, really knew me.  But I am drawn to her like a moth to a flame because--although I have been completely erased from her memory--she still loves Jesus and all people, especially babies and children.  I am drawn to her because there are bittersweet lessons to be learned at her side.  They involve being hospitable to strangers (some of whom, mysteriously, seem to know her?)...also how Jesus is unforgettable for so much longer than certain relatives and friends, even the ones she bathed and took to Vacation Bible School.  So I make the trip when I can (even though it wrecks me, inside, for weeks afterward), and I say things like: "I remember digging through your pocketbook during church."

She raises her eyebrows and asks: "Oh, really? What was in there?"

I shrug and answer: "Chewing gum.  Peppermints.  Kleenex."

She says: "Well, there probably wasn't much money in there.  I never had much of that."

And I think: no.  But you had so much and gave so much, and I love you more than I could ever say, and--even though you're right here beside me--I miss you like crazy.

Grandma B. with Aunt Joyce, Uncle Ronnie, Uncle Danny, and Uncle Richard. This was before Uncle Tom, Mom, and Aunt Ellie were born. Late 40's.

Grandma B. and Me - 1977ish

Grandma B. with Cade - 2000

Grandma B. with Mom and My Daughters - 2010


  1. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts on Grandmas and aging and losing things. You help me know your Grandma because God has given you a rich gift of capturing words and using them to help us know what it's like to be loved and remembered and what really, really matters. Thanks for using all the memories to help others of us not be afraid to mourn our losses. Joy DOES come in the morning. . .

  2. Brandee, thank you so much for sharing this. I totally understand. It is heart wrenching to watch someone you love slip away from you. It's agonizing to see them look at you like you're a stranger. My grandfather played such a huge role in my life, an he has Alzheimer's. It's especially hard this time of year. I try to focus on the memories of Christmas's past.

  3. Okay, I'm weeping again. You are right. Our stories are so much the same. This is truly beautiful. And I believe to the marrow of my bones that even though Mom's mind didn't know me, her spirit always did and does! May you find much comfort in the Love that surpasses all love. These hard things don't feel like Love, but we see Love in them, as He carries us through.