I spent two weeks in Utah and eight hours in Arizona over the holidays, and took advantage of the opportunity to visit with my paternal and maternal grandmothers and my husband's grandparents.
It was as if I got to know them for the first time. For Grandma and Grandpa Toler, this was nearly my first opportunity, as our prior visits had been limited and usually focused on conversations with others in the room. This time, we got to spend an evening alone with them cooking, visiting, watching the Cosby Show, and putting them to bed. They were mostly lucid and shared jokes, poked fun of themselves (she called her Depends 'these glorious things' and he teased that he wasn't going anywhere so we'd always know where to find him), tender with each other, and seemed genuinely distressed when we left them. The evening was bittersweet as it may have been our last and if we did see them again, they would certainly be much changed.
For my maternal grandmother, it truly was like meeting her all over again. How had I supposedly spent so much time with this wonderful, spunky, kind woman over my 32 years of life and never really gotten to know her? At 93, she is the most mentally and physically capable of all our grandparents (perhaps combined). She whooped us all at cards and wryly kept us all entertained with her facial expressions and the unexpected saucy comment (while patting her backside to get the circulation going again, I asked her, teasing, if she wanted help spanking herself, she said, referring to her soon-to-be-arriving sons but knowing how devious she sounded, no, that's what she let the men folk do). I spent real time with her, got to know her hopes and dreams (she frets over why she is still here -- I believe she is still lucid, independent, and firmly grounded in her testimony of Christ to share her faith with the posterity she loves so much), and cried a bit with her. My time with her was a gift, as I feel I have added a new friend, mentor and companion--a grandmother--to those who care for and guide me. Not that she wasn't any of those things before, I just hadn't taken advantage of my opportunity to know it. I am eternally grateful that now, I have.
Finally, I visited my 90+ Updike grandmother in Mesa, Arizona on an unexpected, long layover there. I am sure this will be the last time I see her. She has long suffered from dementia and physical ailments, but she fiercely refuses to go, even repulsing the husband who has visited her from the other side of the veil, believing he is still trying to "boss her around."
I came prepared for my visit with my laptop so I could explain who I was and how I was related to her, where I lived, that I was married, in a doctoral program, and living between Philadelphia and London. I had been warned that it would not be a pleasant visit. But it was, on the contrary, spiritual and uplifting.
With each new revelation (they were all new to her - each time), she would tell me funny things and relate them to her life experience. You don't have children? Oh, that's good! I had so many boys - they were such trouble! You've been in college for 10 years? (OK, so I overestimated by a few years...) I should go back and get my masters so you can brag about your grandma - ok, I'm just teasing, but it is important to get as much schooling as you can and apply oneself, keep learning, and understand how to use money wisely. How much does your school cost, and how much longer will it take? (The price seemed exorbitant to her, but she was adamant in helping me with $500 or $1,000 from her stores of cash in various banks. I was touched, but of course refused.) How old are you? 32? Is that all? (What, do I look 45?) I've lost track of my age - I must be at least 40 or 50.
And so it went. When I pressed her to accept grandpa's invitation to come home to heaven because he loved and missed her, she looked at me with wide eyes and asked me if he had been bossing me around, too. She couldn't go until she had her house and garden in order - so much she needed still to do. I wonder if that determined woman will ever let go.
But I was grateful for my magical hour--I was told she rarely is that sweet or coherent. I had been holding her or her hand for a while and then I finally grabbed her wrinkled and tooth-chipped face and said "Grandma, I love you!" With clarity dawning on her face for just a moment, she said, "I love you, too, and am so pleased to have a granddaughter as educated and beautiful as you!"
It was all I could do to not lose it right then and there. That was more than the goodbye I was hoping for - it was a genuine miracle. She asked me when I would come and see her again, and I was evasive in saying I would write soon, which I fully intend to do. As long as she can read, I can write. Perhaps that would be a new practice to begin with all of my grandparents in this new year as I take advantage of my wonderful old/new relationships.