My grandma has gone on, and I keep thanking God that I had a short time to be with her before she died. I went to stay with her in December. I walked into her room and a potent smell practically choked me. It wasn’t a nice smell. It was laced with a strong disinfectant scent. People talk about the smell that they associate with the elderly in their last years, and how uncomfortable and unappealing it is. There were a good many things that were unappealing about my grandmother’s slow release from this life. The things that didn’t appeal to her were the hardest for me to watch her struggle through.
She was 93. So many of her friends had died already. She felt she did not connect with the younger generations who remained. She was restless to join her generation beyond this life. She spoke of death often, always with apologies and assurances to me. She knew it made me uncomfortable, but, for her, it was a subject she needed to talk to me about. She thought of death continually. She welcomed it because she had hope of what was to come. She didn’t know why God had allowed her to live to such a great age when the others of her childhood were either dead or not cognizant anymore. There were times she became despondent, wrapped up in her loneliness. There were times when she lashed out in anger, frustrated she wasn’t capable of changing her situation. There were times when she made subtle jabs, irritated with everyone and everything because she felt powerless. Why could no one do something to help her? Why had God chosen for her to stay when the people she loved were in a better place…without her?
My grandmother was a tiny, tiny woman. Not even five feet tall. The spirit in that tiny body was Amazonian. She had so much will and determination. She used to tell me stories of how she’d decide to do something, and if her husband gave the okay, she’d do it herself. She painted half of their house one day, getting a friendly neighbor to help her, while my grandpa was at work. He came home, shook his head, and grinned at her. He adored her. She adored him. I never knew my grandpa. He died when my mom was ten. My grandma never remarried. She told me many times that she’d never had the desire to remarry.
Your grandpa and I had a grand marriage. We understood each other. I thought about remarrying, but I was satisfied. That’s all.
She said it many times because I asked her many times. I wanted to hear it. For her to feel so satisfied with that one love, that one beautiful union, showed me how much a woman could be in love. She had more than one proposal, more than one opportunity to embark on a second marriage, but that had not appealed to her.
Last year, she lay in a hospital bed, day in and day out. For a woman who liked to be with people, this was the most unappealing of all. She was tortured by quietness. An entire wall and a portion of another were lined with shelves overhead, where all her books were stored. She read and she read and she read. She read until she was sick of books, sick of television, sick of that room, sick of the food and the sleep and the peace and quiet. But she could not get up and leave. It took her great effort just to shift her body to one side or to the other in the bed.
I would come into her room and talk to her. I wanted to talk to her, but it required me to speak in a strained, raised voice because she could not hear me otherwise. She ached to do something, to be involved. She hunted for anything that might be bothering me, and then she would try to fix it. It would become a matter she couldn’t let go of, regardless of my attempts to tell her it was okay. But I realized it wasn’t okay to her because she needed to be needed, and she needed me to let her help me.
When I first walked into that room, I was overwhelmed with the smell, with the things I needed to do to clean and care for my grandmother. But I’ve had children. I know that love does not spring from doing the pleasing things; it springs from doing the unappealing things borne of frailty and dependence. I began to crave the touch of her soft, wrinkled skin. I rubbed her motionless feet, so tiny and curled. And when I asked, “Do you want me to keep rubbing your feet?” her weak, muffled voice would come from the pillow, “All day long.” For a short moment, I brought her something that appealed. And now, she is in a place where she knows nothing but all that appeals to her. For that is Who God is. He is the Goodness Source. Nothing appeals without Him.