Irma With An I
It is 3:37am. I am sitting at our communal desk at work and I am trying to recollect the earliest memory I have of my grandmother. While there are innumerous anecdotes my mind's eye conjures up, for the life of me, I don't remember there ever being a time when she hasn't been there.
My grandma, over the years, has delighted in the telling of my harrowing entrance into this world. To her credit, she never shied away from the negative aspects of my imminent and subsequent arrival. She would somewhat obstinately begin with just how angry she was when she learned my mom was expecting. To be frank, she had good reason. The mere fact that I made it from conception to birth had everything to do with God and the heroics of my mother and grandparents. But that is another story for another time. She does lovingly remind me that my mother brought me straight from the hospital to her house and that we have pretty much been inseparable since. She was thrilled when she finally managed to have one grandchild (and then great-grandchild) with her red hair. And in these last few years with her memory (and therefore her filter) fading she's finally confirmed what I always knew...that I am, indeed, her favorite. Kidding...sort of.
Growing up she taught me how to cook, sew, garden, craft, just to name a few. But, along with my grandfather, she also taught me about God and how to be a lady. Seriously...to this day I cannot pick up a phone to call a guy because she's in my head! She was the one I went to when a boy broke my heart or I just needed a empathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on. She picked out prom dresses with me and was even my matron of honor when I married. Now there was an awkward personal shower. This woman was the very essence of a wife and a mother. (This is not to discredit my own mother. My mom is irreplacable and has so many of the traits I see in my grandma). In my entire life I cannot think of even one time where my grandmother has put herself before anyone else. She spent over 50 years as a pastor's wife. My grandfather was who he was in part to the woman of faith at his side.
I learned what kindness and patience looked like from my grandma. And when I was 15, I began to see exactly how much love and strength she had in her when we began noticing the excrutiatingly slow decline of my grandfather when we began to lose him to Alzheimer's. She would care for him for eight years and then visit him regularly for another two years in the nursing home until, after 58 years of marriage, the Alzheimer's sadly won.
Even in her grief of the rapid decline of my grandpa in his final year, in my darkest hour, my grandmother set aside her own needs to tend to mine when we found a tumor on Sebastian's liver. She was with me in the doctor's office when we were told he needed tests right away. She was with me when we saw the tumor light up during the ultrasound thirty minutes later. And she was holding Sebastian in the waiting room when I was told that Seb had a tumor and it was more than likely cancer. She held me while I sobbed. She knew my pain all too well. She burried her second born son after carrying him for ten months. Then she burried her third son when his car was struck by a train. Yet even after so much grief and loss, it was her unrelenting faith that kept me strong. She held Seb on the first day of his hospital stay when I couldn't bare to even watch him get his blood drawn. She and my mother slept on cots with me in the ped's ward during Seb's chemo treatments. (There was even one ill-fated unplanned week long hospital stay where my grandma managed to sweet talk the nurses into a gowns, blankets, toiletries, snacks, coffee, etc. I was equally mortified and impressed). My grandmother knew her time with her husband was rapidly ending, yet she chose to be there for me and for Sebastian. She and I would end that year each alone, but together. We leaned on eachother.
Over these last nearly twenty years she's been without my grandfather she's been the spiritual head of our family. For my entire life I have taken a significant amount of comfort in the fact that, without fail, I knew my grandma was praying for me and my boys and our family. To say that I have been blessed with the grandparents I was given is an understatement.
This week has been a tough one. My grandma is ninety-four years old. And although Alzheimer's has begun to slowly steal her from me, I have had to really come to terms with the realization that as much as I need her here with me, she can't stay.
I watched her today in a hospital bed where she has been for the last four days suffering. She is suffering from confusion, severe pain, and fear. It is probably the first time in my life where, to me, she looks frail. She looks breakable. And other than holding her hand and reassuring her, I can't comfort her.
When is the point, if any, where we just want what's best for them? When do we put aside our own selfish wants and needs and put it all in God's hands? When do we let go? Can we let go?
The first day of my grandmother's hospital stay the nurse asked my grandma the requesit questions. The one that stood out to me was when she was asked if she wanted to live or die. It was a question about suicide. Even in her confusion she knew what the nurse was asking. And her response was, "I want to go home." The nurse was a bit confused, but my mom, sister, niece, and I knew exactly what she meant. Home is where her Heavenly Father is. Home is where three of her four children are. Home is where my grandfather is. Home is where she'll no longer have pain, confusion, and fear.
Even as I type this I can't prevent the tears. Hard as I try, I cannot wrap my mind around a world without Irma (with an I) in it. I have no idea what life will be like without my partner-in-crime, the Thelma to my Louise. Yet, she lived more than half of her life before me. In some stange way this brings me comfort. It means that I could be awaiting the arrival of my own yet to be determined partner-in-crime. And when said little one arrives I will have much wisdom to impart and the best anecdotes to tell. I can only strive to be half of the amazing woman that is my grandmother.
Then again...I have learned from the best.