I wouldn’t trade this past 15 months for anything. It was worth every sacrifice made. I am profoundly grateful for the time I had and with my grandparents, especially the precious time with my grandmother. I was afforded 15 months to reciprocate all the love she showed me as a little girl, a teenager, an adult. While these past 15 months weren’t without stress and worry, there was an abundance of laughter, smiles, joy, love, and lessons to last a lifetime.
The thought of writing my last entry in this journal is very emotional for me. It has become such an outlet and priceless way for me to record the most challenging and cherished period in my life. I read through some previous entries and thought it would be appropriate to repost a few excerpts here as I close out this journal...
August 18, 2010: Etta seemed sad today. I pulled her chair towards me and held her hand. When our eyes meet, time seems to stand still. All the worries of the world, all the trauma, all the changes, and all the years just melt away…I find myself a little girl again, sitting with my grandmother at her vanity table and the only choice to be made is whether it’s a pink or red lipstick day.
August 26, 2010: On Sunday, I had taken some pictures during our visit. I brought some of them with me today. When I showed them to Etta, I quickly noticed the look of concern on her face. She hesitated, pointed to herself in the picture, and said, "Who is this?" I responded, "It's you! I can see why you wouldn't recognize yourself with that long, blonde, Barbie hair!" I showed her a mirror and she looked at herself but then said, "I think you might be mistaken... that isn't me in the picture." I just kissed her on the forehead and changed the subject. As I think back on this moment, my heart trembles a bit at the thought of her not recognizing me. I know it may sound selfish, but I just got my grandma back...I am not ready to lose her again. Sure things are different now in so many ways...and yet still the same too.
I CHERISH my visits with them. The chance to return all the love that my grandmother gave me as a child....and the chance to know my grandfather like never before.
Many know this already, but my bond is especially close with Etta. My mother married my dad when I was almost 4. I had known Etta since I was a baby but officially became a Jennings in 1979. When my parents got married and dad was adopting Stephen & I, Etta expressed one concern about Dad entering into an "instant family" situation. She wanted to be certain that she was our grandma. That was it and that she was. Now, I find myself with the same concern expressed some 30+years ago...I just want her to be grandma. Not Alzheimer's. Not the owner of a condemned house. Not the mother of a incarcerated son. Not confined to a wheelchair wearing diapers. Just my grandma.
October 16, 2010: I have thought about this more tonight, that is, the issue of James and Etta dying. Part of me is relieved that they will pass from this Earth in loving care and that they did not die in their home under such poor conditions. And part of me wishes there was enough time for reconciliation to occur with those who have maybe been hurt. But I know God doesn't work that way and that is why we are commanded to love one another. After all, it is easy to love a loveable person. Our challenge as believers is to love those that perhaps aren't so easy to love. That is what GRACE is about...what MERCY is about. COMPASSION. Are any of us really worthy anyway?
Our days are numbered. We just don't know when our time will come. We can't wait or put off reaching out to others. We can't hope they will reach out to us first. We have to seize those moments-
for ourselves, for the other person. I feel like I have done that in this situation. As a result, I am overwhelmed, in a multitude of ways, by the place my grandparents have in my life now. While I often feel overwhelmed with weariness from the complexity of the situation, I am equally overwhelmed by the love and grace that is demonstrated everyday through my interactions with James and Etta. They can certainly be challenging at times, but they have ALWAYS returned to a level of peace and trust when just a little bit of patience and kindness is extended. I would venture to say we all have someone in our lives we could extend a hand to? Take the first step towards reconcilliation...don't waste another moment.
October 18, 2010: When it was time to go to the beauty shop, Etta was clearly upset. She told me, "I'm not mad at you or anything, but I don't want to get my hair done, not today." This is SO UNLIKE her as Etta loves anything to do with hair, make up and jewelry...(and it clicks...must be where I got it from). I reminded her of how much she enjoyed it before...and then I tried to get into her mind. What could she possibly be worried about? I told her, "you know, Etta, getting your hair done here is really great because you don't have to pay a dime for it!" Ok, kind of, sort of true! I mean, I write the checks...To this, she was so happy. "Really? I don't have to pay today? What about tipping?"...And like a light switch, I remembered our conversations of hair days gone by and pulled out my script...."I will stay with you...I will take you back to your room....You don't have to pay a thing...you aren't permitted to tip...I will transfer you to the sink chair and the dryer....I will ask her to make sure the water isn't too hot or cold...I will hold the towel up by your head so it won't run into your hair...Yes, James knows you are getting your hair done and he is ok....
March 4, 2011: ....Or, as she does face her final days, that I don’t know exactly what’s going on. I never want to be left in the dark…the way I was when my uncle cared for her…the way I was as James neared death. While don’t like to think about Etta’s passing, I know the day will come. Each time these thoughts come to mind, I beg God to orchestrate those moments to include me. I can’t bear the thought of her being alone or selfishly, the thought of not saying good-bye to her. As such, I remind her everyday just how much I love her and the reasons why. I look her right in the eyes and express this to her each time I depart because I never know when her last day will come. When that day does come, I will have a peace in knowing she undoubtedly knew the incredible place she always occupied in my heart and that her spirited and loving ways live on through me. TBC...