1 week ago: “Sweetheart, you’re home,” my grandpa whispered in her ear as he bent down to kiss her cheek and push the hair back from her forehead. Otherwise unresponsive, she nodded her head ever so slightly, a motion that his well-trained eyes immediately caught. He had kept his promise, and he had the satisfaction of knowing she knew it.
1950s: Flashing back to more than 60 years ago, my grandma was a saucy 14-year-old tired of her best friend always stealing her boyfriends away. There was a new boy in school, one that the above-mentioned best friend had her eye on. My grandma, deciding two could play at this game, made up her mind to get his attention before her friend did. One fine day, she walked up to the handsome boy, batted her eyelashes and said “Hello, Glenn.” I think he nearly fell off the windowsill he’d been sitting on.
If there’s one thing that can be said about her, it’s that she always gets what she wants. But I’m not sure she knew that day what she was bargaining for. I’m not sure. That boy turned out to be my grandpa. I don’t think she had any idea then that when she said “hello” she was greeting the man who would be with her for the rest of her life.
1960s: She was 30. They had four young kids. Life was going pretty much as could be expected. Suddenly, without warning, there was a twist in the story. She was diagnosed with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis which left her in a nearly constant state of pain. She lost the ability to run after her small children. The duties of cleaning and cooking were now his as well.She was the love of his life. He wasn’t going to accept this. There had to be a cure, and dagnabbit, he was going to find it. They went to England. Mexico. Tried every doctor, every treatment.
2000s: “He gave them hope,” she told me. “Who, grandma?” I asked. “The other women at the hospitals. A lot of them had been abandoned by their husbands once they found out about the disease. Once they realized that this person wasn’t going to be perfect anymore. But they saw how much he loved me, and he encouraged them.”
1960-2012: She didn’t get better. She was confined to a wheelchair, able to walk painfully with the aid of crutches on occasion. She couldn’t comb her own hair. He became her beautician as well as her nurse. She smiled through the pain, made jokes about how “old arthur” was troubling her and she didn’t think it was very nice of him.
It might seem as though she was the weak one, but actually the opposite was true. While he was her caregiver, he relied on her like an anchor. She was his sounding board, the only one who could keep calm when he blew his top. She was in pain, but I never heard her complain. She saw beauty in everything, something to be grateful for in every day.
1 week ago: “She loves you more than I do,” he confessed, with tears in his eyes. I glanced at my sister, then glanced back at the small form in the hospital bed, connected to too many monitors. “You know how I know?” he continued. I shook my head. “Because she loves unconditionally. I have conditions. But I’ve learned watching her, and I’m trying to be more like her—more like Christ, and love everyone. Addict. Prostitute. Homeless…” he trailed off. I knew he was right about the way she loved. It was something I’d been angry about from time to time, thinking she was too accepting. Now I realized my mistake. She’d had it right all along.
1990s: “Do you know how to spell love?” she asked. I was sitting across from her at the dining room table. I could tell this was a trick question, so I shook my head. “S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E. In capital letters” she told me. I nodded as she explained “So I give up what I want, my stubbornness, and he gives up what he wants. You know the nifty thing about that?” Again I shook my head. She grinned like a mischievous child and announced”we both get what we want!But not if we fight about it. Not if I insist on having my way.”
August 2012: He loved to fish. She did, too, but she couldn’t anymore. Regardless, nearly every summer our whole family took a trip to Colorado to stay in cabins in the mountains and go fishing. She wanted so much for him to have this vacation, even though the 10+ hour car trip had been more than hard for her. He was out fishing and I decided to take the opportunity to ask her to tell me some stories. “You know,” she started, “we thought about it. About getting divorced.” I was shocked. “You never told me that, grandma! When was this, and why?” She smiled as though the memory was funny. “When we were young, first married. We were fighting.” “So why didn’t you?” I asked. “Well, we sat down and talked about it and decided we loved each other very much and fooey on that!” I laughed. If only everyone would say fooey on that.
1 week ago: Medical history. The nurse wanted to know what to write down on her chart. It was after midnight. I racked my tired brain, trying to help my sister list everything. Stroke, two femur breaks, knee and hip replacements, gall bladder removal, bronchitis, pneumonia… I realized what a fighter she was. And how strong she was, having been through so much more than anyone else.
She was the perfect example of “fighting the good fight.” I will never forget her smile and the expression of love on her face her last day with us. She was in more pain than I will ever understand and yet she struggled to say “I love you” as we took turns crowding around her hospital bed. I will miss her more than words can express, but when I miss her I will take the time to stop and thank God for giving me Love in the form of the lovely woman who was my grandma.