For me, there's a little bit of bittersweetness involved in going home. Things don't change much up there. It's a small town. I see a few people I graduated high school with at the park. We spend our time mostly with my family and trying to get a little downtime at the hotel (yay for indoor swimming pools!). That downtime is incredibly precious to us. Mostly because a visit to my family rarely comes without some kind of drama. And this time was no different. Only the drama this time has me feeling a bit more melancholy than usually...it's a little more bitter than sweet this time. Forgive me for venting about it here, just a bit. This time, the drama revolves around my Grandma and her husband and involves a differing of opinions between myself and my mom and a sister. It's complicated....
My grandma Lilly has always been a big part of my family. When my mom was younger and kept leaving her first abusive husband, my grandma was always there for her. When there were financial troubles, grandma was there to help. We spent time with her on weekends, often helping her at the laundromat and then being treated to ice cream afterwards. Even before all of this, my grandma was a spunky lady. There are a lot of family legends/rumors surrounding her. My grandma was born in Arkansas and raised in Missouri. First major rumor....that she married too young and it was declared invalid because of her age. Second one...married a thief and testified against him in order to save herself. There's some question about whether or not she actually divorced. Third marriage was to an abusive man who caused her to miscarry at five months along. Fourth marriage was my grandfather. They had five children together before splitting up. And fifth marriage to her current husband, J. They've been married for almost 30 years now, I believe. Obviously, my grandma is important to me. I named my baby girl after her (minus the extra "l"). But here's the thing....my grandma has been deteriorating slowly due to Alzheimers. It started about 10 years ago or so. She started forgetting simple things. The first Christmas my husband spent with my family (when we were still just dating), my grandma invited him to come out and pick strawberries from her garden the next day. In December. In northern Minnesota. Simple things. And then...it got worse. Grandma started wandering. She forgot to put on her clothing before heading outside. She was found miles from home and thought she was meeting someone who would take her back to Missouri. And then she got combative and lashed out at people. Slowly, slowly, she deteriorated. By the time my Lily was born, she could barely walk and couldn't talk anymore. She made noises, but nothing understandable. We actually managed to get a picture of her holding Lily, looking down at her and smiling just slightly. I wish I could share it with you all, but right now, it's on a different computer!
The funny thing about Alzheimers....it's never predictable. I know, it sounds like another disease we all know too well! Sometimes, a person can go years without losing ground. Sometimes, it's like they're been sent down a steep hill in a barrel, rolling down faster than you could imagine. Shortly after Lily was born, my grandmother lost the ability to get around. Her husband had an accident and wasn't able to help her the way she needed. He caved to the pressure and finally agreed to put her into a private nursing home with a fantastic reputation, excellent facilities, and some special accomodations that we were sure grandma would enjoy. J intended for it to be temporary, thinking that once he recovered, he'd be able to take care of her himself again. Unfortunately, aging doesn't make recovering easy. And it certainly doesn't happen the same way it did when you were young...you're never quite the same again. For the past four years, grandma has been in the nursing home. She's got a window that looks out into the forest so she can watch the birds, one of her favorite past-times. J visits her every day, without fail. He's there for her. He's cared for her and done as much as he possibly could to make her comfortable, to talk to her, to make sure she's never lonely and gets all the care she needs. It's been incredible to see, to be honest. It's obvious that he has loved her and has been devoted to her.
Here's where the drama comes in....my hometown is a small, small town. Rumors fly, people make snap judgements and decide what they want to think happens behind closed doors. In the past few months, J has spent some time with a single widow from his church. I don't know the details. No one really does, I think. I don't know if they've visited behind closed doors, in each other's homes, or just met for coffee or a meal here and there. But the rumor mill is going and you can imagine what it's saying. For me, I couldn't care less. If J has found some small amount of happiness and companionship with someone who can offer him support, I don't feel it's my place to judge, no matter what might be happening behind those closed doors. It's their business, not mine. And I don't believe my grandma is capable of minding either. I have a hard time seeing who they could possibly be hurting. My mother and sister...have a very different opinion. And my mom expresses it freely. She admitted to telling my grandma that she had to outlive J. "Hang on until he's gone because you have to outlive him." It hurts me to hear that. To hear that my mom is spreading bitterness and using the time she spends with grandma to try to reach into her mind in the name of spite....it breaks my heart a little bit. My mom has stated several times that the life my grandma is living right now currently has little or no value. But yet she's so determined that my grandma should outlive her husband? My grandma should suffer longer because of spite? It just seems so wrong to me. I'm not saying I want my grandma to die early. But whatever God has planned for the rest of her days, they should be filled with the loving touch of her husband, children, and grandchildren. They shouldn't be filled with spiteful words whispered into her ear. Fidelity is definitely something to be valued and cherished and strived for, but none of us can judge the fidelity of another. We don't know. And here's the real thing that gets me...I have the urge to ask my mother and sister just who they think they are to judge the fidelity of another person? My youngest sister is the product of an affair my mom had while married to her second husband. And my sister's marriage ended after she confessed to a one-night-stand. Why is it so easy for them to forget their own sins and judge so unfairly the sins of another?
Okay...I need to end there. Getting it out doesn't seem to be helping much. I just feel powerless in the situation and I think that's what's bothering me. I want my grandma's end-times to be filled with beauty and peace and love. She wasn't a perfect woman, but she was special to me and she deserves all that. And just so I don't leave you with a bitter after-taste from reading my post, I've got a picture of my grandma with my children and me and a news article about her husband that you all might enjoy: