“Granny, I love you!” My words hung in the air, an unclaimed gift.
I leaned over, burying my face into her soft bosom, breathing in the familiar aroma of love. Tears spilled over my face, their warm caress bringing no comfort.
I raised my head and looked into her eyes. Focused and still, they stared sightlessly across the room. Her hand lay cradled in mine, still warm with the memory of life. The steady beep-beep of the heart monitor continued to echo, a deceptive anomaly, a pretense of life.
Slowly I walked over to the window and looked out at the mountains, their leaves just beginning to blush with color. A drizzling rain fell, liquid sorrow running in thin rivulets across the windowpane. Fog lay in a thick cloak across the valley and around the base of the mountains. It was early Sunday morning, the first in October, the Lord’s Day. Strains of worship music played softly in the background, my attempt to fashion peace in this cold place.
It was finally over, bittersweet knowledge, yielding both rest and grief. I looked back at her still form. Had it really been fifteen years? One third of my life, years I would never regain. Yet standing there, I knew if life were mine to live again, I would choose the same path.
We brought Granny home to live with us in January 1991 over the arguments of her doctor.
“Don’t do this,” he had said, “She won’t live six months.”
“For my Granny, I’ll stand on my head for six months,” was my reply.
And so, our new life began. Granny was given the girls’ room. Alison moved to the playroom and Crystal’s things were stored in cardboard boxes in backs of closets as she returned to college. A hospital bed was moved in and a hydraulic lift. Home health was called and early one foggy morning a tired aide with blond roots appeared to instruct us in “the proper way to bath a stroke patient.” I spent long hours bathing, turning, changing diapers, feeding, crying and praying. Lord, what had I done?
Classes at the university became my salvation, a legitimate reason to escape the horrific burden living in the girls’ room. Out of her small savings, I hired help, silently blessing her frugal ways. Days ran into weeks and weeks into months. The promise of a 6-month-deliverance faded. Money for help ran out.
Life settled into a routine. I rose early, before the sun’s rays climbed over the mountain or the patter of feet demanded attention. Slipping into Granny’s room, I rolled her over and woke her with a song; “Hello my honey, hello my baby, hello my sweetie pie.” My hands moved easily over her ancient skin, transparent as parchment paper. Rolling her to one side, I adjusted the catheter tube, untaped the soiled diaper and tenderly cleansed her skin. Warm oatmeal waited as I gently pried grasping fingers from the bedrail. Wash. Dry. Kiss. Powder. Lotion. Comb. Sing. Laugh. And so we lived. Eventually, I removed the catheter and sent it out with the trash, tied up in a Wal-Mart bag.
We bought a house. I started a home business. Life happened. Always there was Granny. We attended church in shifts. Performances, awards, vacations, always with one of us absent, left to care for Granny. The kids grew up, some married or left for school. I finished my degree. Grandchildren came. My brother died, and one niece. Mom lost her self, stolen by Alzheimer’s disease when we weren’t looking. Still I cared for Granny, bathing, changing, feeding, doctoring, and loving. Always loving. The work became natural, like carrying a sleeping child. Even though arms ache, you never consider laying it down. I often stood outside her door watching for the familiar rise and fall of the cover or the gentle pulse in the side of her neck. I was so afraid she would die and so afraid she would not. I spoke only of my love for her, shame covering the true weariness in my soul.
But nothing lasts forever and deliverance did come, for her and for me. Illness, mercifully short, a simple spot of pneumonia freed her soul and forgave my debt. The steady beep of the monitor grew silent. The doctor came in, a kind man with hollow cheeks and wiry eyebrows that sprouted above spotted glasses.
“You’ve done all you could,” he murmured.
And so I had.
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