TITLE: Bittersweet Inheritance
By Kristi Peifer
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Grandma Jean...I remember her being a person who loved parties and humor and being in the thick of excitement. I remember her impression of an ape--it's written in my mind in indelible ink! Why she did that particular impression escapes me now, but the image I carry reminds me that Grandma had a sense of humor.
Grandma also had a biting wit. At age sixteen, I was a bit of a late bloomer. I was interested in boys, but was too shy and skittish to pursue them. To this day, Grandma's taunt still gets under my skin. I remember her sing-songy, "Sweet sixteen and never been kissed! Sweet sixteen and never been kissed!" It was such a blow to my ego at the time.
For as long as I can remember, I've been told I'm my grandmother's child. As the first grandchild of Jean Marie Smitt Roberts, I was the apple of her eye, I'm told. No one could have known when I was born how much I would inherit from her.
I got Grandma's frame. Like Grandma, I'm thin, but have that awful spot in the middle with no muscle tone that leaves me looking like a beanpole that ate a volleyball. Grandma had the trouble spot, too. Ah, heredity!
Grandma was an accomplished pianist, and used her talents in ministry for the Lord Jesus Christ. My greatest accomplishment as a piano virtuoso was playing "Chopsticks." I never learned to play the keys, but I did learn other instruments and eventually became a vocalist. I shared a love of music with Grandma. I can only hope that my music will also bring glory to God.
The most striking comparison between Grandma and I is also easily the most disturbing. Each of us was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety-inducing tyrant that causes disturbing, intrusive thoughts, followed by compulsive actions to counteract them. This was not a trait I would've picked from the Sears catalog!
For many years the family didn't know what was wrong with Grandma. She was diagnosed late in life and refused to acknowledge her diagnosis.
My parents knew there was something not quite right with me from the time I was very young. Doctors didn't seem to have a clue what it could have been, so my parents did the best they could to help me navigate through my difficulties. In college, I was finally diagnosed with OCD by the same doctor who had tried to help my grandmother. This is where the similarities between Grandma and I ended. With the encouragement of my parents, I began a road that included psychotherapy and medications. In order to beat this beast, I had to acknowledge its existence.
Grandma's condition continued to deteriorate. By refusing to fight OCD, she had made herself completely bedridden. She could no longer do things for herself, as her limbs became deformed from lack of use and uncomfortable positioning in a hospital bed.
An occasional reminder from my Mom about how much like Grandma I was began to irritate me. Yes, we both pushed Mom's buttons. Yes, we both had OCD, but blast it, I was not my grandmother!
Despite the frustration the comparison held for me, I know there was some truth to it. Sometimes the words we don't want to hear can be exactly the wake-up call we need. Thank God Mom knew that. The message was clear--fight the disorder. Don't give in to it! You can make a life for yourself beyond the confines of OCD if you force yourself to confront it! Grandma did not make that choice, and she was paying dearly for it.
I have chosen to fight. I have chosen to deal with discomfort rather than succumb to helplessness. Sometimes I fail miserably, but I will keep trying.
Grandma's legacy is certainly multi-faceted. There are traits I inherited from her that I will always cherish. OCD is not one of them. The path Grandma took in her battle with this mental illness is not the path that I choose to take. However, the contrast in our experiences has taught me a few important lessons. I am not a victim to my genetic makeup. I am stronger than I think I am. The love and strength of God and the support of family can get me through anything. Thanks for the object lesson, Grandma Jean. I love you.
Jean Marie Smitt Roberts
(February 1927) - (December 2007)
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4 (NIV)
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