Tag Archives: grandmother

Purpose

“The important thing is that men should have a purpose in life. It should be something useful, something good.”
– Dalai Lama

purposeblog2I visited my grandmother in the nursing home over the weekend.  She has Alzheimer’s Disease and is, unfortunately, in the later stages.  Meaning, she has no idea who any of us are.  And while this is still heartbreaking, most of us in the family have gotten used to it.  We know what’s coming when we visit her.  We’re ready for it, and we expect it.  We’ve learned to live with it.

Unfortunately, however, she hasn’t.

One thing she kept repeating over and over again during our visit was this one same question, “What am I supposed to be doing?”

Each time she asked the question (not remembering she had just asked it seconds earlier), I would respond the same way, “You’re not supposed to be doing anything, MawMaw. Nothing at all.” And each time, she’d say, “I’m supposed to just sit here?”  I’d tell her yes, and then the cycle would repeat itself.

And then, in addition to her question, I started noticing other things around the room that seemed connected to what she was getting at.

Now, we weren’t visiting in my MawMaw’s private room.  When we arrived at the nursing home, she had been moved to the ‘day room’ for activities with the other residents (which she didn’t seem to want to participate in).  So, while visiting her, we also saw a lot of the other patients.  And while there were a variety of levels of illness (as well as a wide variety of personalities), one common theme seemed to stand out at me.  The theme that my sweet grandmother was trying to convey with that one question she kept asking me.

The search for purpose.

Take one lady for instance.  She kept pushing her little wheelchair around firmly explaining to people that they were not allowed to go certain places.  In fact, she’d block their path if they tried.  (Which in one case resulted in a kick to the leg of the other person in his wheelchair as he was simply trying to go through the doorway. Yikes!)  While little Miss Bossy Pants was an annoyance to all concerned, I started to realize that she was just appointing herself with a purpose.  A misconstrued purpose, maybe, but a purpose nonetheless.  Her job was to tell people where to go and not to go.

And this same lady at one point (when everyone was apparently in their appointed places and she had allowed herself a break from guard duty), rolled herself over to a hamper near the door and, with curiosity, opened the lid and peered in.  What she saw was a mound of dirty, used towels.  So, what does she do?  One by one (until the nurse caught and stopped her), she pulled them out, placed them neatly into her lap, and started folding them and putting them back into the hamper.

She had found a purpose. Folding laundry.

Another woman sat at her table and made bread. No, she didn’t have any flour or shortening or bowls or an oven or any of that. Not that you or I could see, anyway.  But nevertheless, she sat at her table and mixed and kneaded the dough, placed it on the table, patted it out, etc. It took me a while to figure out what she was doing, but once I did, that same thing hit me again.  She had found her purpose.  She had to bake biscuits.  And she was content in doing so.

In every person lay the same idea.  One woman chose to sing, another chose to yell at her kids (who weren’t there)…the list goes on and on.  What looks to those of us in our “right” minds as unnecessary chatter and activities, to them are anything but unnecessary.  They are, in fact, very necessary.  To their livelihood.  To their well-being.

To their sense of purpose.

Which brings me back to my MawMaw.  While sitting there, I was reminded of a quote I once heard.  I couldn’t remember it exactly, but when I got home, I looked it up.

“I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply ALL my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.”
– Og Mandino

Those are some powerful words there.  How much do we take our purpose for granted?  How much do we complain when we have to go to work, or when we have to drive kids here and there, or when we have yet another activity to have to show up at or to have to devote time to?  Do we ever just stop to bask in the beautiful, yet forgotten, meaning of it all?

We have a purpose.

I turned to my sweet grandmother, with all of this on my mind, and I finally had an answer for her.  The next time she asked me, “What am I supposed to be doing?,” I had her answer.

“MawMaw.  All you have to do is just let us love you.”

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It’s time to rest.

I know that wasn’t enough for her.  And I know she won’t remember my answer for any length of time.  But regardless of whether it seeps into her aging mind on some level, it still remains true.  No, there are no more children to take care of.  No more laundry to fold.  No more dinners to cook or beds to make or groceries to be shopped for.  My MawMaw is right – there is nothing left that she is supposed to ‘do.’  It is time for her, whether she wants to or not, to simply rest.  That’s all.  Just rest.  And to a woman who spent her life as a wife, mother of nine, step-mother to many others, and grandmother and great-grandmother to too many to count, I’m sure that’s a tough blow to take.  But whether she realizes it or not, although there are no physical activities left for her to take care of, her purpose still remains strong and true.

She’s still here because she still has a lesson to teach us.

She may not realize that, but I do.

Thank you, MawMaw.  Because you are serving your purpose, I’ll now go on to serve mine.

(And I’ll try to remember to appreciate every moment of it….)

***

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”
– Carl Jung

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Family Tree

“I find the family the most mysterious and fascinating institution in the world.”
– Amos Oz

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My family tree is a little lop-sided.

Okay, I guess I should explain what I mean by that.

I come from two completely opposite families.  On one side – my mother’s side – you have the big, boisterous family.  My mom is one of 9 biological brothers and sisters and then, later in life, added so many step-siblings to that total that I’ve lost count.  family2bAnd then she herself ended up having five children, of which I’m the oldest, so you can imagine that there weren’t many moments of quiet and solitude in my life while growing up.  When I think of that side of the family – the siblings, the cousins, the aunts, the uncles, etc. – I think of laughter and loudness.  Of drama and emotion.   Of lots and lots of outspoken love and endless support. Variety.  Open-mindedness.  Freedom.

And then.  Well, then there’s my father’s side.

My father is an only child.  His mother, my grandmother, is also an only child.  There are no aunts.  No uncles.  No cousins.  It’s always been…well, just us.  And when I think of that side of the family, the thoughts that pop into my mind couldn’t be more different than when I think of the other.  family5bNo, with this side, I think of calm.  Of quiet.  Of dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s.  Of keeping emotion and drama locked up tight and making sure you don’t stand out.  Blending.  Conforming.  Behaving.

Now, I understand that I have just painted this side in a more negative light, but I really don’t mean to do that.  There are pros and cons of both sides.  For instance, on my mom’s side, it’s a little easy to get lost in the crowd.  No one notices everything you do because they have their eyes on so many others.  There will be weeks, months even, without phone calls.  (But that’s okay, because we all know we’ll pick right back up where we left off whenever we do cross paths again.)

But on my dad’s side?  No, there is no getting lost in the crowd.  You are always thought of.  Missed.  Examined under a microscope.  Expected to pick up the phone and make contact in regular intervals.  You are definitely remembered, never forgotten about, and constantly noticed.

Well, as you can imagine, being someone that comes from such different ends of the spectrum has managed to play with my head a little.  The other day, at the insistence of a bored friend, I took an unofficial online personality test.  As I went through the test answering questions about such things as my preference of being alone or in a crowd, and where I stand when I walk into a crowded room (middle or edge?), I noticed that some of my answers were contradicting each other.  And that seemed odd to me.  Do I like crowds or don’t I?  Do I like being the center of attention or don’t I? Taking this test made me think of another odd inconsistency I’ve noticed in my life.  Any time I’m headed to a large get-together, I dread it and think I’d rather be doing anything else – and then, I get there, and I have a blast.   What the heck is up with that?!

Now that I think about it, I can’t help but realize that these inconsistencies in my personality most likely stem from the two opposing influences I had growing up.  Yeah, yeah, I know – everybody blames everything on their parents [cue the mental image of me lying on a couch in a psychiatrist’s office telling him all about my crazy childhood…].  But seriously, in this case, I think I’m probably on to something.  We are influenced by our family, whether we like it or not.

Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this blog.

Some of you may have seen the post I wrote about my Grandma a few blogs ago.  Thinking that I had done a good thing by writing it, I sent her a copy.  Now, think back to what I just told you about my two families.  This Grandma?  Well, this is the grandma from my father’s side of the family.  The ‘keep what you think to yourself’ side.  The ‘don’t go airing our business for all the world to see’ side.  The ‘can’t you keep your mouth shut for once?’ side.  And, well, as you can probably guess, Grandma was none too happy with what I wrote about her.

Now, I knew this was a possibility.  I did.  I haven’t been completely blind for the last 35 years.  But I thought that since I was telling about this wonderful thing that she was doing, I hoped that maybe she could see that and realize that others reading her story might actually do some good in the world.  And honestly, I thought that it showed how proud I am of her.  Being that we’re the ‘shhhh…don’t talk about important stuff’ family, I thought this would be a way to show her that I think she’s pretty darn cool.  But, alas.  Nope.  That’s not how she saw it apparently.  She thinks I made her look “mean” and that I shouldn’t be talking about private things in such a public way.

*sigh*

Now, I could pretend that it didn’t bother me.  And I did.  For a while.  But as soon as I hung up the phone, the pretending stopped.  The part of me that is like the other side of the family started to peek through, and immediately the tears started falling.  My boyfriend Richard had overheard the whole thing and immediately came and wrapped me in his big ‘everything’s gonna be okay’ arms and told me how proud he was of me for writing it.  Of course, I was upset and told him that I felt like ‘never writing again,’ etc. etc.  So he suggested an alternative.  Rather than not writing, maybe I should just go write another blog, only this time write it just for myself.  Go back to the private blog world for a bit and write the things that I really feel.  Just vent, get it over with, and then delete it and move on.  No missyspublicjunk this time.  Just write some private junk all for myself and get all that crap out on paper. (Heh…little did he know, he suggested the very thing that I already do about him all the time!  Shhhh.)  So, thinking that was some pretty good advice, I headed to the computer to do just that.

And here I am.

I struggled in my brain with not posting this publicly, but suddenly it occurred to me that I was fighting those opposing forces in my head.  Yes, I could write this privately and make that side of the family (i.e. that side of my personality) happy, or I could stay true to the real me and just go ahead and post it.  And if there’s something I’m learning as I get older, it’s to do that “staying true to the real me” thing a heck of a lot more often than I used to.  And, so far, it’s made for a much happier me in the process.  So, I think I’m going to stick to it.

But, oddly, a funny thing happened as I started writing.  The anger and bitterness that I thought I felt towards my Grandma suddenly started giving way to something else.  Rather than concentrating on the fact that she was upset, I concentrated on the why part.  She said that she thought I made her look ‘mean.’  Mean?  Really?  I went back and reread my blog and I didn’t see that at all.  What I see is not ‘mean.’  What I see is ‘strength.’  At first I thought maybe my writing didn’t convey what I had intended.  But as I read, and reread, I realized that it does.  It doesn’t make her look mean, it makes her look strong.

And suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head.  Maybe ‘strong,’ in her mind, equates to ‘mean’?  My grandmother grew up in a very different time than I did.  She grew up in a time where women were to play their appointed ‘roles’ and nothing more.  She was a wife.  A mother.  A cook.  A housekeeper.  A caregiver.  She played the role of her time perfectly.  She was subservient to her husband.  She never got a drivers license (even though she worked for years) because it was not a woman’s place to drive.  She kept her opinions to herself if they didn’t match the man’s opinion, because it wasn’t her place to speak up.  She was a woman.

Well, this woman is now a widow.  She now has no man to take care of her and is forced to do things on her own.  And now, more than ever, I see her spunk shining through.  She is the woman who has to kill snakes when they get too close to the house (see previous blog).  She is the woman who has to fix the plumbing problems when they pop up.  She is the woman who has to be ready, no matter the circumstances, to fend for herself.  She is alone.  And in this loneliness, whether she likes it or not, a strength has developed.  She is tougher.  And that strength, that toughness, is what I was trying to convey in my blog.  And, as evidenced by her discomfort with it, I think I must have succeeded.

So am I sorry I wrote it?  No.  Not one bit.  I meant every word of it.  And will I continue writing what’s on my mind?  You bet I will.  Of course there are some things that will still remain private (I’m not an idiot), but the things like this – this blog that has been stirring inside my mind for the past 24 hours begging to get out – these words will be posted.  They just have to be.  I’m a writer.  I have no choice but to get it out.

I have no choice but to be true to me.

Why?  Because I’m strong.  Just like my grandmother.

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(Oh, and P.S. – you can bet your patooty that I won’t be sending this one to her.  Rebel?  Maybe.  But death wish?  Nope.)

***

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
– George Bernard Shaw

Maw-Maw’s Smile

 

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”Those with dementia are still people and they still have stories and they still have character and they’re all individuals and they’re all unique.  And they just need to be interacted with on a human level.” 
– Carey Mulligan

My family has just been introduced to the world of Alzheimer’s/dementia for the first time.  My sweet grandmother – a mother of nine and grandmother and great-grandmother to so many that we have lost count – has forgotten who she is.

But we haven’t.

My sister gave birth to twin baby girls earlier this year.  The babies were premature and were very close to not surviving.  But after months of intensive care at the hospital and even more intensive, above-par care from their mommy, they were able to come home.  This past weekend, they made their first trip to see their Great- “Maw-Maw” in her new home in a nursing care facility.

And, let me tell you – it was nothing short of magic.

Some of us in the family had almost forgotten what it felt like to see Maw-Maw truly happy.  Surrounded by new faces in a new environment, anyone would be a little confused at first.  But poor little Maw-Maw can’t seem to break out of the confusion that is plaguing her.  Every few minutes she again asks where she is and why she is there.  She has witnessed many family tragedies in her life, including the most recent loss of her husband, and can’t seem to remember any of them.  Watching her face as she re-learns the family’s sad news over and over again has been very hard on our family, to say the least.  As she hears, yet again, about the losses we’ve suffered for what seems to her to be the ‘first’ time, we too feel the sting all over again.  Her inability to remember translates to our inability to forget.  This sweet little lady who has always managed to see the bright side of things, now seems to have fallen into a darkness that none of the rest of us can understand.  Sadly, this is the truth to Alzheimer’s.

But.

Then, there are moments like this past weekend.

This weekend, the darkness cleared even if just for a few moments.  As Maw-Maw took both of those beautiful twin miracles into her arms, her face lit up.  And there before us was the infamous smile that we had all come to miss so much.  For a few moments, she was yet again our mother.  Our grandmother.  And now, as evidenced by the love in her eyes as she stared down at the new additions to the family, our great-grandmother.  She was back.

And it was beautiful.

I guess that’s the key to dealing with these situations.  Yes, the family is suffering.  Yes, we are going through a hard time and we feel like we’ve lost a loved one, even though she sits right there in front of us.  And yes, most of the time, the circumstances are going to be sad ones.  But there will be silver linings.   There will.  And those are the moments that you have to hold on to with all of your might.  Take snapshots – literally and figuratively.  Remember these moments and cherish the fact that the person you love is still there.  They are still with you.  And for a few brief, shining moments, they are still themselves.   And those moments will be the ones that will serve to help heal you both.

So grateful for one more glimpse of Maw-Maw’s smile.

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