Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Credit (Where It's Due)

People die all the time. You all know this is true. Some people experience death more than others, and very few have (so far) been saved the pain of losing a good friend, a dear spouse, or even a child.

Death is the one certainty that ties all of us together. Not even birth is fully shared, for some are denied even that privilege. But death cannot be denied. It can be thrust upon us too early, it can be delayed miraculously, but it cannot be beaten. Everyone dies.

Especially old people.

My grandmother, Virginia Foutz, died a few weeks ago after 8 years of Alzheimer's. Some people don't take this very seriously. They feel that old people are old, they die, it's not a huge loss because we should all expect it. However, I was closer to my grandmother than what might be considered normal. I spent every summer with her, and for much of my elementary years I spent every morning at her house before school, and often spent my afternoons there as well. From ages 8-12 she lived right next door, and from ages 12-16 she lived just down the hall from me.

I loved my grandma. It was hard to, at the end there. Alzheimer's is, in my opinion, the cruelest of all diseases. It is hopeless. There comes a time when the victim doesn't even realize they're sick. The process of forgetting and re-remembering is painful, both for the person who can't remember and the person who reminds them that their husband is dead or that it's the year 2004 and everything is much, much different.

Regardless... I loved her. I was a teenager, and I have struggled long and hard with the way I treated her during those years. I wasn't mean to her. But certainly I neglected her. It was just too difficult to talk to her. She wasn't the woman I knew, that body was not the grandmother I loved. At fifteen I was not capable of loving a body just because it was the right thing to do. Rather, I was angry, and usually just ignored her so that neither of us would get frustrated.

I feel this blog getting longer and longer, and I just don't care.

I am more like Virginia than probably any of the other grandchildren. I don't know if this is due to all the time I spent with her, or if there is just some magical gene that was passed on through my father. Either way, she and I were always matched. We share a stubborn streak, a creative spirit, and a heart for people. (at least, I try.) At the end there, when she still lived with us but she was fading quickly, it was hard to be around her. I wanted so badly to remind her of everything, to tell her things about my life and to talk with her like we had when I was a kid. But she wasn't there.

I said goodbye about 2 years ago. It was at Christmas time. I saw one last glimpse of the woman we all loved, and then decided there would be no more visits from me. I couldn't watch her go anymore. At least, that's what I thought.

Turns out, I would have loved to be there when she left this world. Not because I'm morbid and like watching people die, but because she was my hero and I owed it to her. I wish I could have kissed her cheek or held her hand and cried on someone's shoulder. But I didn't even get to attend the memorial service.

I have but one homage to my dear grandma, aside from my personality. I wrote a poem (at the request of my father, after some fighting about not waiting for me to come home for the memorial service.)

I also have some pictures. They are not pictures of my grandma as I knew her. I knew her as a woman in the kitchen, with flour up to her elbows and a stained apron around her hips. I knew her as a force to be reckoned with, a mother to so many (many many many many many) lost children, a storyteller with a quick wit and a warm embrace.

The pictures I'm going to post were chosen because I can see myself in them. If I had any with me, I would post pictures of Virginia and I from when I was a little girl. However, these will have to do. Not a lot of people read this, if anyone at all, but I hope you enjoy the poem and the pictures.

How to Read a Woman

A woman’s face will crease as she ages
through every fond phase of motherhood.
Wrinkles fold just as beloved pages,
like books reminding us of all that’s good.
Now, one might read a woman by her skin
as though the signs of wear were some black ink,
But such a woman holds a depth within—
she carries worlds more than some care to think.
Every worried frown meant that she loved us,
each stern rebuke was meant to help us grow.
She taught us compassion, conviction, trust,
and pushed us without ever letting go.
So when our marks of age won’t go unseen,
we’ll remember who showed us what they mean.

So I have lost her. I have lost her body, her presence, her laughter and her music. But I know just where to find her. And that's all I have to say.

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