Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Lessons From My Grandma

This weekend was difficult.  My grandmother is quite ill and I'm not dealing well. Nobody is.

I flew to California and felt all the feelings.

The one I felt the most?  Anger.

Anger at the unfairness of what my grandmother is bravely enduring.  

Even though mom prepared me, I was still in shock at the sight of my sweet grandma now vulnerable and dependent on a kidney dialysis machine to keep her blood clean.  She welcomed me with her sweet little arms when I arrived and we cried, no words exchanged.

This weekend while she slept I was a hermit in her home. I absorbed her presence that still remains even though she is down the street in a hospital. I shuffled from room to room, perusing her extensive library of books, I found old photos tucked into the crevices of the hutch she has owned since I was born, I wore her slippers and I slept in her bed.  I held her wedding ring, I drank Nesquick cocoa because that's what she does, I smelled her detergent and I admired her pretty clothes hung so carefully in her closet. I rearranged her planting pots outside, I looked at her 50 million bookmarks she has held onto and I cleaned her dishwasher.  I made her custard in the little pudding cups my cousins and I grew up with.  The ones grandma would fill with chocolate pudding while we watched the latest episodes of Wild Kingdom and The Muppets.

All of this was cathartic yet at the same time heartbreaking. My grandmother has devoted her life to serving others, especially her family.  Her and my grandpa never really retired in the full sense of the word because they were too busy investing in each of our lives.  Yet, the amount of heartache over losing her daughter and grandson at way too young of ages, her battle with cancer, endless tragedies, a horrific childhood and multiple surgeries simply put, hasn't been fair.  She would say otherwise because that's the beautiful person she is.  She would claim it as part of God's ultimate plan for her life. Maybe she's right but I don't have to like it. 

I want more for my grandma during her time on this earth.  As I have witnessed her life of service, hospitality, love and unconditional kindness all these years, my heart breaks that she has been reduced to suffering and pain.  In my mind, it's unfair and cruel.  She deserves better.  I say this selfishly because she is the matriarch of our family and the thought of not having her is simply too grievous too bear.

  From my grandma her I learned that community begins around a table. Family is best represented when sharing a meal. Cloth napkins, place mats and pretty dishes set a meal apart, making it intentional.  Grandma considers any meal around her dining table an event, it doesn't matter how few or how many are gathered around it. Prayer before sharing a meal is a tradition of my grandma's that began long before I was even born

Fresh flowers, bread baskets, a teapot, cookies in the oven and little details that speak home and comfort are what my grandma is made of.  It's why I spent so much of my growing up was with her.  My cousins and I considered grandma and grandpa's house our true refuge because there we found stability, routine and life lived well.  Our mothers firmly embraced our desire to spend time with our grandparents and encouraged the strengthening of those bonds.  Our grandma is responsible for teaching us about faith, family and morals.  While this may sound dated and non relevant, I know better. Her wisdom brings me back to what matters in the chaotic lives we lead.

There are certainties I have about my grandmother.  For instance I know that I will always find a Sara Lee Coconut Cream Cake in her freezer.  I know she prays for me every single day.  I know I will always find her Thanksgiving pilgrim candles in her hutch on the upper left shelf.  I know she will have a bottle of Maja body powder on her bathroom counter.

So in honor of my grandmother, I did what she would want me to today as I reflected on the immense blessing of who she is .  I cooked.  It's the only thing I can do as I beg, pray and plead for her recovery. I pulled out her copy of Shauna Niequist's book, Bread And Wine, and I cooked.  I marinated and grilled organic chicken in a maple balsamic glaze, I steamed a batch of nutty rice, I hard boiled eggs, I baked a big chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting, I doused fresh asparagus in olive oil and roasted it with freshly grated parmesan and I made fist sized cheesy drop biscuits. These are recipes grandma and I would discuss - the best techniques and flavor options in order to create a memorable meal.

Because no matter what is going on, my grandma would want me to do this, she would want me to provide nourishment and sustenance to my family, even in times of uncertainty.  She would want dinner served with cloth napkins and place mats around the table. It would bring her comfort to know some things were staying the same.

Last night in her weakened state my grandmother told my mom that all she wanted to do was come home and set out her place mats around her table.

Don't worry grandma, I'll make sure to bring the cloth napkins.







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