Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lucille may have left you with a crop in the field, but she brought my Gramma back to me.

Even if just for one song.

I don't have many memories of my Gramma Rogers growing up. But the ones I do have are very vivid. I've always credited her for my love of country music. Classic country specifically. I have early memories of being in her kitchen, with the comforting warm smell of delicious in the air and the sweet sound of her singing Patsy, Kitty, Loretta, Hank et al.

I remember picnics in the park and breakfasts with Santa. Falling asleep on the living room couch watching tv at night. Being allowed to go to the corner store by myself, like a big girl. Travelling on the street car. Feeling special.

Gramma was never a big part of our childhood - there was tension and conflict between her and Mom. Mom has told me she's not even sure where my memories come from since we didn't spend much time with her.

The fact that we spent such apparently little time yet the memories are so vivid just speaks volumes of how special the time we did spend was to me.

As we grew up, the distance between Mom and Gramma and the stage that teenagers go through of it not being cool to hang out with your family led to spending even less time with Gramma over the years.

I'm not exactly sure when Gramma started to "get sick." Gradually robbed of her memories and her life, first by dementia then later Alzheimer's. For a long time I would hear of her difficulties but not see them first hand. I don't even know for sure when Mom and Gramma resolved their issues. Perhaps they didn't; perhaps Mom just worked through them on her own and learned to let go of years grudges as she dealt with watching her own mother deteriorate.

What I do know, is that Mom and Aunt Lynda were taking care of Gramma more and more and before I knew it my own children were spending Saturdays at Gramma Rogers' with them helping with shopping and household chores. I was proud that they had that opportunity. Not many children have the luxury of having a great-grandparent around. My children were blessed with several great-grandparents on both sides of the family and it was important to me that they knew how special that was. Many conversations with Mom brought up the question "do you really want the kids to see Gramma this way?"

Yes. Yes I did. I certainly wouldn't have chosen to inflict this struggle on Gramma, but this is who she was now. Her illness didn't make her any less 'Gramma Rogers'. It didn't remove her from the family. To keep my children from seeing her "this way" would have meant keep them from seeing "her." Life can unfairly take those we love far too soon, far too often. I didn't want take Gramma away any faster then she was already slipping away from us. I also didn't think I would be doing my kids a favour by "protecting" them from the sad realities of ageing and illness.

Mom has recently become Gramma's primary care giver and Gramma has made the transition into living at Mom's permanently now. I've enjoyed spending time with Gramma again, and as I watch her slip further away I'm saddened and guilt ridden that I let all those years pass by in the middle. I may not be able to change the past, but I have complete control over the present.

And I'm taking advantage of that.

Last weekend I got to spend a brief moment with the old Gramma; the one I remember so lovingly as a child. Mom, Wee, Gramma and I were sitting in the gazebo as we have so often done this summer. The three of us gabbing and gossiping while Gramma sits quietly. I had my ipod playing, which was different - usually it's Wee's music. As some of my classic country tunes started playing Gramma started first to tap her foot, then clap her hands. It was nice to see her enjoying the music and I enjoyed quietly watching her. As Kenny Rogers' Lucille came on Gramma sat forward a little bit in her chair .... and I almost fell off mine when she sang - word for word, in perfect tune - the chorus:

"you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille.
with 4 hungry children and a crop in the field.
I've had some bad times, lived through some sad times,
but this time your hurtin' won't heal.
you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille."

Most of the time Gramma doesn't know who we are. She'll think I'm Mom and my kids are my sister and I when we were little. That's if we're lucky and it's a time when she's familiar with us at all. She dips her kleenex in her eggs like it was toast and eats it. She puts the phone in the fridge. Tries to walk around the house naked in front of others. Thinks she's lived at Mom's for 30 years. Screams and thinks Mom is trying to hurt her when she's getting her pyjamas on. Doesn't remember being married. Tells Mom she's not her daughter; says she doesn't have any children. Garbles sentences when she tries to answer questions so she's stopped even trying.

Somehow, for some reason, that song brought her back to us.

Even if just for that brief chorus. The most beautiful chorus I've ever heard.

It brought tears to my eyes, and another moment with Gramma Rogers that I'll treasure forever.

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