There are times in our lives when all we want is who we want and we don’t get them back, and there are times when we desperately need someone to lean on but instead there is no one there. The good news is even if we don’t get them back, it isn’t forever. There is hope we will see them again. There is hope for those that struggle to live and those that are tired of living. There is hope that even when we think we are alone, there is real love somewhere in the distance: somewhere beyond the walls we build, somewhere beyond our misguided attachments and superficial charades, there is real, amazingly wild, pure and true love. We just have to find it and never settle for dull and unfruitful versions of it. That is not living. Real life is full of fierce love and freedom. Emptiness and death cannot tether us here.
It was August 2006, and I was in the passenger seat of my new fiance’s truck. I was leaving my home for more than a short trip for the first time in my life. My parents’ apprehension was not totally lost on me though I would have never admitted it. I was barely 19, but I really thought I was doing what I had to do. We needed money and Tennessee was where we could make money to start a life together. Gazing out the window, I tried to reassure myself that I was just taking one semester off from the state college and I would never be a quitter.
The cloudy morning was further depressing my mood and it made the landscape down the familiar road look dreary and sorrowful. I turned to Justin and said, “Mom wants me to stop by the nursing home to say goodbye to Granny before we leave.”
“Okay… I need to say goodbye to my grandma too. I’ll drop you off while I go to see her.”
It wasn’t really the answer I expected or wanted. I had had a deep aversion to nursing homes bordering on fear since childhood, and I didn’t want to go alone. I actually had not been to see my grandma in a long time because of my fear. It wasn’t just the nursing home. I was afraid to see her.
As we neared the nursing home, I was full of nerves. In the parking lot, I was stricken with a strong urge to get away. The people so frail, at the end of their lives, most not having more understanding than a small child was all almost too much for my sensitive heart and then there was the smell that just seemed like the smell of sickness and death. We were parked facing the doors and I may have been sitting and staring for longer than I thought and taking a deep breath or two because he asked, “Are you okay?” in a somewhat exasperated tone.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I lied. I swallowed my true feelings. Something I did too often since I had met him and did increasingly too much for a while after as well.
I got out determined that I had to face my fear alone. “I’ll call you when I come back. Will you be ready when I call? I mean, you will come right out right? Because, we really have to get going.”
I reassured him I would.
I walked up to the door and stopped to finish my cigarette, puffing nervously and not in any hurry to go inside. I watched him drive away and when I couldn’t delay any longer, I put out the cigarette and went in.
I knew my granny had been moved to a different room, but I did not know where. As I walked towards the desk down the hall to ask, I avoided looking into the rooms I passed by or the elderly in the hall. I asked the nurse at the desk where Eva Ellis’ room was and she directed me down another hall. I walked down the hall looking at the room numbers as I repeated the room number she had given me in my head.
I came to the one the nurse had said and looked in; I was confused. There was an elderly woman lying on the bed with her back towards me.
That’s not my Granny
The woman had steel gray hair and Granny had always kept her hair dyed light brown. More disturbing to me was how the woman looked so much smaller and more vulnerable than my Granny; she was always stout physically and strong spirited if not stubborn. This woman looked and felt frail from the inside out. As if everything had been sucked out and only one tiny ounce of life remained in this shell of body also drained of strength.
Thinking for a second that I had to have the wrong room, I almost turned away. Then, I stopped. I knew that was the room number the nurse had given me. I walked slowly up to the bed.
When I was beside the bed, I saw that the woman was my granny, but she still looked like a different person. Reaching out, I laid my hand on her shoulder, and tried to wake her again. I felt as if she might break.
I was afraid she wouldn’t recognize me, because of her worsening memory and it had been a few months since I had seen her. The guilt felt like something that sat in my stomach like a ball of dirt and worms. I waited for her to respond. She turned over slowly with a slightly surprised expression.
“Hmm… What?” she said with a confused tone.
“Hi, Granny.” I replied softly.
Her hazel brown eyes looked confused and somehow bright like a child’s. She was wearing a nightgown on which the buttons had come undone half way down. I noticed she was not wearing her teeth and remembered my mother had told me she lost them. She had lost a lot of things since she had Alzheimer’s, and it looked to have stolen much more from her.
“Hey. What… What are you doing?” she asked.
“I came to see you,” I explained patiently. “I’m sorry I haven’t come to visit you in a while.”
I repeated my apology a little louder. “Oh, well, that’s okay. Don’t worry.” She spoke in halting phrases as if she couldn’t think of how to form her thoughts into words. Sitting up, she patted the bed beside her.”You sit down right here, okay?” That was the Granny I knew. There was dim light from the overcast sky coming through the window beside the bed. “I missed you.” Granny said grasping my hands. “I missed you too granny.” I desperately fought the urge to cry. “We’re going to Tennessee, Justin and I, for his job for a little while.”
“Yeah. Justin is my fiance.”
“Yeah. See my ring?”
“Oh let’s see” she said and held my hand close to her face to see it clearly. “That is very pretty.”
She had not let go of my hands since I sat down next to her, nor would she the whole time I was there except to rub my arms lovingly. I felt as though I should have been the one comforting her. Here she was with the smallest breath of life left in her, alone in her in a small room empty of who she was since she had lost many of her things and the rest had to be put away, and she still had enough wisdom to comfort me and know that I was in more pain and difficulty than I even could admit to myself.
“I love you sweetie.”
“I love you too Granny.” and I did let tears fall then.
“Don’t be upset, Okay?”
“Um. Okay Granny I won’t.” I looked down at my hands still held by hers, noticing how much they resembled hers sixty years younger.
To avoid breaking down completely, I looked around the room at what pictures she still had in the room. “Hey, let me.” She struggled, “I want to tell you something. It’s important.”
“Yes? What is it?”
“When hope… uh Hope…” she seemed to be thinking hard to figure out what she wanted to say.
Thinking, I remembered Granny had a sister named Hope.
“Do you mean your sister Hope?”
“Is that what they call it?”
Not wanting to confuse my grandmother more I replied vaguely, “Uh, I don’t know. What where you going to say?”
She went on, “I mean when you, uh…” She grasped my hands tighter and took a deep breath while closing her eyes tight. She opened her eyes and looked intently into mine, “When you finally get to a, a place… a place of peace, where there’s hope and you know that everything will be alright, you can rest. Just, just sleep. You understand?”
“Yeah, I do.” I said, and I did understand somehow deep inside. It made me feel like she was okay and she was at peace with her situation, but it was more than that. “That would be nice. Not to worry and just sleep.”
“Yes it would,” she said.
Eva Laverne Whisnant Hicks Ellis passed away a few short months after I saw her. For a while, I carried guilt that I had not seen her again after that day, but now I cherish this last memory of her immensely strong and nurturing love. I also had no idea how ironic what she said to me would turn out to be only a few years later. Things got much worse for me after I saw Granny that day. When I finally reached a place of peace and hope, the 5 years of struggle and turmoil between 2007 and 2012 caught up with me and all I did was sleep.
The gold nugget in this story is this, even on the precipice of darkness, if you look around there is foreshadowing of the coming hope on the other side, and one day you will look back and see even in what you thought was a hopeless situation and all hope was gone, there were whispers of the coming morning.
After my dark times ended, Granny’s words proved to be foreshadowing. When I went through so much (Which I want to share more about someday but is too much for one blog post or maybe even a whole blog. Hence the book in progress.) When I finally made it to the other side, to a place of hope, all I could do was sleep and illness took over my life. Once again, I thought my life was hopeless in a different way, but it was only a little nap. Now, I am renewed and awake, eyes wide open. In more ways than this one important thing she told me, Granny never stopped looking out for me. I can’t help but think maybe now I have become that woman that Joyce Myer was talking about when she said, “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, the devil says, ‘Oh crap, she’s up!'” Well, it’s morning, and I’m surely up.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”-Psalm 30:5