A Loving Grandmother
Sorry for the long break, everyone. I started writing the entry below more than a week ago. Since then, my grandmother has passed away, and I’ve been offline for a while spending time with my family.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmothers this past week or so. My mom’s mom, Grandma Echols to me, is in a “terminal decline.” She’s been in poor health for many years. My parent’s have been taking care of her for years, and she was actually accepted to hospice care more than four years ago! Years in hospice care – not exactly common. But it seems as if she is finally letting go. (Grandma left January 20th, in the evening.)
Grandma Echols was always a creative person. I remember finding partial sketches and paintings around my grandparent’s house, her teaching me to crochet (one stitch), and even a little baking (if grape jelly bisquick tarts count). She has also struggled with mental illness most of her life, which meant, in part, that the art and crafts she created were usually partial, not finished. Maybe this is where I started to understand the importance of the creative process, and the almost secondary nature (to me) of the finished product.
In my memory she didn’t really accomplish anything, other than being alternately sweet as pie and then hateful and angry. Although I sometimes witnessed the angry side of her I never experienced anything but the sweet side. For the most part that’s all us grandchildren ever received – sweetness and love. Her anger was reserved for my grandfather and the odd neighbor or caretaker she didn’t like the look of. In a weird way I’m almost grateful to have learned to cope with mental illness, and to separate the disease (schizophrenia) from the woman at such an early age.
I think it was in her nature to try, though. Grandma Echols tried to cook (I remember pans boiling dry on the stove, forgotten and burnt). She tried to clean (wiping the same bit of the table with a dirty rag for several minutes). She tried to look nice (her ragged nails holding only a memory of red polish, her clothes inevitably stained). She tried to wrap Christmas presents (my uncle received a Liz Claiborne “Diamonds” perfume sampler one year). She knew what daily life should consist of, but by the time I knew her she wasn’t able to really participate in it. I remember how frustrated she would get, angry that we wouldn’t let her cook us dinner, or help with the dishes. We all took care of her, in some way at some time. In return she did the only thing she was really good at – she loved us, simply and whole-heartedly.
The last few years of her life Grandma Echols seemed to be living a more peaceful life. As her health declined she relaxed a bit. For the past three years or so, she was only rarely out of bed. Most of her days were spent cozied up under pretty covers, and snuggled up with her stuffed animals in a pretty purple room decorated with dolls and butterflies, watching “I Love Lucy” or America’s Funniest Home Videos. She laughed a lot, and was angry much less. My parent’s 17-year-old cat, Molly, curled up on the foot of her bed and stayed there for months. I can’t imagine having a more loving grandmother.