I’d always looked up to my grandmother when I was young. She was a mentor in my life and her opinion mattered greatly to me. She also suffered from the effects of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in her final years, which stole much from this beautiful, once active college professor — including the memories she’d built up in more than eighty years of living.
We’d just had our first son, and so my husband and I made the drive across state to visit her in her care facility. I admit — I prayed and cried most of the way. My parents had gone to visit her the day before and to my dad’s regret, she no longer knew her own son. They’d prepared me for this. I drew in that fear she wouldn’t know me either. I’d worked myself into a state of white-knuckled anxiety before we even pulled in the parking lot.
Would she look different? How much had the diseases taken from her, even in the last few months? Would she know me? Would I know her?
Questions flew like a swarm of bees, stinging at the faith in my heart, over and over.
We walked in and a nurse led us down a hall. The facility was lovely – a fireplace here, baby grand piano there, and quaint sitting areas with reading nooks and tufted armchairs tucked in nearly every corner. That homey feel surprised me. I knew she could no longer enjoy such things but I hoped that somehow, she knew they were around her.
“Margaret is just there against the wall,” the nurse said, and let us walk the rest of the way to her wheelchair.
The diseases had changed her. Her lovely smiles were replaced by a vacant expression. She stared off into the space beyond one of those reading nooks. I knelt down at her side. Took her warm hand in mine. It trembled. I squeezed her fingertips, drawing her attention.
“Grandma? It’s me. I’m here.” I paused — the moment had arrived.
Please God, let her know me.
“It’s Kristy.” My voice hitched. “I’m your granddaughter.”
She nodded. I wasn’t sure she truly knew who’d come to visit. As was her way, she remained polite enough not to share if we were strangers. I introduced my husband again, whom she’d met nearly a decade before. And we introduced her to her first great-grandchild. He was six months old and we were delighted when the sweets coos of our baby seemed to spark something in her. She smiled, just a hint.
I kept telling her who we were. Who I was. I repeated it as we wheeled her to the solarium. Telling her our names. That I was her granddaughter and she was my WWII-generation, amazingly strong grandmother. Why? Because I needed her again (even for one precious moment) just as I’d remembered her. The woman who gave worthy advice, who always could be depended upon to share wisdom and love. I needed the fear to fade away. I needed her to know she wasn’t alone.
Finally, she said: “Honey,” still not able to focus on my face.
I immediately knelt down at her side again. Expectant. She was going to say something!
She looked at me. “Would you please stop telling me your name? I know who you are!“
It was clear as a bell. Straightforward and zinging. I did a double-take and I think I laughed out loud because her chutzpah had still been there somewhere and it finally came out.
My husband’s reply, with arms crossed and an all-too-knowing grin on his face: “Well, there you go. I guess she knows you!”
That day turned into the visit of a lifetime, as my grandmother passed away not a year after this photo was taken. She knew us. Really knew us. And I was taught a powerful lesson in faith, and doubt, and fear:
His presence never falters. He’s unwavering. Unchanging. Dauntless in our fear and doubt and shaky faith.
It came time to leave.
She wanted us to take her along, of course. She thought she needed to go home, to find my grandfather. (He’d already passed a few years before.) And as we walked away down the hall, I felt the strongest pull to go back. I stopped mid-stride and told my husband I had to. There was something I needed to tell her.
I knelt at her side again, held her trembling hand, praying she still knew me enough to listen. I told her,
“You’re not alone, Grandma. Jesus is always here with you. You may forget us, but you’ll never forget Him. And neither will He forget about you.”
With her head nodding, she said, “I really believe that. I know He’s with me.”
No one needed to break through Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s to tell her who He was. I had but to say His name once. And she knew. She remembered Him.
One day, far out on the horizon, when all things in my life have shifted to the background, I pray He’s still in my mind and heart. That He’s who I remember when everything else has been forgotten. That the relationship I build with Him today will pay dividends when the unimportant things of this life fade from my tomorrows.
That I remember.
In Jesus’ miraculous love,