Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Life Well Lived

My grandmother, Vera Mann,  (Granny Vera to me) passed away three weeks ago. I will miss her, but in a real sense I had already been missing her for the past several years.  She had Alzheimers and the disease was slowly stealing away her memories, conversation, and personality.  It started with the steady loss of short term memory: she would repeat the same questions and we would give the same answers and then a few moments later we would do it again.

About a year after she was first diagnosed with Alzheimers, she wanted to give her piano to me for my daughter Taylor.  Taylor was 10 years old and taking piano lessons and seemed to have a real knack, as well as desire, to master the piano.  I said, " yes", and "thank you so very much", and" wow", and " I can't wait for Taylor to get to practice regularly at home."  But, I also thought to myself, "She is going to forget that she gave me this piano and she is going to want it back."

And  eventually, that is what happened.  One day Granny Vera was in her home and looked over to where the piano used to stand and she asked my dad, "Where is my piano?"  My dad said, "Don't you remember you gave it to Karen so that Taylor could practice and play?"  She was astounded at that idea, "I did no such thing!  I want my piano back!"  This conversation would be replayed several times over a year or so before my dad and my aunt Jene finally bought her another piano that looked exactly the same as the one she had given to me.

This story is a great picture of what my Granny Vera was like.  She was extremely generous with all of us.  She liked to give gifts.  But to say she did not like to be taken advantage of would be a great understatement.  No one, but no one was going to short-change her or take what was hers without a fight.  She was a very determined lady.  You might say she had an iron will.  Of course, what was hers in this case had not been taken, but freely given.  However, she could no longer remember that.  We had lost that part of her.

Later, Granny would have trouble remembering the names of the great grandchildren and remembering whose they were.  And eventually if she remembered anyone at all, then that was cause for celebration.  I really hate Alzheimers.

So let me tell  you what I remember of my Granny before the disease began to do its work.
She was a hard worker.  Her house was always clean and in order and she was too.  Besides the waitressing job that she had for many years before she went to business college so she could work for the Veteran's Administration, she was also an Avon lady on the side.  And she looked the part.  Neatly dressed and always bejeweled with some kind of necklace and earrings and lipstick, of course, she presented an image of refinement and class.  And that was important to her.  She wanted to improve herself and to raise herself above the manual labor of picking fruit/cotton as she had done when she was growing up. However, that same upbringing is what made her so she very real and down to earth .

 She was honest and she was a people person, friendly and talkative, she never met a stranger and could have you spilling your life story in no time.  She was able to connect and relate to almost any one.  It was said of her when she first married and moved away from the family home, that the old family home was empty without her lively spirit there.  Her friendly outgoing nature had kept the family connected with the community. Those genes were passed on to my dad and my aunt and to my sister.  The rest of us have to work a little harder to break the ice.

She could do many things well. Sewing, cooking, cleaning, and all manner of household art forms.  She also knew when she needed help.  When my dad and aunt were growing up, my great aunt moved in to help care for them while my grandmother was working so many long hours waitressing.  When I was growing up, Granny Vera worked a 9 to 5 job, so she hired a housekeeper who would come and help clean the house and prepare meals during the week.

If I could have any of the traits of my grandmother, I think I would like to have a very clear sense of self.  Granny Vera knew who she was and what she wanted;  her yes was yes and her no was no and she never seemed to be confused or undecided about her answer.  It took some counseling and some years for me to learn that strong boundaries were a good and healthy thing, but Granny Vera knew it all along.

After the funeral I was talking with one of my cousins and we both came to the conclusion that we were exceedingly blessed to be in our family.  We talked about Granny's example and the other examples around us. Not all children grow up with honest, dependable, responsible examples.  I am thankful for God's grace in placing me in my family.

And Granny,  Alzheimers may have taken you earlier than the grave did, but your life and your testimony live on after you in the lives of your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Thank you for your life well lived.

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