I will always remember her best in the kitchen, quietly moving from one dish to the next, everything expertly timed. Butter beans, corn bread, turkey, potatoes. Oh the potatoes. I can remember one meal where she made three different kinds of potatoes...hash brown casserole, mashed, and potato salad...just because one of us had said we liked those best. She did that with pies, too. Everyone always got to eat their favorite pie at MeeMee's house, even if we all came at the same time. Cherry for Melodie and my cousin Britt, chocolate for Amy, apple for me.The kitchen was her comfort zone. It was the most natural expression of her love for us. And we ate it up...literally.
MeeMee has always been old to me. Nobody would love hearing that, but it's true. When you're a kid, grandparents just seem old. (Sorry mom and dad...I'm afraid that means my kids think of you as old....even if you don't, and even if I don't. They're wrong, though. You're still young bucks!). Maybe that's why it has been such a surprise in these last couple of years to see her health deteriorate and her mind begin to go. I guess I had been lulled into thinking that, "this is what old looks like." This grandmother who expertly prepares meals for the whole family and takes us to church, introducing us to all her friends. But things have started to change. She's 95 after all. She has trouble getting out. Going to church is difficult. Going to the store seems impossible. Getting out of her chair or out of her bed is easier with someone else there to provide a steady hand and an extra push. And she is not happy about it.
I can't blame her. There is so much about this that is not fun...for anyone. The big picture feels daunting and overwhelming and sad. But, if you squint a little, you can see that there is grace in growing old. Those of us close to her are reminded, in the midst of all she cannot do right now, of when she did it all. It sharpens our memories of her and makes us grateful for all she gave us. And if we can embrace it, there is something sweet about the stillness of her life. There is no rush to move forward for MeeMee. There is only today. And yesterday. And so there is a lot of remembering, of listening to old stories, the same ones told over and over. And a lot of just sitting together. There is grace in remembering that a person's value remains intact, even when the most they can do is just sit with you. There's good in remembering how to just be with someone without requiring anything. That is grace.
In the midst of it all, we are also learning to listen to what is underneath her words of bitterness or despair and to love her by answering the questions she is truly asking. "Is this too much to ask of you?" and "Am I still valuable?" My parents and my aunt and uncle have taken the brunt of her frustrations, and continue to answer, "We love you. We want to care for you." This is grace.
When I talk to her on the phone, MeeMee often says to me, "I don't know why God still has me here on this earth." I understand her sentiment. My PaPa went to be with the Lord seven years ago. It has been a lonely seven years. She usually finishes by saying, "I guess He knows best, though. There must be some reason." And I know she's right. There may be a whole host of reasons. I know at least one of them, though, is that she's here for us. She's here to teach us about grace. And we can all stand to settle in and learn a little more about that.