Sunday, June 12, 2011

Learning from Grampie

A couple of hours ago, Beve and I were just winding down for the evening.  We'd gone out for a late dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, and came home to a quiet house.  Not even the dogs were energetic enough to want to play at that hour.  Yesterday was graduation at Beve's high school, so he had several parties to attend this afternoon.  Tonight he's pretty tired.

Then my phone rang.  Grampie.  "What about my pills?" he asked.
Oh my gosh, I'd forgotten his pills.  This week Thyrza's daughter has been visiting from Maryland, so the routine is all out-of-wack.  That's no excuse for me, but I'll use it.   I apologized profusely, said we'd be right over with them, filled his pill-box while Beve filled a container with the oatmeal, chocolate-chip cookies he made in all his spare time this weekend.  Then back out the door we went, leaving our dogs to look longingly at us, wondering why on earth we were going somewhere at bedtime.

Grampie and Thyrza were happy to see us. Happy to see the pills and happier yet to see the cookies.  As it should be.  They've been on a big trip the last several days, you see.  They went back to Sequim where they used to live, and plum wore themselves out.  You'd have thought they'd been gone for a week, or had been to the moon and back. It was a great visit all in all, though Grampie couldn't say one specific thing about who they saw when we asked him.

While they were telling us about their trip, Thyrza handed me a very old photograph and asked if I knew who the people were.  So I got out the Wiley Family History (through pictures) that Jonathan and I put together the year he was in 8th grade, to compare the faces in this photograph with already labeled ones in the album.  Grampie was astonished by the family history.  "I'd forgotten all about this," he said, though he regularly pulled it out every visit up until they moved to Bellingham.  Anyway, tonight's photograph had no similar people in it.  But one somewhat familiar young woman.
Then Grampie said, "Oregon City, Oregon. It's written right here."  That's where the photograph was taken.  And that was all the clue I needed.
"I think that's Barbara's mother, Matilda," I said.  Barbara was Grampie's first wife, Beve's mother, my children's Grammie. "Then we can ask Barbara's brother, Berge, about it." Thryza said.
"No, because Matilda wasn't his mother.  Matilda died when Barbara was six months old, leaving her husband with a four-year old and a tiny baby.  Barbara was 18 months old when he married Clara, and they later had Berge." Grampie sat there, slack-jawed, as I spelled out Matilda's last name for Thyrza, explained about her life and death.
"You have a better memory than I do," he said. "I don't remember any of this."


As we were leaving their apartment, Beve said, "My father was very profound tonight."
I looked at him quizzically. "You have a better memory than he does."
And we laughed.

It's something people say all the time, you know.  Some people are born with clear memories that hold things in file cabinets so that whenever something comes up, all that is needed is to open the proper file and that information--the stored memory--is there.  And other people have contextual memories, meaning that they remember well those things that are grounded in something solid and meaningful to them--for example, Beve has a ridiculously good memory about where basketball players played their college ball, where coaches coached previous to their current job, even where broadcasters used to play or coach. But if I ask Beve about something we did on a mission trip to Alaska 15 years ago, and he can't remember.  Nada.  It just isn't there.

Grampie saying I have a better memory than him sounds for all the world like so many other people over the course of my life who have said, "whoa, dude, do you have a photographic memory or something?"  (which, of course, I do not, not even close!) or some manner thereof.  But for Grampie to say it is a completely different thing. To the naked ear, to the unknowing, it might sound the same, but it's a far cry.  I have a better memory than him. Yes.  But the sad truth for this man is that even my dogs have a better memory than him (and I say that with love).  Grampie gets to find pleasure in seeing the same old things in his life as new.  That's what he gets now.  These days every meal he eats is the best one he's ever had--the best hamburger, the best chicken, the best____--because he can't remember having it before.

What Grampie lives these days is Matthew 6:34, you know. "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow. For tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  Grampie lives this because of the deteriorating brain cells inside his head.  However, his life is a lesson in profundity.  If I pay attention.  He gets up each day with a happy heart, is content with the food put before him, the day he's been given, the small things he can accomplish.  He frets a bit, but goes to sleep and gets up again, having let those worries go.  His dementia actually teaches me how I should live with my brain fully intact.  Letting go of tomorrow's worries so that I can live to the fullest the day put before me.  This day, which He has given.

"Teach me to number my days," says the Psalmist (90:12) "that I may gain a heart of wisdom."
Perhaps the mind isn't quite capable of wisdom.  Perhaps, because of mental brilliance at one end and dementia at the other, the brain is just not the wisest part of our souls, as counterintuitive as that sounds. I can be smart and wise, which are clearly two separate things. So, perhaps the wisdom that numbers our days and lives each one as it comes, must be centered in the heart.  Wise in heart. And what does this mean? No matter what happens to my brain, I will continue to get up each day with a heart of love and gladness and hope and gratitude to God and to others.
Like Grampie.

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