What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow. ~ Martin Luther

Monday, May 05, 2008

Hello. My name is Rebecca

Thought I ought to introduce myself, since I am no doubt entirely forgotten about after a week away from this Newman memoir.

So, this is me. Nice to meet you.


The children and I returned from our week away last night and went promptly to bed. We were exhausted. And by that I mean, naturally, I was exhausted. It was I, after all, who had to drive the four hours with just my thoughts to keep my company~and the snores of the babies in the backseat.

It was a good trip, plain and simple. Very productive, as is evidence by the lack of photos taken of the week. In fact, I didn't even LOOK at my camera let alone bring it out, with the exception of our visit with Oma and Opa~those visits are so few and far between I became nearly manic as I snapped and visited. Snapped and visited. This was the highlight of the trip.

I was impressed with how graciously my friend opened up her home to me to help, I had had many doubts about how much I would be able to accomplish on her behalf. I am glad that I went and I am glad of the work, and exponentially glad for all the visiting that was squeaked into all the crevices.


It has been months (I don't even recall how many) since I was able to look at Oma and Opa in the face and in the course of those months, they have prioritized belongings, downsized, and moved from a three-level home to a one-level, much smaller (and more manageable) apartment house in a retirement village, Oma has pressed on with the never-ending cancer that torments her frail body, and Opa's Alzheimer's has progressed, stealing away his memories and recollections from himself, his love, and his family. Every visit is one more strand of love, wrapped about your heart, one more smile tucked away for posterity, and even more cherished than the last. I can't take these times for granted, I am reminded of that now more than ever.

Opa is acutely aware and slightly irritated by his lacking memory, but still is jovial and joy filled. Never before have I seen him smile SO much, coo to children and look with such shining eyes into now unfamiliar faces.

Opa has walked every day since he was a toddler, his feet matching temp with the stories flowing from his lips; his gait always strong, steady and his over-six-foot frame hard to keep up with! This is the memory I have of my Opa. These are the times shared with him, times that I can look back on and recollect. Times that he might NOT be able to ever revisit in his mind. We walked to the main building for lunch, myself grasping the little fingers of my children and my Opa grasping the thick black foam of a four-pronged cane handle. I slowed so that he could keep up and mentally abhorred that piece of foreign black metal that Opa needed for support.

As we walked, the wispy seeds of dandelions floated about in the air and Opa commented on how pretty the snow was, though he was without a coat, the grass was green, and I was in short-sleeves. I asked him if He enjoyed his new home and he affirmed that he did, "Though I've only been here two days", not recollecting that they had spent over a month there already.

And then, like a knife to my heart, He spoke about my Oma. "You'll understand what it is the be a wife someday, when you grow up and get married. You''ll know then, when you are a woman..." He said. I looked at his bright face, lit with a giant smile and put a smile on my lips while my heart burst into tears. I looked down at my hands, each wrapped about the dear fingers of my own children, I thought of my Bunkin, bits and pieces of Matt and I formed into flesh and blood, and I realized he had no idea who these children were. He thought of me as a little girl still. And far from his memory were the long discussions He and my Mattie had shared. It broke my heart into a thousand pieces, and for a moment I felt what my Oma must feel daily. I reminded him of Matt, the children and of Bunkin and with a surprised smile, He said "Oh! That IS good. You'll get a Christmas present this year then!" I will forever think of my Bunkin as my most precious Christmas present, from now on.

I hate, hate HATE that my Opa is losing the part of himself that he held most valuable. I HATE that He is slowly slipping into an incredibly lonely and isolated existence. And while I HATE, at the very same time, I laugh with joy at his silly antics, the constant smile playing about his lips, the words that still convey THOUGHT, and the person: flesh and blood that stands before the world. I realize that these too, will someday be gone. But he is HERE now. He is STILL with us, and whatever capabilities He still holds onto I will be most fervently thankful for. I will NOT take these things for granted. I will NOT take him for granted.

At the very same time, I have such deep respect and remorse for my Oma, who must obviously be having a very hard time with it. Certainly, the practical, every day reminding of things can get irritating-but much deeper than that, she is a front-row seat observer of the man she has spent a lifetime loving losing his mind. The memories they have shared are becoming vague and obsolete, and she too is becoming isolated and lonely. The other half of her heart, while still very much there, is at the very same time, NOT there. I have determined to write to her often. I think every week I will send her something, whether it be a letter or some pictures or some drawings the children have made. I want her to know that she is NOT alone. That she is LOVED. She is much stronger than I am. If I were in her shoes, I don't know what I would do but I know it would involve tears. Every. Single. Day.

I hate tears. I hate sadness and so I will work to remember the good, the sweet, and the wonderful of this weekend. The smiles. The ivory skin of Oma, still as soft as I remember as a child. The picture of them sitting together on the front pation as we pulled in. The new apartment, just as spic and span as Oma's housekeeping has always been. The conversations. It was a VERY good visit.

Another good and wonderful part of the visit simply must be written down. If it isn't, I know I will forget and to do so would be simply tragic.

When we went to the main building housing the dining area, common rooms, and home to those individuals who needed lots of care and assistance, we walked straightaway into a 'Great Room' where all the people could watch television and visit with one another. There were many wrinkled, frail bodies about. Some couldn't speak, some couldn't walk but oh-their FACES when they saw the children! They just BEAMED! Andrew started running from one person to another, leaning onto their laps and saying "Hi!" "Hi!" He visited with each one, he shook some hands, he played peekabo with them~and each one gushed. I was so proud to see that. I was a bit concerned the children might feel weirded out by all 'the old people'. I have seen many children react that way in nursing homes, becoming inverted, quiet and nervous. Not so with Panda.

There was a man in a wheelchair. He didn't say anything but he kept staring at our group. Andrew had already given him a hasty hello when I saw Corynn quietly go up to him. She gently took his hand and started stroking it. She didn't say anything at all, just went to him. I couldn't believe my eyes. After a moment, the man brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it. It was the sweetest interlude I think I might ever have been witness to. And so you see why it would be tragic to forget.

Here are a few photos from Oma and Opa's new home and our visit there. They don't portray the spirit, the troubles, the strength, the joy, the faith, or the love that lies within the people. But maybe you will see how soft Oma's skin is, and how contagious my Opa's smiles are.

These are real people. Complex. Dimensional. My heritage. And I love them.


debbie said...

Oh Rebecca ... simply beautiful. What a gift you have given to your children. Thank you for allowing me to peek in and share this tender moment with you. My dearest and sweetest friend slips daily away and each time I visit her it is like a trip to the playground in her mind. I used to be sad, but now I just enjoy the games and laughter and joy. Your blog captures life in such a deeply beautiful way. You never preach or pontificate, merely live and love and share ... It is my favorite spot to rest for a peaceful moment in my busy but wonderful life. Never, never lose your childlike eye for God's precious gift of life. You are in my prayers. XO

Andie said...

Rebecca, first, Oh how I've missed you. I'm glad you had a good, productive trip, and I'm glad you are home safely.
Second...I'm in tears. The end stories were beautiful. Your experiences with your Opa remind me so much of my Grandpa...and now my Grandma. My Grandpa (my Mom's dad) passed away in January of '07 after struggling with Alzheimers for the past few years. His last Christmas when his body was relatively healthy, but his mind was not...we spent a few days with him. He had no idea who we were, but that we were people who loved him. He would just watch my kiddos running around and comment on what cuties they were. Now my Grandma (my dad's mom) is suffering the same problems. They were moved to a nursing home about 18 months ago because Grandpa's body is frail, and Grandma's mind is going. People would go visit and ask how they are doing, Grandma would detail the elaborate meals they had eaten, though Grandpa would tell a different tale, he hadn't eaten since yesterday. She just forgot to cook or feed them. She still knows who we are, but tells the same stories again and again right after each other. She is constantly telling me that her aunt lived in the town I live in (but she didn't). She explains who EVERY single picture in their room is, but then says that no one comes to visit them. So now they have a calendar in their room and every time one of their kids or grand-kids comes to visit, we sign the calendar on the proper day. They get many visitors...but she simply doesn't remember. At Easter she kept telling people that they were at my brother's home, but they were actually at my parent's home.

It is so hard to see someone you love failing, whether it's in body or mind...both are hard. What a dear thing you plan to do for your Oma...what a blessing you are to them!

Again, I'm glad you are back...hope to hear more about your trip soon!

Jennifer said...

Oh Rebecca, what a beautiful tribute to your grandparents. Reading it brought tears to my eyes and brought memories to mind of my Pappy who has been with the Lord for two years just this week.I am so glad that you were able to spend time with them and have these precious memories.

Kelli said...

What a precious, post, Rebecca. Reading the stories of your Oma and Opa brought tears to my eyes. I'm so glad you were able to visit them. ((((hugs))))

pincushionpoints said...

Rebecca, thanks for sharing your journey with me. I am glad to hear you are home safe and had a good time. I lost my grandma after a long battle with Alzheimer's just before my oldest daughter was born. How I miss her and wish she could see my girls as they grow and learn. I have so many things I would love to share with her.

Reading your post was very hard tonight, but I appreciate your sharing.

Quinne said...

Hi Rebecca :) I've missed you here. Thank you for sharing your heart with us - such a lovely remembering.

I will pray with your for your Oma & Opa - specifically for joy each day and peace and great courage and comfort. Love, Q

Sarah said...

This post made me cry. I lost both my grandma and great-grandma last year, and there is no pain like that. Alzheimers is a wicked disease that (as you put it) steals what is precious to us!

I have worked at a nursing home (during school) and watched the loneliness of so many of these poor people. So many mothers, sisters, daughters, brothers, fathers, friends, now relocated into a home and forgotten. It is so tragic.

Have you ever thought of visiting a local home in your area? Once a month or so, for just an hour? The way your kids lit up the room sounds amazing and I bet so many of these grandparents would get endless joy out of it.

Mandie said...

I'm so glad your visit went well! I know seeing your kids meant so much to your grandparents. I wish I could visit mine more often~ NC isn't exactly withing a reasonable driving distance. I think it is so important for kids to visit nursing homes too~ I think it gives them a wonderful sense of humanity. How touching to read about Corynn and the man in the wheelchair~ I wanted to cry.

Mrs. Bonnie said...

That picture of Corryn giggleing on your Opa's lap is to sweet!
What a beautiful testimony of a loving marraige your grandparents are. They are having to live out the "in good times and bad", and "In sickness and in health" part of their wedding vows, that I think to some are just merely words spoken during your wedding.
I hope you all get to visit them again soon!

abigail said...

I'll have to send you the link to a specific piece of writing my friend's brother did regarding his Grandpa's struggle with the same disease. He lives with his grandparents as their caretaker and plans to do so until one or both of them pass away.

It's so heartwrenching and moving to read about how both his Grandpa and yours respond to the loss of the self they've always known.

May God grant peace.