Visiting my grandmother in the nursing home always stirs up a mix of feelings for me. I have begun to get used to the fact that she doesn't remember who I am most of the time, and that she definitely has no idea who my kids are. I have also come to accept that with her physical ailments and her dementia, this is the best place for her to be. I accept it even if it makes me sad to see her there. It is so very hard to see someone who was once so vibrant and active - a mother of 7 children and 2 foster children! - now wear an ankle monitor, sit in a wheelchair, and need 24 hour care. We used to spend time together talking, shopping, traveling, going to the beach. She was always energetic and in love with life. She had a tremendous love for animals and people and she could talk to anyone - from the cashier at the local supermarket to the friends I would bring to her house on the Cape. Now much of what she says is jumbled with criss-crossed memories of the many different events and times of her life. But even though her mind and her body are failing her in so many ways, I am still touched by her spirit every time I go and see her.
My grandma has always been someone I looked up to as being positive and full of love and faith. Being around her, I still get that feeling. The feeling that life is beautiful and is meant to be enjoyed. When I arrived at the nursing home today, she was sitting outside in her wheelchair beside my father. She had her eyes closed, her head up, and was soaking in the sun. A big smile came over her face as she took a deep breath and inhaled the fresh, warm air. Then she just sighed a happy "mmmmm" and clasped her hands in prayer. Sitting in her wheelchair in the late morning sun, she looked like the happiest person in the world. And at that moment, she just may have been.
Later in our visit, my kids discovered a butterfly and proceeded to go about catching it. This little activity caused quite a bit of noise as they knocked into benches and bushes outside and kept setting off the automatic doors to open and close. Not wanting them to disturb anyone (or break anything or anyone!), I asked them to settle down and come talk to their great-grandma. But my grandma wouldn't have it. "Let them get that butterfly," she said. "That is what kids do." Then she again closed her eyes, and got a big smile on her face and said, "And please let them keep laughing." Even though she could not remember who these children were in relation to her, they were still children. And they were children who were bringing her such joy just by being kids. Being in the moment. Laughing, enjoying the day, and not having a care in the world.
Happiness in the present moment. The greatest gift there is because the present moment is all we really have anyway. And what a treasure to be happy in it! Today, my grandmother reminded me of this. She may not have her memories of the past and no sense of the future, but she still has the present moment. And she still can enjoy that. Maybe more so than the rest of us, because it is not cluttered with regrets of the past and worries about the future.
The next time I find myself in the past or future of my hurried mind, I am going to try and remember my grandmother's smile from today as she felt the sun and listened to the kids' laughter. And I am going to use that image to remember to appreciate the moment. The beauty around me. The love of my kids. My health. My family and friends. The many blessings in my life. And then I am going to take in my own deep breath, soak it all in, and thankfully clasp my hands in prayer.
Thank you grandma. I love you.
May your heart be at ease,