on making time

When I was in college both as an undergrad and later for my Master's, I lived with my paternal grandmother and my grandfather. When my grandfather died of prostate cancer, my great-grandmother, Gran's mother (Granny Jones), moved in with us. 3 generations of us in a house. It was an unbelievable and amazing time in my life and I am reminded frequently of how much influence these women had in who I am today. I learned to cook from them. My Granny taught me to make dumplings and pecan pie, sweet potato casserole, barbecue chicken. She taught me about gumbo and making rues and why sometimes it's worth it to stand over a hot stove, stirring. She loved cast iron skillets and washed all dishes by hand because she was suspicious of machinery like the dishwasher. When she cooked, my Granny came alive with stories. I remember her most fondly wiping her hands on an apron, moving from one counter to the next, never measuring a thing. She cooked like she lived: with her heart.

I often say these women raised me in the second half of my life, taught me how to be an adult, how to navigate friendships and responsibilities. I've been close to my grandmother most of my life. I admire her immensely, was often intimidated by her but always incredibly proud to be her grandaughter. The rhythm of my life with them was simple, easy. We all tended to one another in so many ways. 

I look back on that time in my life with deep longing. My Granny Jones died before I graduated with my Master's. My grandmother moved from that house in 2007. Her house, more than any other felt like home to me. It contained 7 years of memories, the longest I've lived in one dwelling. I wrote my thesis there, laid it out in stacks throughout the house, determining the order that would best tell my story. I threw parties and had fights with my friends in the backyard, debated politics and literature at the kitchen counter. It was a fleeting and magical time. 

Now, my grandmother is sick. She is mostly physically okay but she had what the doctors call a "brain event" before Thanksgiving and she remains confused, suffering from a kind of dementia or memory lapses. There isn't a clear diagnosis. 

I never imagined that my grandmother who I saw as invincible and brave and strong would lose time, memories, recollections, pieces of herself. I saw her over Christmas and she was small; she is losing weight because she forgets to eat. She seemed fragile to me, fractured. My father who is an only child, my mother and my great-aunt along with Gran's friends are doing what they can to look after her. She is not always accepting of people coming in to check on her or bring her food or do occupational therapy. Stubborn, as always. This is her life now and my father's life and from day to day you do not know if it will be good or bad or somewhere in between. (I suppose you could say all of our lives are that way.) My father said he only thought he knew what it was like to live day to day and moment to moment. "This," he says, "is on a completely other level. Down the rabbit hole we go."

I am heartbroken for her. I think it must be terrible to be unsure of your own mind, trying to make the puzzle pieces fit. My grandmother is smart enough to know that something is not quite right. She is good at telling you what you want to hear and at performing the "well person." I could see it when I was there. I am also sad for my father, my brother, for all of us who love my grandmother. It's terrible to watch someone you love suffer and while I am thankful she is not in physical pain, knowing she struggles in other ways is difficult. 

What I am learning from this is that moments matter. The big and the small. Stories matter. My grandmother remembers the stories, can tell you story after story even if the dates are wrong and some of the people are missing, she knows the stories of her life. It is the past that feels immediate to her and if you can get her talking about those days, she seems like the woman I remember. 

It feels urgent to me to take notice of the world around me and to create and embrace the moments I'm given. It also feels challenging in the midst of all we do to make time for such things. Making time; it's one of the things I want to be aware of this year. Part of tending is about making time, which means some things have to shift and move and become less important. I'm working on new rhythms of my life, but never ever forgetting where I'm from or the women who helped me get here from there.