Beads and Conversation

For three days with my folks in Syracuse, we spent two on the road, the typical travel delays awkwardly framing the worthy events in between at the one place that’s always been home for me.  Though we arrived after midnight, Mom had a spread waiting in case we wanted to pre-game the next day’s indulgences; technically, it was already Thanksgiving, so its calorie cloak spell had already been cast over the holiday.

We’d visit Grams first, at the nursing home she’s called home for several years now.  I recognized, even as I wrote it, that the prior statement is highly inaccurate.  The compounding deficiencies of immobility, dementia, and post-stroke trauma battle practically effortlessly to destroy what remains of the fiercest, fieriest, feistiest woman I’ll ever know.  The grandkids all call her Nonna, an Italian sentiment.  Their Nonna will never be my Grams, though.  The women coexisted briefly when my eldest niece was small and before the knee replacement sealed Grams’ fate, but my grandmother and their great-grandmother are now two separate entities entirely.

While Dad, Charming, and I chatted with her before lunch, I was grateful for Mom’s warning on Gram’s lack of interaction or engagement during visits.  Remembering how much she loved watching me make jewelry for her four years ago when I was living in town, I’d brought the full kit.  Dad used to take me twice a week, and Grams still knew me then, that year she turned ninety.  It was her last good year.  A twisted gift in my divorce decree was the opportunity to stash up extra memories, to shore them up for, well, times like now.

Charming won’t meet Dr. Bogin or either of my grandfathers or my mother’s mom or brother.  At the nursing home, Charming met Nonna first last Christmas, and now for the second time.  Her aides had dressed her in a royal purple sweater with a rhinestone bow I’d gifted her a few years back. Back then, Grams would tell me which colors she wanted for her bracelet on that day, and we’d talk while I wove the jewels.  Her gaze would shift appropriately between my hands and my eyes, transfixed on the colorful beads but engaged with me in conversation, admittedly less so after summer’s stroke.

Charming watched her today, mostly dozing off, but occasionally with her gaze fixed briefly on the Hallmark Movie or FaceTime on Dad’s iPad with her other son’s family.  I think he noticed a subtle change when I brought out the beads again.  Maybe I just wanted to believe that it was so, but she seemed more alert and aware.  I spoke to her like I did when I was going through my divorce, only my future husband was sitting beside me now.  As I prattled on, making countless efforts to engage Grams, I was encouraged by the glimmer in her eye and clear efforts to smile as I made her another one-of-a-kind bracelet, with colors I’d coaxed her into pointing to on her own.

That afternoon, with just the four of us gathered around my parents’ table, after feasting on turkey and stuffing and every favorite fixing beside, we paused to share three things for which each of us was grateful.  We noted many of the same things like God carrying varied loved ones through physical crises and God bringing Charming and I together to start a life of our own.  It’s easy to be grateful on Thanksgiving Day when you’re surrounded by joy and hope, illustrated in the carefully selected décor that reveal’s my mother’s heart of hospitality in every nook and cranny.  When you’re full and fit, when food and family abound, when the fear of the future is practically eradicated by reflecting on all God has fulfilled.

On the second day, we’d visit Great Aunt Esther in her apartment in a more independent assisted-living facility.  Time has taken its toll on her as well.  She’s not the joyful storyteller I remember, eager to tell a tale supporting some relevant Biblical theme or sing an old hymn without prompting.  Her livelihood was preaching, and she served most of her life as everyone’s Aunt Esther, traveling the East coast spreading the gospel and teaching children about having a relationship with God using flannelgraphs.  The fragile woman Charming delicately embraced was a shell of that great preacher.  He would hear no gratitude in her fully furnished living room.  Aunt Esther complained of her ailments, instead, combating every attempt at positive redirection with another prepared grievance.

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Aunt Esther believed coming over for Thanksgiving dinner would be too difficult, and despite my suggestions she start praying a month early, she doesn’t plan to come out for Christmas either.  My heart breaks for her.  Charming sees her loneliness.  I discern the result of her increasing propensity toward reclusion as she’s aged.  Alone, she doesn’t ever get to feel the fire of the gift God gave her to preach and teach.  There are church services and events in her building that would give her the chance to socialize, but fear of exposure to germs and distance from a restroom keeps her inside with movies and books that can show her the world around without actually experiencing it.

On the third day, my mom hosted a Thanksgiving Open House with Charming and myself as the guests of honor, knowing it might be the best opportunity for hometown friends and family to meet my groom who can’t accommodate a destination wedding this summer.  We were greeted by an endless stream of people, but it wasn’t like salmon in river rapids… this gathering was more like our house became an aquarium featuring all the colorful, unique, diverse people in our life.  As they intersected and Charming jumped into the mix, initial conversations were like reading the inscription for the Sea Star, filling in essential details like former names, essential functions, and previous relations.

It was incredible, intermingling with my parents’ friends who had become mine during my brief stint back up north; girlfriends from church and school, now mothers with kids the ages we were when we first met; vested colleagues of my parents and coworkers of mine; neighbors spanning decades with children I’d babysat now building lives, careers, and families of their own; and family I hadn’t seen in too many years, now.  They were all meeting Charming, all weaving a tapestry of my life for him.

Though it seemed we navigated thousands of conversations ranging from small talk to TMI, one highlight was a brief exchange with a woman who has known me since I was a little girl.  My brother and her son were friends in high school, and our families have remained in contact over the years.  My request for her invite specifically, though, was because she’d made the occasional comment on my blog post, and I sensed she was invested in our story.  Not only did she express that she was a faithful follower (I didn’t realize I had those), but she pointed out some specific reasons she loved my writing.

I write about the things she didn’t know anyone else had felt or experienced.  Not only was I able to translate concepts to words that she could relate to across generational boundaries, but I was willing to write about them openly, publically.  That’s why I created this blog, Writer’s Growth.  It was a response to random people in my life connecting to other people and wanting to share my story.

A graduate of my yearbook program recently emailed me asking me for tips about starting her own blog.  Writing publically about your own life is not for everyone; in blogging club, we used to work through a group process to create each member’s blog.  I’d love to say it was as simple as first identifying that person’s best inspiration, packaging it as a visual and verbal concept, and praying the WordPress domain address we wanted wasn’t already taken.

She asked how she could figure out potential topics and how she could keep herself and her readers interested.  Honestly, I don’t think about any of that.  It was a part of my packaging for my blog – I write on Tuesday nights about whatever is on my mind when I cuddle up with my laptop and wine in my love seat on the front porch.  I’m not worried about what’s popular or trendy or interesting.

My best tip to any blogger who is willing to write about his or her life is to be authentic, even if that means writing under an alias to allow that freedom.  If you write about your passion, writer’s hyper-focus kicks in to supply the details.  I didn’t wake up grateful for my divorce today, but after sifting through my writing therapy’s naturally transitioning fragments, the woman on my mind really only exists in Thanksgivings long past.

Charming would have found himself unwittingly endeared to Grams the way I knew her: self-motivated, driven, and strong all my life until decades after Grandpa passed away.  It wasn’t until my future husband sat with me in the same little room she could never really understand was her “home” that I knew to be grateful for visits twice a week, face to face, for over a year when we collected beads and conversations, while despite the dementia, she still knew me, her granddaughter.

This year, Dad and Charming gently hugged Nonna in her purple sweater with the rhinestones, sat beside her and made one-sided conversation in hopes to elicit a response.  I sat and made another bracelet, and though we were all in the same room, I saw things Charming couldn’t.

I was smiling and holding back tears simultaneously, stringing together silver and black beads for another bracelet, surrounded by the memories of colorful beads and colorful conversations when Grams was still Grams, back when I wasn’t a writer again yet to realize God’s greatest blessing in the midst of my divorce and give Him the glory for it.  When I write, I grow, and tonight, I give thanks.

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