|The view from my grandparents' front porch|
When I published my last post-- five months ago now-- I had no idea that so much time would pass before I felt comfortable coming back here and sharing.
I had no idea that I would wrestle with the notion of never coming back at all.
I had no inkling that five months of simply living could remold everything a person seemed to know and be.
So, where to begin?
Within days of publishing my last post, I was on an airplane to the place I will always call home-- my grandparents' house in Kentucky. I've shared here before that it was my Mamaw and Papaw, not my mother and father, who laid the foundations of all that is strong and true in my life. It was Mamaw who took me to church, taught me to match socks, sat me on the counter and gave me lessons on making cornbread, dumplings, and some pretty rockin' fried chicken (if I do say so myself), and taught me that there's nothing wrong with being a lady who isn't afraid to fight-- for the right things. It was Papaw who told me I could be anything, that I was too smart to act stupid, that I was worthy of immeasurable love, and that I would always, always be his princess.
Fourteen years ago, my grandfather suffered a major, catastrophic stroke from which he fought back with more bravery and grit than I can ever imagine mustering. Just as he reached a place of being "back to normal," he was felled yet again, this time by a massive heart attack. Months later, a series of mini-strokes followed. Then there was the Alzheimer's diagnosis. More heart attacks. Another stroke.
Nearly a decade and a half later, the hits keep coming.
It's at this point that I want to pause and offer you a stark, lonely fact: my children have not seen my Papaw in ten years. And I feel no remorse for this.
Oh, yes ... I dream of what it would have been like for Papaw-- always a sucker for kids-- to know my brood. I can tell you that rather than being horrified at the size of my family, he would have been tickled pink. This man would have been our biggest cheerleader, goading us on and probably showing up for births and Gotcha' Days just so he could be the first one to get his hands on the latest model. He would have teased Atticus about his bookish ways, and gotten Logan into twice as much trouble as the boy manages on his own with his impulsive "let's just try it." He would have buddied up with Oli, taking him everywhere a four-wheeler can go on 50 acres of property. He would have taught Mani some of the worst behaviors ever, like spitting watermelon seeds at sleeping dogs and how to mash a tick between two boards just to see them go splat. And he would have spoiled Bee, Jo, and Seven to the point where their future husbands would have looked like mere cads no matter what they had to offer.
Because folks, once someone has woken you up in near darkness on a Tuesday morning, set you in the passenger seat of a pick up, taken you to an auction and told you to pick out any horse you want for your very own, well ... you're kind of ruined for this world.
But notice something in what I just said. "Would have." "Would have." "Would have." Because even though I long for those things, even though my grandfather is still very much in this world, he is not capable of any of them. He is, instead, a shadow of the man he once was. And the Lord has not yet chosen to call him home.
Here is where I admit to a touch of bitterness that I have yet to root out of my heart. Because Jesus, who can do anything, anything at all, chooses to neither release my grandfather-- and our family-- from the hell of this slow spiral and to welcome him to heaven, nor to heal him completely and give him back to us here on earth. And me-- simple, stupid me-- I cannot keep from asking to somehow understand why.
I flew in May to the one place on earth that always makes me happiest. I walked in the front door and took a deep breath and waited for that touch of tension that always sits in my shoulders to slough off. Instead, my eyes instantly settled onto the monolithic, ugly La-Z-Boy recliner that has held my beloved Papaw for the past ten years. Goodness, how I loathe that brown cord monstrosity. It was empty. His walker still stood dutifully by, his extra pair of thick wool socks still sat on the arm. But the chair was empty.
Papaw had suffered yet another stroke. This one dealt the final blow in my rock of a grandmother's ability to care for her husband at home: he was now incontinent.
And with that, not only was his last shred of dignity gone, but his ability to live out the rest of his days under the roof he himself had built was gone, too.
I visited with my Papaw instead in a lovely nursing facility. Truly, if you have to be confined to an institution for the end of your life, it was a beautiful place. More hotel than hospital, the staff was friendly, the food was good, and the activities offered were top notch. I sat in a tasteful, tan armchair that was the antithesis of Papaw's hulking La-Z-Boy and watched as he drifted from sleep to mania to disorientation. I listened to him curse like a sailor at invisible people, then berate a young nurse's aide for not being his sister, who had died in 1988. I held his hand as he sobbed and begged me to take him back home, to his beloved wife, to his own house, to the land he had worked nearly his whole life.
And I cried. I cried a lot. I cried for the fact that my girls never got their horses. I cried for knowing that if he knew the nasty names he had called me, he wouldn't be able to live with himself. I cried for a marriage that withstood fire and hell but was separated at the last gasp of "in sickness and in health." I cried because my grandfather never got to look at the beautiful crop of great-grandchildren who carry on his history and feel the pride and gratitude that are rightfully his. I cried for the loneliness of realizing that the end will come, and when it does, I will be relieved.
For the first time ever, the distance between my home and my home felt like a blessing when I returned. I was glad that my children were not mourning alongside me, but instead were rejoicing in my return. There was a space, a small breath, between the shiver I could not shake out of my soul and the warmth of so many arms forever drawing you in and pulling you into the future. I spent weeks (months?) poised between the past and the future, mourning what I had imagined life and death were and would be, and grappling with the fact that God's plans for me, while always good, sometimes, yes, hurt like hell.
This is me being raw and honest and vulnerable. You see, I never wanted to live on the edge of this continent. I never wanted my kids to have Northwest accents that stumble me as I help them along in their phonics lessons. I never wanted to leave behind churches on every corner, small towns built around a handful of families who know every intimate details of each others lives. I never wanted to stray so far from home that when I come back, people look at my hair and my clothes and my mannerisms and say, "Well, Mary Grace! I sure wouldn't have known ya."
And yet, here I am. The truth is, I am more comfortable now here than there. I can't deny it. And I look forward into a future in a developing nation and a season of raising children more accustomed to Hindu symbols than Coke signs in the grocery store and realize that while the past is killing me and the future is foreign, I am but a handmaiden of the Lord learning, yet again, this whole die to self message right here, in the painful present.
I have no doubt that when the time is right, God will take my Papaw. That stubborn old man may very well have been the reason that Luke 15:7 was written. A ne'er do well who resisted the Gospel and his wife's prayers long after most men would have simply given up just for the sake of peace, when my Papaw came to Christ, it was a real, profound movement in his soul that makes me more fully grasp the notion of "reborn." So I know where he's going. The only question, then, is "when?" No. That's not quite right. There is a second question, after all. That one, though, has more to do with me and less to do with Papaw. It's "Will I be ready to let God be God and accept everything that has happened, and who I am, and how this journey has impacted me?"
Because if I can, I will know the answer to why it has all been such a long, winding road to the end. But if I can't, I'll be no better for the ride.