Yesterday was my grandmother's 91st birthday. It was a bittersweet day for me. Her 91 years are certainly worth celebration. I miss, however, talking to her on her birthday. You see, I used to always make it a point to call Grandma on her birthday. The last time I did that was May 2007, three years ago. On that day when I called, she could not understand everything I was saying on the phone. I believed she knew who I was, but she also may have believed I was one of her daughters. She did not understand whose birthday it was, and she became extremely upset, thinking that she had forgotten someone's birthday that she was supposed to remember. When our phone conversation was over, I realized that she was no longer able to speak to me on the phone. Several months later, it became difficult for her to even recognize her own children.
You have probably realized at this point that my grandmother has Alzheimer's. It is a terrible disease that steals those we love and leaves an empty shell. The last time I saw her was summer 2006. She was living in her own house and taking care of herself, but she must have realized even then that something was wrong. Before I left, she said, "You know you have a good husband. I've always liked him. You take care of each other, and take care of those beautiful children. If I don't see you again here, I'll see you on the other side." I cried as we drove away, wondering why she thought she would not see me again. Or perhaps she was letting me know that she wanted me to remember her the way she was then, not as the empty shell that she had watched her sister become several years before. Shortly thereafter, we were transferred to the opposite coast for several years, and I have not seen her again. She is well-cared-for. My parents and my dad's siblings visit her regularly and see to her care. She is cheerful and loving to the strangers that now surround her every day, and my mother said that perhaps she still has some work to do for the Lord on this earth, to encourage someone somehow.
My grandmother's life has always been about working for the Lord. A preacher's wife, she raised five children with my grandfather, then lived in retirement with him until he went home to be with the Lord more than 10 years ago. After God, her family was the most important to her, and she always made time for family. She played the piano for church services until she could no longer read the music, and then she kept playing by ear or from memory. She was thrilled when my husband became a Navy Chaplain, and she prayed for him faithfully every time he deployed. I called her sometimes when I just wanted to talk. She understood my feelings when we moved so frequently, when I was getting established in a new church and making friends, my love for music, and the joys and trials of raising children and working in a ministry. She'd been there. She could always put my feelings into words. She always prayed for me, as well as for all of her other children and grandchildren, every night.
Grandma called me right after 9-11-01. I was expecting my second child, and I was due any day. Like so many in my generation, I was about to bring new life into a world that was changing before my eyes, and we did not know what the future would hold. But that is not new to our generation. Grandma was expecting when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and my dad was born the next day. We gave our daughter Grandma's name for her middle name.
Now that Grandma's mind has been claimed by Alzheimer's, I do miss her, but I know that our bond cannot be broken. She is still there, somewhere, still a daughter of the King, still living for Him in her own way. Someday she will see Him face to face, and her mind will be cleared. The disease will be obliterated, and she will be reunited with the ones she loves who have gone before. I will see her there, in that great Morning, just as she promised four summers ago.
Until then, happy birthday, Grandma. We love you.