Monday, September 7, 2015

Love, In Person

 by Bryan Stevenson

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ~ I Corinthians 13: 7-8

My grandfather was determined to stand up for my parents’ wedding. You can see him in those photographs, standing there, leaning heavily on his cane. A few days later he was confined to a wheelchair and would never walk again. Multiple sclerosis took his ability to walk, but it never took his joy in living life. His grit, determination, and optimism was amazing, but I’ll save that story for another time. This tale is about his wife Joanna, my grandmother, and how she taught me one of the most important lessons that one person can teach another.

They didn’t know what was wrong with Granddaddy. His balance was off and he was having trouble walking. Grandmother took a job with the city and my Dad started working as well. They weren’t sure what the future held, but they were going to work hard to make sure the family survived. When they found out it was MS, Granddaddy decided to do everything he could for himself, driving, vacationing, working on cars, fixing up around the house. He had disdain for motorized wheelchairs, and fashioned all kinds of homemade tools to help him get stuff done. Still, there were things he simply couldn’t do.

Some of my earliest memories of him are when I was in elementary school and I got to push him in his wheelchair up the short ramp to the 2nd level of their house where their bedrooms were. It was only 2 steps up, but when I was old enough to help him get up the ramp myself it was a big deal. Grandmother usually did it, and I can picture her leaning forward and pushing Granddaddy up that green, wooden ramp. I also remember cross country trips my family took with them when I was a kid, pulling their trailer and camping out as we made the trek from California to Florida over the course of 5 or 6 days. Granddaddy always drove, and he always helped to set up the trailer. Grandmother was always there to help, whether it was packing up the wheelchair or leveling the trailer on the lot, she went to work and that was how it was.

As they grew older Granddaddy had to rely more and more on Grandmother’s help. He didn’t have any feeling from the waist down, and his circulation wasn’t very good. So occasionally he would get a cut or a sore of some kind and Grandmother would have to change the bandages and clean it multiple times per day. Granddaddy’s shoulders eventually wore out from all of the wheeling around and lifting himself up with his arms. Grandmother was always there to help him move from his wheelchair to his bed, or into the car for the rare trip out of the house. During the last few years of his life, multiple strokes gradually took his ability to speak or communicate, and one side of his body was partially paralyzed in addition to his MS. Still, well into her 80s, Grandmother was the primary caregiver, never wavering. I don’t think I ever noticed her fortitude until one of our final visits before Granddaddy passed away.

Grandmother shared a story with me. Shortly before we arrived she was loading Granddaddy into the van for a trip to the doctor’s office. At this point Granddaddy was unable to do much of anything for himself. He couldn’t propel his wheelchair himself and he couldn’t talk or communicate much at all. Grandmother had him on the electric lift to raise his wheelchair into the cargo van when she lost her balance and grabbed onto to him to keep herself from falling. Unfortunately they both fell out of the van from a few feet off the ground. Grandmother was OK, but Granddaddy broke both of his shins.
Grandmother had tears in her eyes as she told me about it, “I just felt so bad for him. To know that I did that to him.” Then she kind of laughed at herself and said, “But he can’t feel a thing, so I don’t know why I’m so upset. It’s just that Steve has been through so much. I don’t know how he keeps going day after day."

In that moment I realized how much Grandmother loved him. Her love blinded her to the inconveniences in her own life. She didn’t wallow in self pity, instead she felt sorry for the one she loved! She didn’t rage against God or fate, instead she used misfortune as an opportunity to show her love. Through 50+ years of marriage, and decades of care and compassion she showed love in a way that no one else I know has shown. She didn’t say “I love you” with words. Grandmother is love, in person.

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