Thursday, February 11, 2010
Food for Thought Thursdays: Grandma Reynolds
This was our last lunch: a soggy, weak hospital tunafish sandwich. We had shared countless meals, my grandparents and I, including tuna sandwiches. Those meals had transpired in my grandmother's dining room or kitchen, though, and she had prepared and served them instead of a nameless and faceless hospital worker. Over our other meals, conversation had bounced around school subjects and books read, instruments played and sports games won or lost. Most of our meals involved at least seven of us (a number certain to keep conversation flowing), but even when they hadn't, when I had gone to visit alone during high school afternoons, the conversation had circled around me and my brothers instead of my grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa were so doting and curious that I didn't notice this pattern until I was older.
This lunch, the last lunch, was different. I had anticipated it across days and miles and somewhere in there identified two guiding desires: to help my dad and share part of this experience of losing with him side-by-side and to see my grandma. While I can't say that I accomplished my first aim (although I hold these days my dad and I shared incredibly close to my heart), I did succeed in seeing my grandma. I had wanted to see her in sickness so I might better understand her in health, to pick her brain and quiet my own enough to really hear her, to see her with my dad as a mother and with my grandfather as a partner. I wanted to break away from my cross-generational perspective and glimpse this woman as a complete person. This "seeing" happened and, I think, I am forever changed by this experience. In my openness to my grandma and her willingness to show me what I sought, I ended up seeing myself in ways I'd never before fathomed.
But back to this lunch. The nurse brought in Grandma's tuna sandwich with a little juice and I'm sure fruit or some other bland, hospital-y side. Grandma--ever the hostess, wife and grandmother--promptly offered Grandpa and me some of her meager lunch. Of course, I refused. Grandpa willingly partook, though, and Grandma insisted and so the three of us ended up splitting this sandwich amongst us. There was a part of me that couldn't stand this, that wanted desperately for her to devour this meal as though somehow that would give her the strength she needed to go on living forever, but the part of me that craved normalcy and familiarity and intimacy kicked in and told me to shut-up and eat, to settle into this moment, and so I ate.
Of course, it's not actually the tuna sandwich that's so significant in this memory. Instead, it's the conversation I witnessed between my grandparents. John and I had decided to make our partnership official in the eyes of our families and the law and had set June 27th as the date for this celebration. I knew that Grandma wouldn't be in attendance and so, to bring her into my experience of this uniting, I asked her and Grandpa about their own courtship, wedding and honeymoon. Their eyes twinkled and they stared at each other as they spoke, vividly recounting their first days together and the blossoming of their partnership. As I sat and listened, I came to realize in a way that I never had before that John was the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. Here these two people were before me, people I love beyond measure and who love me just the same, and yet, after nearly 60 years together I seemed to almost disappear as though I were the sand beneath their toes on their honeymoon in Bermuda. To see them look at each other with such tenderness and devotion and excitement, a simultaneous calmness and complete consumption with their respective partner was, for me, a moment of clarity and a moment of tremendous hope. There was something about seeing my grandparents at the end of their road right as I stood on the brink of my path with John that was, quite simply, a beautiful and perfect gift. True and everlasting love had never been so concrete to me and, with that foundation, I will go forward always knowing that what I want from partnership is real and possible.
When we were done eating, Grandma squeezed my hand and told me that she hoped my wedding day was everything I hoped it would be. I sat with my grandparents a little bit longer until they were both asleep, Grandma in her bed and Grandpa in the chair next to her with his hands on her feet. For a while I just watched them, and then I gathered the lunch tray and carried it out of the room and, with that, my meals with my grandma were done. I had never been so full.
February 14, 2009 Jan Lighthill Reynolds passed away. She is loved and remembered and missed by all who knew her.