Ah, the holidays.
This year we hosted for the Lovely Leann’s family. It was a small gathering about 12 which is both manageable and a lot of fun. There was turkey, of course, as well as lots of yummy sides and some good wine. It was a success, despite me being sick.
Head cold. Ick. Lots of handwashing and lots of coffee to keep me going!
But what really made it crazy was the unplanned 4 hour (each way) drive down to Iowa to see my abruptly hospitalized grandmother.
My grandmother was born in 1918. She married my grandfather in the thirty’s and the two of them left their Illinois family behind and moved to a farm in the middle of Iowa. They had no electricity, no running water, and farmed with horses. The house they rented and was an old, sand insulated homestead that sat alongside a railroad tracks. General Custer rode by that house on his way out to South Dakota for the battle at the Little Bighorn.
My grandmother and grandfather had three children, a girl, and two boys, including my father. Some of my earliest memories include going to the farm, riding on my grandfather’s three row combine, and playing with my grandmother’s jewelry collection.
They retired and built a house in town when I was just a boy. Or rather, I should say my grandfather built the house. He was an amazing carpenter. He died about 15 years ago and my grandmother lived in that house for a few years before moving to assisted living, and eventually the nursing home. When I got the call that her congestive heart failure was being complicated by pneumonia and several other issues I dropped everything, left Leann to work on Thanksgiving preparations, and drove down with my brother to see my grandma.
It was a very bizarre experience. My grandma was always a fighter, a slightly vain, image conscious woman who who could cuss with as much eloquence as she could bake a holiday feast.
She looked small when I saw her. There was a tube in her nose, her hair was tangled with neglect, and her head hung, as if overcome by the weight of all those years. Her body was done even if her mind was as sharp as ever.
I watched her make the decision to move to Hospice, to go there to die, and afterwards, we talked for a while. I showed her some pictures on my phone and told her about my upcoming vacation to New York, but it was a strange, strange experience. For both of us, I think. After all, what is the point of talking when someone has lost the will to live?
But my grandma had said something to the Hospice representative that gave me hope. They were speaking of all the years she had spent without my grandfather and she said, “Life is what you make it.”
Life is what you make it.
Those are strong words, spoken by a strong woman. It doesn’t matter if you are a struggling writer, a newlywed living on the homestead without water or electricity, or an old woman surrounded by people who keep dying before you do.
Life is what you make it.