Christmas at Granny’s Family Tree
I wonder what kind of Christmas a soul can have at a convalescent home. I can only imagine and in doing so decide that maybe I do not want to stay in these imaginings for long. Rather, I want to change them. More importantly, I want to change the reality for a little old someone I love.
As I pull up to the Family Tree Assisted Living I say goodbye for a while to my Arizona “award winning” friend. I love her as she gifts me read aloud stories over the phone in every season. I miss her, but she is still near.
I sign in at the front desk and walk through a half lit, empty lobby. Gaze across a silent dining hall. Amble down a long empty hall to a shingle hanging on a door. It reads: Ella Adkins.
White door. White name. White snowflake dangling false New Year cheer.
It is 7:00 p.m. Well past dinner and yet she still precociously balances a straw tipped cup to her mouth. Sports another styrofoam cup on the nightstand full of Cheerios. Bottle of what I think should be “Egg nog” or “Sparkling apple” boost nearby for making Christmas Merry, or toasting a New Year. Stacks of open unread Christmas cards. Tossed ripped envelopes. Uneaten goodies strewn across a table. Poinsettia.
A kind of sad, yet vibrant crimson poinsettia needing water. This the gift I brought to Granny on Thanksgiving. Sad metaphor. The one meant for sick Kristy, but regifted in the bad timing.
I thrust my finger into the soil to check for water. Just as I thought. Needing life, so I water it with another prepped cup of water found sitting in waiting on the bathroom vanity. From this thing a large red leaf falls.
In this loss I am reminded of Timothy Green kicking a winning , yet prematurely celebrated Championship goal into an opponents goal. A shrinking into disappointment and realization of what was done. This adorable leaf child loving away his leaves.
I think of what it means to sacrifice and of him leaving the truest, best adopted parents he could ever give himself to. Tears. I think mother and son separations. I think of falling in love and out of grace in confessions. Tears. I think of public forums and boundaries crossed. Regrets.
And then I see this persevering plant. Applauding how it bravely stands. Its determined veined arms flowing the blood of Christ. Hope. Hope…against the odds of existing in what would appear to be a silent, death chamber. Life, though bound stretching up from a strangling ball of roots. Amid this comes new green, tiny shoots of regrowth. Amazing that anything can grow, or exist in this septic atmosphere other than bacteria. Air of death.
I am hungry, but choose against the temptation. In breathing I taste this bacteria hanging in the air as if hit in the face by some Sunday church person with bad breath. I almost gag. I want a shot of Essential Oil… some On Guard cinnamon burning relief. None.
I see beautiful packages and untouched gingersnaps. It is too late to ask for room service, tomato soup, and grilled cheese sandwiches. No offers of fried eggs from another long gone grandma Lila. She sure knew how to feed a child whether you were hungry or not.
Here Boosts abound. Untouched. None of this can appease or fill me. Despair hangs in the air. Exudes from Granny…with not even a smile of recognition. This is the slippery slope I feared I would find. Sad.
Yes. Granny is here, yet far away in a foreign place. In Rome, on the Appian Way perhaps, gazing Heavenward to a Creator in a Sistine Chappell moment. I am not sure she knows me tonight. I tell her who I am. My name falls unremarkably on worn out ears.
“It’s Heidi,” I say in a sing-song way.
“Heidi from Hospice,” she replies rather gravely.
“No, Granny…Heidi from Wanship. Mark’s Heidi.” It does not register but we continue in conversation. And then the dreaded question.
“How are things in Wanship? Has anyone died?” she asks on cue.
“No. But there was a pretty good high-speed chase the other night in Hoytsville.”
Officers even had a helicopter searching. Called out Sheriff Edmunds. This was remarkable, yes. To see this Incident Command Officer respond. To hear his voice on the radio. It wasn’t long until they had apprehended the suspects.
I remember this ten or fifteen moments of driving to Park City the Monday before Christmas. Sitting on the EMS radio. Shifting around it. Straddling a menagerie of other work and fire and ambulance things. Hearing dispatch volley back and forth with deputies. The occasional crackling artifact. Adrenalin drizzled voices. Holiday fuel theft or something. Short lived.
Granny had nothing to say to this. Not the answer she was hoping for and with no guns drawn and no shooting at suspects or return fire. In all of this, I had not recovered a body for Granny. NO….no one to report dead to Granny. But it did play out fantastically in my brain for a split second.
I shifted to a second attempt at conversation. Asked about her Christmas. Who had called or been by. She was not up to talking tonight. I offered to read the Christmas cards to her and did. No connection here.
Even a ring tone would be a start. Suggested that I read a self supplied book from a holiday library. Acknowledging in my mind and heart how much I loved long distance reading sessions with my Arizona friend. I set forth to reading to Granny.
I gave her a bit of background. That this was a favorite of mine that I sometimes read to nine-year-olds at school (to teach empathy). I also shared another tradition that we do in conjunction with the reading called “Warm Fuzzies.” Granny had introduced this thing to me herself a few years ago when she was still self-reliant and more dignified living at home. Before the fall.
“Warm Fuzzies” had been the creation, if not re-organization of a Latter-day Saint prophet’s birthday request. Thomas S. Monson had asked his Church family to give him this. Warm fuzzies being simple, kind acts of service and love, rather than material things. These were documented on little slips of paper and saved in a big jar.
In following suit, Granny had asked me for this same thing for her 93rd birthday. This was on a June day when a breeze was blowing through the lilacs. In my mind, warm fuzzies were and will always be warm, fragrant blooms heavy with honey bees. Each fuzzy message, a flower meant for the soul.
In this moment Granny was in desperate need of a Good Samaritan bearing Warm Fuzzies, socks warmer and softer than make shift foam egg crate McGyver booties, and most assuredly HUGS! Not this rendering of a story reminding her of what she had here in this room…..emptyness, loneliness, forlorn.
But I was not seeing that I had misdiagnosed my audience in this text selection. Regardless of what Granny wanted, and regardless of content, she was getting a voice, a connection. I was that voice and angel for her tiny desktop tree.
A Stranger For Christmas was the title that worked for school children, but that did not work tonight. I explained that it was about a woman and her roommate in a convalescent home who yearned to “go home” for Christmas with a family and children. It was about a woman who had never had such joys. Never married. Never had children.
It was about an imaginative woman, none the less, who would find herself creating a fictional “other” little old lady in an Idaho rest home for a roommate’s grown children to take in for a few days of Christmas. All fabricated, this gets mixed up in a comedy of errors that I won’t spoil. This story is good for children to hear. Not Granny.
And yet she listened in an effort to hang on to a voice.
Then, in sensing a need for change, and just when I was about ready to jump ship in getting a sip of water from my water bottle she interrupted.
“Heidi. Just a minute. I’m sorry. I think I just……messed my pants.”
I was speechless in her unexpected confession. What to say and do?
“Oh….” Pause. How to respond sensitively? This was not something I could smile at as I was used to do in almost every other situation. This was more serious.
“Okay? What do you do in this situation? I asked Granny.
Before she could reply I recovered by standing up. Moved to action.
“I will go find someone to help,” I said.
And so I did. Stepped out into the corridor. Looked both ways. Finding no one in sight, I walked down the long “L” shaped hall and found a young man around the corner at a crash cart dealing nightly meds.
“Do you need some help, “he asked in reading my expression.
“Yes. Granny, I mean, Ella needs some cleaning up, please.”
“Okay. I will send someone to help.” No smile exchanged.
And so I set back to report my findings…..or lack there of.
With each passing open doorway, I peeked curiously in to see what each resident was doing. Sitting in a silent vacuum. The loud noise of a small appliance reving. This I have a real aversion to and at school I usually close doors to it like clockwork at 2:30 p.m each work day.
But these doors were mostly open. Each one the same. A tiny, blue-haired someone positioned in a Lazy Boy or wheel chair, oriented to a loud high-definition beast. Open doors afforded escape of blaring television noise, with blasting that did not fulfill promises of entertainment any more than junk food can nourish or heal the body. Granny confessed that she rarely turned her t.v. on because no one would turn it off for her. It might still be on at midnight, and the remote did not work.
Most of all….I noticed no visitors. No one but Family Tree employees. In fact, it was rare for anyone to sign in and pay a visit after about six o’clock. A ghost town really. I thought this posed a problem for residents at night in terms of safety, security, response times.
“Sorry. They will send someone,” I told Granny. I was really thinking of how there was no one around to help and how it could take a while.
I thought of Granny’s discomfort. Of the day-to-day lack of dignity she had likely come to know these last few years. How she had in her mind, time and time and time again likely cursed her situation while verbally saying otherwise in convincing others of contentment and gratitude, and “It’s all for the best….because….. what if….(she fell again).” A predictable sentence finisher and justifyer in “This is so much safer.”
I asked in my own heart…Safer and better for whom? Concluded: empty, lonely, love lost. I thought this living arrangement, not the one God had meant for Granny or for any human being. I thought of so many, even my mother included that had experienced something similar. And even at best, this was not ideal.
After a few silent moments said, “Sorry. It could take some time. You might have to wait.”
To which she replied in new-found boldness and disgust,
“Wait! Wait is my middle name.”
This made me even more sad for her situation. And so I got up again and walked to the doorway searching. This time by some stroke of Heaven sent luck, a young C.N.A was walking by with a tied-up waste paper liner in gloved hands, and I thought this our answer.
“Ah. It’s you. The happy one. Hooray! Ella needs some cleaning up,” I said, not sure that this person even knew of this need yet, or why I would be greeting her so familiarly.
She smiled and said, “Yes. I will be right there as soon as I take this out.”
She was back in no time brimming with genuine cheery smiles. Told me she knew Ella before. Three years ago, when Granny had first moved in she had been a nursing student and worked as a housekeeper here. Started her family. Worked off and on. One year ago came back as a C.N.A.
“Ella has always been one of my favorite residents,” she admitted. We exchanged brief stories like where we were from, and names of Dutch and Scottish origin. And then I thought I had better not delay any longer what should happen.
“Thank you, “ I said, smiling a grateful, fully loaded smile.
“I need to go get a few things and then I will be right back,” the girl said.
“Okay. I should probably go and let you two take care of things.” I suggested. “It’s nearly bedtime anyway. I should be going.”
“Okay,” Nataea chirped back and flitted off.
Then I swooped in for a hug and goodbye. Little change in expression tonight from her. No twinkling or spark of recognition except for when I mentioned Donavon. Just depression. I motioned toward the door.
“Wait….Heidi. Close the door for a minute.”
This I did.
“Let’s have prayer.”
This was often the pattern of visits to Granny. Mostly when Mark was with me, but common in the Mormon culture. Common to an LDS home teaching, visiting teaching, or “missionary” appointment. Opening and closing meetings with a prayer. Formal and informal ones. Something I had seriously taken for granted for years and years. Sometimes, shamefully, even thought this thing an annoyance….. until the sudden realization in this moment.
“Would you like to pray or would you like me to?” I asked.
She reached to take my hand initiating the order. She would pray. And I was glad to yield my heart to hers.
“Dear Heavenly Father. Please bless us. Please keep Dear Heidi safe and take her home with no harm or accident. Protect her from the big trucks on the freeway, and bring her back again. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
I melt in this petition. That through the fog she can remember the name of God. Would choose to utter mine in the same breathe and sentence. That she would breath prayers of keeping in my behalf. And in spite of her needing much more tending to, she found gratitude.
I was reduced to welling up. Indeed. Oh how ungrateful I am so often. I am welling up. My bucket….buckets are overflowing in this simple prayer. This the only thing my Dear Granny can give and give it willingly.
I will do well to come again in a day or two. It is easy to keep promises in feeling Granny’s love and desire for me to be near her and with her. This is how I must approach praying and my relationship with God and Christ and others in my life.
The words of a beloved hymn swell and flow like thick honey swirling in a cup of soothing tension tamer tea. The life-size Nativity can be seen Echoing on a grassy snow- patched hillside. It looms over The Cozy Cafe, and what used to be a well frequented truck stop asking for homemade pie and coffee, Frank Catlin, and those first early dates with Mark, Deena Christensen and her turkey ex-husband Mike.
I zoom with ease, fearlessly to and from and around semi trucks. I will never see a tractor trailer the same way again in the memory of her prayer.
Sweet hour of prayer. Sweet hour of prayer.
Delivers from a world of care…..
In my Dear Pearl I am tuned to “The Message Radio,” wishing I were the D.J. and for a moment wanting to interrupt regular programming to share my story and others with a willing audience. I would deliver a message of gratitude, compassion, enduring faith, and dignity.
I think Granny is teaching me a lesson tonight. To pray always. No matter the place. No matter the circumstance. No matter the dignity or indignity. No matter the surroundings or company, or lack of it. To pray and then believe that God will provide.
Ask. Believe. Receive.
“Please God, provide for Granny.”
I want to give Granny a little bit of what home would feel like again. I will be back. Next time with Warm Fuzzies to read to her.
“Home is the place to get out of the rain
It cradles the hurt and mends the pain
And no one cares about your name
or the height of your head or the size of your brain.”
From the Newberry Award Winner Nominee, RUMP, by Leisel Shirtleff, a Uah author.
Grateful for home.