Letting Go & Holding On – Grandma’s Story

I pass through the glass door and scan the room for the tilted wheelchair and head of feather-soft hair.  Chairs fill the room, most facing the large TV mounted on the side wall.  A sea of grey hair.  And then there she is.  Head back, mouth open, eyes closed.  Asleep amid the mumbling and the blaring game show host.

I take her hand.  And check her over. 

Nails painted.  The soft white shirt peeking out from the zipped cardigan.  The black knit pants & square brown sneakers.  And then I flip the brakes open and roll her away. 

To the quiet back room where we can be alone for a few minutes.  Where I can collect myself and settle in for the short visit.

My 89 year old grandma has Alzheimers.

It started fairly slow & then all of the sudden it became really real, really fast.  By the time the plans for the nursing home were made, it was serious.  The woman that had been a steadfast in my life was fading, slipping away for longer and longer stretches of time.

And now it seems the disease has taken over, which means that letting go & holding on are happening all at once.

Letting go of the woman who was a daily presence in my childhood.  My grandma with her matching jewelry and beautifully cared-for clothes.  My grandma with her crystal blue eyes and her long slender fingers.  These qualities are still there.  They offer reassurance during these painful visits. 

Reassurance that this is still the same woman who took breaks from her bookwork at the table to teach me card games on my days off from kindergarten.  The woman who made sure she always had her grandkids’ favorites on hand, treating us all to maple-glazed long-johns & cherry-filled Bismarcks at the kitchen nook each Sunday after church.

Creating a home that would be the hub. The gathering place for holidays and the place to play cards on a Saturday night.

And now this home has been passed on for another family to make their own memories at the small built-in nook in the cozy kitchen. 

Letting go.

As I sit and watch her sleep, I stroke her hand and pull up my favorite memories of the house with the pastel, flowered wallpaper.  My aunt wrapping my hair in little papers and my eyes watering from the smell of my first home perm.  Learning how to snap a dish towel with my cousins as we cleaned up from holiday gatherings & singing and dancing on the linoleum floor with my aunts. 

This home that she made was a gathering space for women.  My grandma, her 4 daughters and eventually their 6 daughters.  A place to bare troubles, ask questions, and support each other.  The place where I listened in awe as the women that I loved modeled how to share burdens.  No question off-limits with family and no shortage of laughter, or wine.

All the while, grandma was there.  Opening her door for family to meet up, sleep over, laugh together, and make memories.  I can see her there.  And I’m holding on.

But the letting go is testing us all.  The disease and the complications that swirled up with it didn’t offer time to catch our breath and lean into each other around the kitchen nook.  Too many logistics & changes happening each week.  Meals, safety, daily hygiene – all sources of tension, struggle, stress.  The day-to-day doing left little room for the being- the holding and cherishing. 

Here I am letting go of how I thought this tribe of women would spend time together at this stage in our lives.

And holding on as I create space for my own daughter to share her struggles & joys with my sisters and mom.  To watch us band together and support each other around a new table.

She hasn’t woken up this visit and I have let go of my hopes of rehashing any of our good times.  She won’t ask about my growing kids & their activities; something she always prided herself on.  She won’t play cards or offer me her famous Monster Cookies, but I’m still holding on. 

I’m teaching my kids Gin Rummy and sitting around the table with them to share our troubles.  I’m looking into my son’s crystal blue eyes and seeing her there.  The mother, grandmother, great-grandmother who loved & gave, who struggled & believed.  The woman who shaped who I am today.

I am letting go of any expectations that I hold for my time left with grandma.  I am holding on to the good times & letting them flow over me as we sit and wait.

 

Changing Course

6:10am.  I silence the alarm.  Don soft wool socks, thick slippers, and grey flannel robe to mimic the warmth of the bed until my body adjusts to being upright.  I fill the tea kettle, locate the heavy blue cup, rip open the tea bag and notice the tiny print.  A message that my soul needs to hear, but my brain isn’t ready to process.

“Experience will give you wisdom,” the little scrap of paper proclaims.

And even though I am barely awake, I understand the depth of this statement.  I can feel my heart open to these words, so I free the tag from the thread, pull a piece of tape from the black dispenser and secure the note to my journal.  A blank page waiting for these notes of insight.  Holding them until my head catches up to my heart, the exact pattern that has brought me to this place.  An exhausting circuitous journey of my own creation. 

The never-ending battle between my heart that longs to stretch and grow and the voices in my head that can’t help but keep me small and safe.  Practicality and responsibility are the head’s rally cry, ensuring that all goes according to plan.  This has been the modus operandi for years, but I am sensing a change in the winds.  This 42 year-old heart is fed up with the usual protocol and is doing everything in it’s power to shake me awake.

Hesitancy, overthinking, and a sense of responsibility took root and bloomed early in me.  Praised for being the kind of kid that would make any teacher’s job a breeze, I quickly realized that taking risks, speaking out, or following my instincts wouldn’t have a place in the equation of success I was creating.  I drew a thick blanket over all of those yearnings, those hidden desires to jump in with both feet or dance with the wind.  My muffled dreams barely heard as my head, with all of it’s practicality and planning, learned how to navigate with ease. 

Learning would be the ticket.  I could “do” learning.  I would become masterful at gathering knowledge.  It would become my default.  My go-to.  My security and my greatest crutch.

Anytime my heart would long for experience and adventure, I’d notice the urge, but offer a distraction instead.  Trying to appease the whispers of my heart, I’d start by learning about the subject.  Telling myself I was being courageous as I dove into a new author, new hobby or even as I started a new career.  Documenting the nuggets of information that seemed so relevant to growth in my journals.  I created an anthology of quotes, reflections, and struggles that have become carbon copies of each other.

Each journal a record of the heart’s repeated attempts to create a stir.  Quotes all offering different versions of the tea bag’s advice.  Mark Nepo’s nudge to stop standing on the sidelines, urging me to step in and become a song to be sung.  Brene’s advice to dare greatly and enter the arena.  The same theme over and over. 

I have been assured that I’m not stuck in the same circle, that this is not an endless loop rather a circular path that is spiraling upward and I am surely learning more with each go around.  Even if this is the case, I’m fed up.  Tired of trying so hard to learn it all.  Sick of the cycle of my own creation and it’s repeated outcome.  Because this heart isn’t satisfied with the novelty of new information and keeps asking for less thought and more action.  The security blanket is feeling old and scratchy.  My heart has been continuing to tug at the corners, pushing to be uncovered. 

The cries are getting louder,  “Listen to me!  You have got to get out there!  Get your hands dirty! Try things on!  Experience is the teacher.

My heart longs to read fiction with abandon, to take day trips with no agenda, to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and to throw paint on a canvas in thick, bold strokes.  “Stop trying so hard to learn about your life and step into your life,” it calls.  Let’s get messy, dig in, and find out what happens when you go with your gut.  It asks to gather wisdom from the waving grasses, the meandering streams and the canopy of trees on long walks in quiet spaces.

I have made my heart wait patiently for the voices of the head to tire, become exhausted from their relentless pursuit to soak up knowledge in traditional ways.  And now the steaming cup of tea is ready and my journal is patiently waiting.  I shuffle through the quiet house to my corner chair, wrap myself in the comfort of a soft wool blanket, and reread the invitation to chart a new course. 

A Profile in Letting GO- Kate shares her story

I like to think of the decluttering process as a journey.  A journey that can be started at any age or stage of life, but it seems to start with a nagging desire.

A desire to live with less, a desire to let go, a desire to get more clarity in order to turn attention toward a new priority.

I really only started on my journey after our family grew to 2 kids, 2 parents, a dog, and a house full of stuff! 

Stuff that it felt like we “had” to have

…because that’s what everyone said was needed to raise healthy kids

…because I didn’t set boundaries around gifts

…because I like a good sale

…because I was stuck in “just in case” thinking

I knew it was too much.  I knew that it felt out-of-alignment with my true nature- which believes that we don’t need to take more than we need from this earth or each other.  I knew I had to make some changes.  And the changes have taken courage, lots of it.

It takes courage to say you want to try a new route.  It takes courage to admit that you don’t have all the answers about living with less.  It takes courage to set up boundaries, to say no, to be choosy.  And it takes lots of courage to keep working at it when you fall back into old patterns.

I also had to realize that my journey is unique.  I can look to others for guidance, support, & inspiration, but the only person that can tell me what to keep & what to let go of, is me. 

The things that are important to me & what I want to surround myself with are going to be different from my neighbors or other friends & family,  & that’s ok.  I can let go of an idea that there is a magic number of items to pare down to or a right way.  Instead, I work to offer myself compassion, knowing that I will keep moving toward creating the spaces that feel good & support my family & I.

My journey is still in progress and I’m sure it will continue to be that way, so I’m learning to be ok with it.  I know it will get easier as habits get formed & some of my new ways of thinking/doing become second-nature.  I will trust the process.

I can still go to Target and get sucked in by a “good deal.”  I can still find myself packing our car full of snacks & supplies when we travel to appease that “just in case” part of my thinking.  I still have areas of clutter that haven’t been looked at yet, but I am offering myself compassion, because I’m taking baby steps forward on my journey.

Each shift, each act of letting go gets easier & brings me closer to my desire for simplicity & my beliefs about my place in this world.