First of all, thank you all for the expressions of sympathy you have offered to me since Mama died. I can’t tell you how much it meant when you were placing orders by phone just to have you say, “I’m sorry to hear about your mother.” And the cards and the emails have all meant so much. I hope to be back to regular blogging before long, but I still need to share some more thoughts about Mama. Losing her has been so hard. Thanks for your understanding.
The following is an essay my niece Caroline, daughter of my sister Nancy, wrote about Mama, her grandmother. She wrote it last year, her senior year in high school. It was so poignant we asked her to read it at Mama’s funeral, and she did. I thought it captured a lot about Mama and about our family. And also says a lot about the wonderful young woman Caroline is growing up to be.
By Caroline Pate
My grandmother is one of the sweetest people I know. So when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it came as a great shock to me. I found myself pushing away my extended family that I was once so close to. But it took my grandmother’s wise words to show me that even if the disease had changed our family, we needed to stick together for better or worse.
My grandmother- known as “Gaga” by my family- is like a storybook grandmother, a living reproduction of Mrs. Santa Claus. When I was young, my sister and I would stay at her house every other few weekends, and those visits were a treat. When we first arrived, we would rush to our beds to find the “bed presents” Gaga had left us. Priceless dollar store toys nestled under our pillows, a magnificent surprise. Then we would come to the dinner table to have the finest cuisine in the North Georgia Mountains laid before us. We would feast upon friend chicken and okra, corn pudding, and for desert, Gaga’s famous pound cake- all homemade. The next morning, we would wake up early to cruise yard sales and spoiled by my grandmother with previously owned treasures.
But my favorite memories are when my mother’s tight knit family was together. With my grandmother’s five daughters and seven grandchildren, the house was a bustling, happy mess. Gaga would be in the kitchen, while my mom and aunts would be playing bluegrass in the living room. My cousins and I were left to play. When we got older some of us went to play music and sing with our aunts. I loved watching my grandma close her eyes, the corners crinkling into a smile, and hearing her contented little chuckle when I would sing with my mother and sister. Eventually, all of us would sit down at the table to a big meal. Afterwards, the younger cousins would cajole some of our relatives into playing pinochle, the card game that our family had manipulated the rules for our own use and passed down for generations.
When Gaga was diagnosed, everything changed. We could no longer go on our family beach trips, because she would forget where she was. My mother had to take her keys away, which was an ordeal in itself. But with Alzheimer’s, every thing is déjà vu. My grandmother would forget her keys were taken away and think she had lost them. Someone would tell her she could not drive anymore and she would call my mother, angry. She could no longer even cook- she would forget her dishes were in the oven and they would burn. She even forgot how to play pinochle. Eventually, visiting became less of a vacation and more of a chore. My grandparent’s activities were deduced to watching television and napping. It scared me to watch them become shells of the people they had once been, and it scared me even more to know that all of our memories would be forgotten, that even I would be forgotten. I hated that weren’t even family anymore- we were “caretakers”.
One night when I was in my room, the book I was reading suddenly reminded me of my grandmother. From the shelf above my bed, I pulled down a small wooden frame that my grandmother had given me one Christmas. I had almost forgotten about it. I opened up the back, and inside was a note that read:
When I was a girl in the Mt. Creek Baptist Church, I heard a preacher pray this prayer. I thought it was beautiful. It inspired me. I appropriated it for my own. I began praying it for myself...every day.
When the girls came along, I began praying it for them, and when you came along, I began praying it for you.
I may have missed a day or two praying this prayer, but some days I prayed it for you many times. I’m sure I’ve averaged praying this prayer for you once a day for all of your life.
And. I’ll continue to pray it for you every day for as long as I can pray...because I love you. Gaga
I then realized that because she had forgotten, I had to remember. Because our family could never be the same, now we needed to be together more than ever- just in a different way. Our family had gone through many hard times, but we needed to still be there for each other, like she was for us, every day. Pray for each other like she did for us, every day. Because she may have forgotten the prayer now, but I will never forget those words she framed for me:
Help Caroline in the early morning of her life to catch hold of the things that of true and lasting value and pursue those things with great joy and enthusiasm.
Create the mix of circumstances that will bring about Your perfect will in her life.
In Jesus’ name I pray,
(Mama gave a framed copy of the prayer Caroline talks about to each of her grandchildren. She was truly, as her preacher said at her service, a prayer warrior.)