“Grab a Vase, Granny”

July 8, 2015
By

This is from my journal, many years ago, when my grandmother was living with me before I moved to Africa.

Yesterday, I wondered why Grandma wasn’t coming out of her room. I had suggested that she go into her room and put on her apron, and then come help me in the kitchen. In her condition, she’s not really much help, but she likes to try—so why wasn’t she coming back?

I crept quietly down the hallway so she wouldn’t hear me checking on her. As I stuck my head in her room, I saw something that nearly broke my heart. The grandma I had always loved for her simple wisdom, the grandma who was famous for her gooey cinnamon rolls and hot biscuits; the grandma whose hobby was puttering around in the kitchen, was standing in her room helplessly struggling with her apron. It was obvious that she could not remember how to put it on. (She is living with Alzheimer’s Disease.)

I fought back tears as I stepped into her room to help.

What must it be like to be a mature and accomplished person, standing in your own bedroom, finding it impossible to do something you have done every single day of your life?

What must it be like?

Once she had her apron finally in place, we headed for the kitchen. Grandma stopped in the hallway and turned to face me. She reached up and put her tiny hand on my face. In a quiet, small voice she said, “Thank you for taking such good care of me. God will repay you.” She took a moment to look me in the eye, and then said again, “Thank you.”

As she turned herself around and started to take her little-grandma-steps towards the kitchen, it was as if she simultaneously turned her attitude around. Her first step triggered the first line of her favorite song. She was singing a light-hearted tune of praise to her God. It is amazing to me that, in the midst of this terrible thing that is happening to her, she can be both grateful and happy.

She is moving on with joy.

I used to think that Grandma’s cheerfulness was possible because of her mind’s weakness; that she was simply forgetting what was happening to her.

The more I am with her, though, the more I believe that her cheerfulness is actually a product of her mind’s power; that she is consciously deciding to cast sorrow and depression away, and embrace the joy of the Lord—which is her strength.

A favorite proverb describes Grandma perfectly. It says: “It is always springtime in the heart that loves God.”

How true!

Though storms have eroded the foundation of her mind, it is as if Grandma is skipping through flower-fields in her heart.

It’s springtime, and she’s basking in the sunshine.

Not because her mind is simple, but because her heart is strong.

I want to be the same way. It seems that youth, like old age, brings a series of dreadful circumstances: humiliation, depression, anger, and disappointment—to name a few.

At one time or another, we believe that it is more than we can bear, but we do have a choice: will we surrender to the storms, or tend to the tulips?

As for me—and I can’t believe I am saying this—I want to be just like Grandma.

“Grab a vase, Granny. Let’s go pick flowers.”

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5 Responses to “Grab a Vase, Granny”

  1. July 8, 2015 at 5:26 am

    “The more I am with her, though, the more I believe that her cheerfulness is actually a product of her mind’s power…” Love that line and this story and a reminder to choose joy and strength. Thank you for this story this morning.

  2. dorah
    July 8, 2015 at 8:16 am

    I have learnt to be joyful in my everyday life! I mean, so many can’t find the reason to be, but I can now tell from my great granny!! I love her! Thanks for sharing this Dad

  3. Michael J Ssali
    September 20, 2015 at 1:12 am

    One God’s greatest gift to her was the presence around her of great minded people like yourself and the other family members who turned out to be so kind and caring. Some unlucky people lose would be caring family members first. By the time they become so old and invalid they have no such kind hearted relatives to depend on for help.

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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