April 27

When people ask me how I am during all this, I’ve left out for most, how I was already in a “season of turning inward” as a good friend puts it. So there has not been very much I feel without throughout this surreal experience.

There has been a countdown in my mind leading up to my grandma, Betty-jean’s, 94th birthday. Our birthdays are a week apart and I was named after her (my grandpa’s nickname for her). She has severe dementia with no short term memory, and I am the only person she still always knows.

We lost my grandpa two months ago, and I decided that instead of breaking her heart each time I saw her at the nursing home, I’d ask about her day (and life) and just listen. For three weeks, I cherished each and every passing moment I got with her.

At first when she greeted me, she’d let me know that Grandpa was in the garden or fixing a chainsaw. Then it was that he was still out in the timber or that he’d been at city hall all afternoon. Though she sensed that something was wrong soon. She didn’t understand how or why, but she felt he was missing. And honestly, it broke me to hold my hero, despairing in my arms, knowing the love of her life was somehow gone.

With the danger of spreading the virus to her and the mandated shelter-at-home orders in both Missouri and Illinois now, it hurts to leave her there confused and feeling alone. I hate the thought of her touching her face to the hallway telephone, and she doesn’t always recognize my voice through it. The worst part of the pandemic for me is not being able to be there and comfort her through her grief (and admittedly, ask for her advice on how to bear mine). I’ve also held on to the hope that the last time I saw her won’t actually be the last.

That visit was inevitable. We were eventually going to have to have a bad day, and it had to be that day. Though it ended magically, even if I ended up missing my train back to St. Louis.

While giving her weekly manicure-massage for some semblance of relief, I played an old favorite gospel song of ours on my phone…and oh my God. You had to see her. Her face in the sunlight, she raised both arms to the sky, and sang the whole hymn from heart. I was so in awe. when I thought to take her photo, she took my hands in hers, and so I worshipped with her. Those three versus together are forever captured in my mind.

The song was “Old Rugged Cross”. I remember discovering the different parts of music the first time I heard her sing it in the congregation at church. She’s an alto, and I noticed she wasn’t singing along with the melody one day. She was harmonizing. I thought it was the best thing in the world, and from then on, I sang the alto part of every choir piece I came across. Totally worth missing the train. I’d miss it again if I could.

This is where I was going to leave things. No silver lining, but hope for April 27. Then a friend texted me tonight about a news story she caught today, showing a nursing home getting tablets so residents can visit with their loved ones remotely. She thought maybe my grandma’s staff could emulate, so I called.

A woman named Dawn picked up and relayed the best, most unexpected news: They had actually just received tablets tonight too, and she was happy to schedule my virtual visiting hours…Friends, I get see my Grandma tomorrow!—The only thing I’ve been missing.

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