Billie Jean, my beautiful, sweet grandma, died last week.
And although I am filled with grief at her passing, I’m also experiencing a sense of relief. This has truly been The Long Goodbye.
While I know I will never get another card on my birthday from her, I haven’t had a card from her in about five years.
While I know I will never get another phone call from her, I haven’t heard her voice speak to me in about five years.
While I know I will never get to ask her for advice and wisdom, I haven’t been able to have a conversation with her in about five years.
The Dementia Devil had hold of her in what to my mind is the worst possible way: it stole away her ability to communicate. Grandma was a prolific letter-writer and talker, so this was a huge loss. At the beginning of her illness, she was constantly frustrated and embarrassed when the words that came out of her mouth were not the ones she intended to speak. Then it robbed her of her ability to spell, read, and write. In her mixed up world, a knife became a fork. Lipstick was something to eat. Salsa was something to drink (my brother would agree to this one, though!)
For the longest time, though, she retained her ability to play the piano. Grandma was an extraordinary musician and could play anything by ear on the piano, the mandolin, the guitar, and the harmonica. Even when she could no longer sing the words, her fingers remembered how to play the songs. But then when the songs themselves started getting mixed up, she stopped playing. She’d shake her head no when we asked her to play. Just like she stopped talking when she couldn’t make her mouth say what she wanted it to say, she stopped playing when she couldn’t make her fingers do what she wanted them to do.
When I visited her at Christmas, I hugged her with all my might, and tears filled my eyes. I had a feeling it would be the last time I would see her alive this side of heaven. And really (I tell myself), that was a good thing.
One of the things she used to say whenever troubles came her way was, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Just as Jesus rebuked Peter when he tried to protect him from the cross (Matthew 16:23), Grandma rebuked the hard times that tried to prevent her from doing her work and living her life.
I wonder sometimes if Grandma was able to THINK clear words in her head or if her thoughts got jumbled up like her words. If so, I know for sure she was rebuking that old Dementia Devil!
She got the last word, when she breathed her last breath on earth and took her first one in heaven. It brings me comfort to think that she has her voice — and her music — back. No longer a caged bird, a prisoner of the illness that clogged the memory pathways of her brain, she’s now able to see and speak and sing beauty so magnificent that my mere words here can’t describe.
The Long Goodbye has finally reached a punctuation mark. But the writer in my Grandma would have me tell you that her end mark was not a period. Rather, the mark at the end of her life is a semi-colon; she has moved on, now free to walk…free to sing…free to dance…free to cook, paint, draw, and play piano!
Satan is indeed behind her, because now, she is with the Lord!