A year ago today, my grandmother passed from this life and into eternity. By every measure from anyone else, she live an ordinary life. By my measure, she lived an extraordinary life.
I did not have what most would call a normal relationship with Grandma. When I was probably 3 or 4 years old, she had stroke. The stroke left her paralyzed from the waist down, and unable to live on her own. She lived the last 23 years of her life in a nursing home, unable to lift herself from her wheelchair. She had to eat what was served to her, when it was served to her. She lost all sense of independence, completely dependent on the hired hands that took care of her. So, I never got to spend the night at grandma’s house. I was limited to visit when we could go to Seattle and spent as much time as we could talking to her.
Throughout this time, she had several strokes, each one robbing her a bit more of dignity and independence. My earliest memories of Grandma, she talked well, could sit in a normal chair and could play games with us kids. In 1999 I went to Japan for a year as an exchange student. Before I left, one of the things to do, was to visit any aged relatives and say good bye, just in case they were not there upon my return home. I did so with grandma, not sure if she would still be alive or not. While in Japan, I got a call from my parents saying that Grandma had another stroke and it did not look good for her. This one robbed her of her speech and made the doctors really nervous about her ability to swallow food. Nevertheless, she lived on. In her years living in the nursing home, she tried to escape many times. Not because it was unhealthy environment or she felt neglected (she was very well taken care of), but because she wanted to live on her own, and she thought she could!
The last twenty years of her life, though difficult, I do not imagine were the hardest times in her life. After graduating from high school she left Seattle for New York to go to school at Juillard without acceptance, or even an invitation to audition. Somehow, she found a way to get an audition and was accepted for her ability to play the piano. Shortly after starting school, executive order 9066 was proclaimed. One of the fears in the Japanese American community was that the family would become separated and possibly never be able to find one another again. So she left Juillard and voluntarily went into the internment camps with her family. After the war was over, she married, had kids and taught piano to the nearly everyone in the Japanese community in Seattle who plays piano.
At the young age of 44, she lost her husband with 3 teenagers at home. Grandma never remarried. Perhaps, culture dictated that she remain single, or it was out of love for her family that she remained single, or maybe she just never found love again. My aunt, uncle and dad remember above all that though she never had a lot, she always provided what the family needed, and found extra to give to those who had less than she did. She was always a giver.
My last memory of my grandmother was Christmas Day 2009. It was a great day for Roberta and I. We saw or spoke to all of our living grandparents, parents, her family and my brothers. Grandma’s nursing home was only a couple of blocks away from her aunt’s house where they were gathering for their Christmas celebration, so we stopped by to wish Grandma a merry Christmas. As we visited, I distinctly remember thinking, “This might be her last Christmas, possibly even the last time I see her.” And so it was.
I wrote on twitter this morning, that it was a year ago today that Grandma went to heaven. After not being able to walk for more than 20 years or talk for about 8 years, she is walking and talking with Jesus today. Though I wish things were different, I wish that I had a normal relationship with her, and she had not had all those struggles in her life, I am glad to know that she is in a place where all her troubles are gone and she left her physical body behind. She has experienced true healing.
Grandma, I can’t wait to see you walking and talking. I am sure you are leading worship in heaven, as you did in the Japanese Methodist Church so many years ago.