The last time we visited, we tried celebrating her 101st birthday.
When Mom called to make reservations, the restaurant even promised a cake to mark the event.
But Grandma would have none of it. She just closed her eyes and pretended she was elsewhere. When I tried to coax her into joining our world for a while, she swatted me away.
I strained the rest of the meal to keep the mood light and encourage the kids to enter into the celebration despite the guest-of-honor’s resistance.
But inside, I wept. A mother can only be strong for so long, after all, and in some ways, I was a child myself then, just wishing I could love my grandma and feel her love in return.
We’ve come to understand that we can never expect too much, nor predict which days the dementia will have its way. I knew I should just be satisfied with good memories of the past — she’s had 101 years, after all — and yet one always hopes for one more lucid conversation, one more genuine smile.
God knew I yearned for another chance to mingle with Grandma, and he recently gave me that gift.
I’d come to Bismarck on a tight schedule, so my nursing-home visit would be short, but I didn’t want to leave without seeing her.
I arrived with small expectations, still feeling the sting of our last visit, but wanting to try. When I entered the room, Mom was sitting quietly with her, reading, and Grandma, in her wheelchair, sat, too, her eyes far away.
I braced myself.
“Mom, Roxane is here,” Mom announced brightly.
“Oh, she is?” Grandma said, her clouded eyes searching.
Mom suggested I get closer. So I resituated my chair and leaned in. Soon, to my great surprise and delight, my grandma’s spirit showed up.
We talked about Christmas, and how much she’s always loved it.
“I missed it this year,” she said sadly.
“Not to worry, Grandma,” I said. “It always comes around again, and it’s not too far away now.”
She was happy to hear it, and to be reminded of some of the things about Christmas that she’d always loved, including making and giving fudge — fudge so good our family would fight over it.
I still have the recipe card with her handwritten instructions.
“Grandma, I’m going to make your fudge, and next time I visit, we’ll have some together.”
She liked that idea, but was convinced the nursing-home personnel would steal it.
“Well, everyone likes your fudge, Grandma. Can you blame them?” I said, wanting her to feel hopeful. “I’ll disguise it, and make sure you get plenty.”
Reveling in this beautiful second chance, I searched my mind for other possible connections. Earlier that day, I’d seen a photo of the Wolf family that had been murdered in 1920 by a neighbor in Grandma’s hometown of Turtle Lake, N.D.
Yes, it was a morbid topic, but Grandma, only 5 at the time, had always retained details of this tragedy, in part because her lawyer father had been involved in the legal aftermath.
When I mentioned the photo, she began sharing vivid recollections, including how the youngest family member, a baby, had been the only survivor of nine people at the Wolf home that day, including a 13-year-old hired hand.
The baby had been discovered a couple of days later, after the other bodies were found, and, Grandma said, had gone on to live a full life, well into her 80s.
“Didn’t anyone hear her crying?” I asked, wondering how the baby had survived in that chilly, blood-splattered home for two days.
“No, she’d quit crying after a while,” Grandma said.
This struck me — a baby who’d nearly given up hope, yet was still found alive.
“Well, Jesus and his angels were with her, I’ll bet,” I said. And in a flash, I saw the opportunity. “He’s with you, too, Grandma, even when we can’t be. He loves you so much, just like he loved that little baby.”
“Yes,” she said. “I know.”
And I knew why God had allowed me in. Truly, most days Grandma is far away, but her soul is as near as ever, and, I’m certain, needed the reminder we all need every once in a while.
It’s the reality that we are loved, and even when we feel alone or in another world entirely, whether we cry out loud or without any sound at all, God hears and answers.
God heard me, too, and knew what my own soul desired. “Thank you, Lord, for letting my soul dance with Grandma’s once more.”
As I drove away, gratitude flowed.
And now, I’ve got a few pans of fudge to make. After all, if God can keep his promises, I’m not about to forsake mine.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Dec. 5, 2015.]