Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Journey

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Okay, because last weeks blog wasn’t funny, I thought I should write up a funny one for today. But dadblast it, if my hubby hasn’t let me down. He hasn’t run into any potholes or tore the house up trying to fix a plumbing problem. So you guys are stuck with another inspirational piece.

Last week I blogged about passions, about nurturing one’s soul. So I thought I’d share with you an essay I wrote several years back about someone very special to me. The piece was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. The essay’s underlying message is about holding on to the essence of what makes you “you”, even when you give your heart to someone else.


*
I stood in the small kitchen as the Florida sunshine streamed through the curtains giving the room a golden glow. It should have been a lovely morning, but grief hung thick in the air. I watched my grandmother as she scurried back and forth from stove to sink, wiping, straightening...busy work. Any minute now I expected her to break down again, to lean against the counter and give in to tears. Two days before, her life, as she had known it, had come to an abrupt halt. My grandfather, B.B., her husband and the love of her life for 58 years, had died.

Suddenly my grandmother's quick movements slowed. I watched as she clutched the dishtowel in both hands, then she stood completely still. A knot formed in my throat and I prepared myself to go to her at the first sign of tears. She didn’t cry, however, she just stood there staring at the counter as if noticing something for the first time.


I followed her gaze to see what had caught her interest. The toaster? Perhaps she was staring at nothing, but then she reached behind the toaster and picked up a small vase of cheap plastic flowers.

She wiped them off with her towel, then turned and placed the faded arrangement on the tiny table. When her eyes met mine I saw in hers a mixture of grief and self-acknowledgment. “I can put my flowers anywhere I want now,” she said, then she shook her head as if surprised she’d said those words aloud.

Her brow creased with emotion and she quickly turned around and continued wiping the already clean counters. My heart swelled with emotion, not for my grandfather, or for my grandmother’s loss, but for the painful, yet awakening truth I’d seen briefly in her eyes as she stared at the simple vase of flowers.

Only days away from her eightieth birthday, she was about to embark on a mandated journey. One that would be painfully lonely for a while, but one that would lead her to discover the woman she’d left at the altar 58 years ago when she'd become my grandfather’s wife. No, my grandfather had not been some evil, selfish man, but he had been a man of his times. More importantly, my grandmother had been a woman of hers.

She had dressed to please her husband, she had supported his strong views on life and politics, she had lived to be the wife he wanted. He had not taken her identity, she had given it, along with her heart and soul. But now he was gone and she was left to discover who she was without him.


It has been four years since my grandfather passed away and since then I’ve watched and am amazed at the woman who took over my grandmother’s body. Oh, she is still kind, giving to a fault, but this journey has changed her. Her muted shades and small-print clothing have become bright and busy. Her house is now filled with colorful table cloths, flowers and feminine froufrou. She still watches the evening news, but is quick to turn it over to a game show or a sentimental show that my grandfather would have scoffed at. She laughs regularly, even enjoys silly jokes.

She has friends over, goes out to the movies -- romantic comedies are her favorite -- and she works crossword puzzles over the phone with girlfriends. She belongs to a pinochle group, has started her own scrabble club, and goes three miles a day with her walking buddies.

She still misses my grandfather. How could she not? He was the love of her life. Recently however she told me of a dream...

“I was at the bottom of this big hill. It was raining and there was a lot of mud. B.B. was ahead of me. He kept looking back and telling me to come along. He had built us a new house on top of the hill and was excited about me seeing it. I was trying to catch up with him when suddenly I saw a little girl standing there in the rain. I knew she was lost. I looked up at B.B. and back at the little girl. Then I told B.B, ‘You go ahead. I’ll be there soon, but first I=m going to take care of this little girl.’”

After she told me this, she glanced at me and asked, “I wonder who that little girl could be?”

I placed my hand on her shoulder. “It’s you Grandma. That little girl is you.”

She blinked away the moisture in her eyes. “I’d rather take care of him,” she said.

“I know,” I told her. “You didn’t want to lose him, but you did. Now you’re just doing what comes natural. Living.”

She hugged me and pulled away. “I’ll see you later. I’ve got a pinochle game to attend.”


As I watched her walk away, a lovely vision in her purple pants and flower-printed shirt, I realized how glad I was to have gotten to meet this woman, and I’m glad she’s staying around to take care of the little girl inside her. For her journey has taught me a lot about living, about loving other people, and even more about loving myself.
* * *

I will have to tell you that the day I saw my grandmother wiping her countertops, I came home and hugged my husband extra tight. And I told him, “If you go before me, I will miss you. I will be sad, but I will not be in a place where I do not know who I am. In other words, I will put my damn flowers anywhere I want.”

Unlike my grandfather, who was a man of his times, my hubby never told me I couldn’t put my flowers anywhere.
Nevertheless, I think as women when we become wives and mothers we sometimes let go of the small things that make us happy. Painters stop painting, museum goers stop going to museums, readers stop reading. Now I know that as our lives change we have to give and take, I just think too many of us forget the simple pleasures that make us smile, because we are so busy. Too busy to take care of the little girl inside of ourselves.

So . . . what have you done today that just made you smile? Are you allowing someone, or something, to prevent you from letting the real you shine? Do you have goals you have let slide because someone else doesn’t think they are special? Come on, let’s share a little.

P.S. Today my grandma is in Heaven, probably in that white house on the hill, and probably taking care of my granddad. I just hope she’s putting her own flowers where she hell she wants them to be.

19 comments:

Edie Ramer said...

Christie, I love all your funny blogs, but this one touched my heart. I could see your grandmother become her own woman in your blog.

My husband and I both make compromises. We love the smell of lilacs, but indoors, they give me migraines, so we have to leave them outside in spring. My office is the only place that's completely "me." The others are a blend of both of us.

TerriOsburn said...

When I was younger, people used to say I was born in the wrong time. That I should have been born 150 years earlier. At the time, I agreed with them. But not anymore.

The older I get, the more I'm grateful I live in the times I do. Though I wonder if my stubborn, independent nature would be the same had I been born in a different time. I like to think it would be.

Thanks for the great start to my morning, Christie. And God bless both your grandparents. My grandmother never found herself again after my grandfather passed. And she spent 18 years just waiting (and at times trying hard) to catch up with him.

Christie Craig said...

Hi Edie,

Thanks so much. It was amazing watching my grandmother find herself.

And yes, compromises are what makes a marriage. Give and take. Thanks so much for sharing.

CC

MsHellion said...

I love this blog. Even though I'm a "modern" girl and "know better", I can totally see myself doing what your grandmother did and putting the one I loved most ahead of the things that made me happiest. I probably wouldn't even do it intentionally, I probably wouldn't even notice until it was too late.

I don't know if it would take me as long 58 years to figure it out though. I'm now old and stubborn enough that even if LOVE threw me for a loop and I started acting Stepford Wifeish, I'd circle back pretty quick and start doing what I used to do, even if I had to do it in secret.

Writing makes me happy (when it's going well); and so does going to rom-coms with friends (why force a male to go? Torture went out of vogue with the Spanish Inquisition.) I'd keep that up.

Christie Craig said...

Terri,

I think as we get older we find a bit more gumption. I know I have. And I think you would have made a great wild west woman.

Thanks so much for stopping in.

CC

Christie Craig said...

MsHellion,

I think you hit on a great point. I don't think most of realize we're doing it. It just happens. And like I said, I know we have to do it to a degree. But I think it's sad when it crosses a line.

Hey...my hubby actually likes romantic comedies. Of course, he still likes to remind me that I'm lucky that he'll go with me. Ahh, you gotta love 'em.

Thnaks for stopping in.

CC

Donna Marie Rogers said...

Christie, this was such a touching story, thank you.

My FIL is a hard man who has been making my MIL miserable for more than 50 years. I know it's a terrible thing to say, but I really hope that he passes first so that my MIL has some time to live a little. She was raised by very strict brothers, then married my FIL who is a tyrant, so she's never had any real freedom. She has no friends (though we live in a duplex, so she has me and her granddaughters), her life is all about taking care of him, and I hate that so much. She works harder than most women half her age and I'm afraid he's going to put her in an early grave. I want her to be able to do all the things he won't let her do, like travel to see her family, eat out if she doesn't feel like cooking, watch a little TV without him complaining the entire time.

Well, it's not exactly about me, but my MIL was fresh in my mind when I read your post.

Tessa McDermid said...

Thanks, Christie, for that portrait of your grandmother. I have to constantly work to find time for myself and remain myself. I also wonder, though, about my husband and the little boy inside of him. Marriage does mean compromise and it can be easy for one or both to lose identity.

Thanks for the thought-provoking ideas!

Christie Craig said...

Donna,

I know exactly what you mean. I know a few older women who I think of when I read this. Oh, heck, I know some younger women, too.

Frankly, it's not always the husband's fault, but the woman herself. Like I said, it's not that my grandfather was a bad man, it's just what was expected by most people. And some women just gave what was expected of them.

I hope you MIL finds a bit of herself soon.

Take care and thanks so much for sharing.

CC

Christie Craig said...

Tessa,

You have a very good point. This works two ways. I know some women who try to make their men into what they want them to be. And some of the men even comply...give up fishing and golf.

I do think in the past, it was the women who were more prone to this, but today it can swing both ways.

Thanks so much for sharing your points, Tessa!

CC

Brandy said...

Huh, I find that I am a bit like your grandmother. I put my husbands needs and wants first, not to mention my kids. But, I also know that if I were to really tell my husband there was something I wanted or needed to do he would move the world for me to do it.

Your story made me smile, I'm glad your grandmother was able to be the woman she needed and wanted to be before her time ended.

Christie Craig said...

Brandy,

I think all women are a bit like that, as long as you're not unhappy. And I know what you mean about your hubby. My hubby is just like that, too. If he really thinks I want something, he's generally all for it.

Thanks for sharing.

CC

Refhater said...

Awww...Today's blog so totally made me cry. It's been an emotional day and that put the icing on the cake.

It made me think of my own grandma who is battling dementia and can't remember who or where she is let alone what makes her happy. How my mother juggles being a caregiver to her elderly parents, work, and taking care of her own family. How I'm struggling to find the time and finances to be true to myself. And how my 3 year old niece is so sure of herself and her place in this world that she's invincible in her own mind.

I have yet to do something today simply to make myself smile. I do plan however to take the time and call my niece and ask her how her very first day of school went. And letting her ramble on and on as she tends to do. Then I'm going to take on of the pain pills the Dr. gave me last night after I broke my toe and head to bed early for a change.

Thanks for sharing your story with us. It was just what I needed.

Sandy said...

Oh, CC, what a story.

I can totally relate to the story. I gave up museums and the arts to take care of my husband. Bless his heart, I know he's given up things, too.

I'm so glad your grandmother went on with her life. I think women have an easier time of moving on than men when their spouses die.


I bet this was a hit in the Soup for the Soul books.

Thanks for a wonderful post. I want more of your funny posts though.

Christie Craig said...

Refhater,

I'm sorry I made you cry. I hope it was a good cry. And girl, you have my sympathy on your grandma. My grandma had a few months like that as well, and it was so hard.

I hope your phone conversation with your niece was extra special and brought on a smile.

Thanks for sharing.

CC

Christie Craig said...

Sandy,

Thanks so much for stopping in. I think we all give a little when we fall in love.

And I promise a funny one next week. Oh, goodness, hubby better get busy! LOL.

CC

M. said...

today was a day that i really needed to hear about how its alright to put your flowers where you want then even before you are a widow

Christie Craig said...

M,

Thanks for stopping in. I hope the story touched you in all the positive ways.

CC

vicariousrising said...

Christie, this post has deeply touched me. It makes me think of my dad's parents, both still living, and the difficulties my grandmother is going through with my ailing grandfather right now. She is standing by him and doing as he wishes, although dementia has made him cranky and irrational. She has mentioned in passing that she wishes she could do things, like have a part time job or even move to assisted living, that he refuses to do.

The love that they have had always been something that I've admired, but right now, it is very difficult for me to understand. I am a product of the times, like you wrote.

But my home also has "my" space and "his" space, then "our" space, where there is compromise. Although I have to say, I think I have more say over where things can go than he does. He gets to decide where things go in the garage, basement, his office and tool shed. ;)

I love what you wrote about being able to see your grandmother as an individual. It's interesting to me that many widows live on independedntly for many years without their husbands, but often widowers don't make it long after their wives die. I wonder what it says about adaptability.

I think I will give my husband a big hug when he gets home today too. He lets me be myself and I like to think that he helps me be the best me and not a shadow of myself in order to help him meet his goals.

Thank you again, Christie. You've reached my heart and shown me again why you are such a wonderful writer.