(My grandmother would have been 115 today, January 24, 2020, if she had not passed away a month before my first child was born in 1994. I love to imagine her laughing in heaven--at her jokes and everyone else's!)
“Where're we going?” Grandmama, buckled in tight, sat in the passenger’s seat of her ancient sedan.
“How long’s it going to take us?” Grandmama stared out her window; her bright eyes seeming to take in the scenery. Mother knew better. Dementia clouded all of Grandmama’s experiences these days.
“Well, it’s about 15 miles,” she told her mother, “ It'll take us about 20 minutes.”
“Oh.” Grandmama nodded and slipped back into the mystery of her musings.
It was hard for Mother. Time was when she and her mother could talk without pause about anything. Once a vibrant, feisty, confident woman, Grandmama had been slowly slipping away for years. This meek soul who now inhabited her body often seemed like a stranger to her beloved daughter, my mother.
In a moment, though, Grandmama perked up again.
“Where’re we going?” she asked, looking over at the one person she always remembered.
“We’re going to Loris, Mother, to the Doctor’s office.”
“Hmm. How long you think it’s going to take us?” Grandmama asked, clueless.
“Well,” Mother said, “It’s about 15 miles. It should take us about 20 minutes.”
“Oh.” Grandmama nodded and turned back towards the passenger window.
The silence didn’t last long.
“Where’re we going?” Grandmama, smiling innocently, looked at Mother, waiting for her to answer.
Mother took a deep breath. “Actually,” she said, “We’re, uh, going to the Doctor’s office. It’s in, ya know, Loris.”
Grandmama nodded, but wanted to know more. “So, how long’s it going to take us to get there?”
Mother unfazed replied again, “It should take us about 20 minutes. It’s about 15 miles.”
“Oh,” Grandmama said. “Well. I guess I ought to know by now. I've asked you three times.”
If it happens in other parts of the country, I’m not aware of it. It might. As far as I know, it’s just a Southern thing.
But every time it happens, I wonder if this will be the time he just loses it.
“What are you having to day, Sweetheart,” she says to my octogenarian father, resting her hand on his back as she fills his upturned coffee cup.
He shifts in his seat, his jaw set. She can’t tell she’s annoyed him; but we can. He places his order and hands the menu to her.
“I’ll get that right out for you Sugah,” she says, as she turns to go.
Daddy cannot stand it. He shakes his head, and mutters just loud enough for us to hear, “I’ve got one sweetheart. And it’s not her.”
In the South, whether you are checking out at a grocery store, signing in at your doctor’s office, or ordering your breakfast, you are likely to become, “Sweetie,” “Honey,” “Sugarpie,” or any of a gazillion other faux endearments.
There are several ways this is offensive. For one thing, using such familiar terms is just inappropriate. These pet names are meant for . . . well . . . pets, loved ones. Not strangers. Maybe at one time it was fine to greet a person you’d never met as you would a six-week old cocker spaniel. It isn’t now. A simple “Sir” or “Madam” will work; or skip the address all together and just make eye contact. That should do the trick.
Secondly, its sexist. Would it be okay for a waiter to put his hand on a woman’s back and call her “Hot Lips?” Of course not. I mean, yeah; they got away with it on MASH. But that show was set in the 50’s, so I think we can safely say that behavior is, at least, outdated. Using intimate greetings for strangers is just not okay these days—if it ever was.
Third, I think it is ageist. My parents are young 83 and 81 who neither look nor act like octogenarians. It’s patronizing and disrespectful for mere acquaintances to address them as they would children. My father pastored churches for 40 years before retiring to start a business that he and my mother ran for almost 20 years. He has his doctorate, for goodness sake! And my mother is a mentor to more young women than I can count and has good friends the age of her children who hang out with her because she’s great company. My parents text with their nine grandchildren regularly, go to soccer games and band concerts, and in May 2019 they went with my husband and me on a cruise to Cuba.
But you know what? Their vitality should not even play into this discussion. Older adults should be addressed with deference and respect regardless of their physical or cognitive condition.
I know there are those who would say, “I don’t just speak that way to senior adults. I use endearments with everyone!” Okay. In that case, it’s not ageist. It’s just sexist and offensive.
Others are thinking, “But that’s just the way I am! Why are people so sensitive?” Okay, you can be whichever way you choose and that’s fine.
All I’m saying is that there are reasons why people may not want you to call them “Sugarpie-honeybunch.” Why not just call them by their names instead?
A decade ago when I was in divinity school at Gardner-Webb University, I completed an assignment for my Pastoral Care and Counseling class that was insightful at the time and continues to prove useful to me now. The task was to complete a systemic model for care in the church using Erikson's Stages of Development.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about pastoral care for those in Erikson's last stage of development: Mature Adult, ages 65 +, Ego Integrity vs. Despair. I pulled up my project to review the thoughts I had back then when I was elbow deep in pastoral care textbooks. In my opinion, these ideas are helpful to anyone who desires to show love to people in this late-in-life stage.
I offer that portion of the project below with one caveat: it is more academic than what I usually post here. SO . . . If it's more than you want to read, would you just do this one thing: check in on
my father-in-law a senior adult you know. For example, offer a ride to Tuesday morning Bible study at the church. Or plan a breakfast outing; maybe the senior adult you know loves to go out to breakfast. Talk to them. Find out what his or her interests are. Ask for help; it's so nice to be needed. Don't forget about him, whoever he is. I bet it's really hard on his family who aren't local. I bet those who live locally would really appreciate co-travelers in this grief journey. You know, whoever they are. My 97 year old friend Mary said it best: "Just don't forget about us. Remember us."
(Watch for an upcoming post with specific how-to ideas and feel free to comment and offer ways you would like to see the church meet the needs of senior adults or ways you've seen this kind of ministry done well.)
PASTORAL CARE: A SYSTEMIC PLAN
(completed for Dr. Doug Dickens, PC&C, GWU, 2010)
Mature Adult, ages 65 +, Ego Integrity vs. Despair.
Mature adults need pastoral care to help them feel connected and valued. Pastoral care at this stage includes care for the children of the mature adults and often care for their aging parents as well. Mature adults must be cared for so that they do not despair.
I have been blessed by many strong women in my life. There were school and church teachers, neighbors and mothers of friends, and many strong women in my own family. But if I had to pick just one woman to honor today, there's just no competition.
Gloria M. Mitchell: Born in 1938, the fifth child of Louise Cobb Martin and Jessie D. Martin, my mother grew up knowing without a doubt that she was a beloved daughter and sister. Throughout her childhood, her father talked of her attending college; it was no surprise, then, that she went to Mercer University following her graduation from Albany High School.
She was homesick but made friends quickly and was soon dating the “ugliest boy you ever saw” (according to my dad, her next boyfriend). Daddy had seen her on campus; heard she was teaching a sign language class; and registered for the class. It wasn’t long after their first few dates that they knew this was no temporary relationship; they married in 1960 after both had graduated college. From there, they moved to North Carolina where Daddy went to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to further his education for the ministry. He graduated three years later. My sister came along that same year (1963). Then they had me in 1965, and my brother in 1969.
While my dad has the title Pastor, my parents minister as a team. Mother is extraordinarily gifted at ministry: she has written thousands of cards and notes over the years, made hundreds of meals to deliver to those in need, and visited countless people who needed encouragement.
Understand, though: her role as a pastor’s wife did not mean that she was a pushover. In the 70’s when such things just were not done, she wore a pantsuit to church—the first woman in the congregation to do so. She also refused to sing in the choir and never joined WMU. Those were not things Gloria Mitchell felt called to do. So she didn't do them. (No matter what the congregation had to say about it.)
Mother is also an amazing mother. She raised us to be adults, not children. When the time came, she was able to release us to our own lives and dreams. That doesn't mean she shoved us out of the house and washed her hands of us. Nope. Even now, when we get to her house for a visit, we are welcomed with great joy, boundless love, and a fridge full of our favorites.
So, I’m grateful for her in many ways and there’s a lot about her that I admire. Here lately though, I’ve been most impressed by her ability to age with grace. Mother has always been an attractive woman and she still is; but that’s not what I’m referencing. It’s other things.
Mother reads, exercises, tries new things, makes new friends, and plays any card or even board game you can name. (Unless you are related to her, Don't try to beat her at Rook. It won't go well.) She also never meets a stranger, laughs easily and often, and enjoys a funny you-tube video as much as the next person. My mother is 21st century level awesome. And when I grow up, I want to be just like her!
How about you? Comment below and tell me about a woman you admire.
On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, my father-in-law, JB Lawrimore, suffered a heart attack; a week later, he had bypass surgery. The operation was a success and the doctors expect him to have a complete recovery, thanks be to God.
Having a remarkably shallow threshold for ick, I (intentionally) never gave much thought to how this procedure was accomplished. Thus, I was shocked when my husband informed me the night before surgery.
“They have to stop his heart to do the surgery,” my husband told me. “They will reroute Dad’s blood through a machine that will do the work of his heart.”
Say what now? A machine? You’re telling me a machine is going to take over for my father-in-law’s heart? Nope. No way. There is no manmade contraption that could handle that job. Oh, maybe a machine could pump blood through JB’s body; I get that. But the real work of my father-in-law’s heart? That job is much more than simple mechanics.
For example, how would that machine respond if it detected the voices of Barney and Andy quibbling over the rampant crime in Mayberry? JB’s real heart manufactures a deep belly laugh that crinkles his eyes, scrunches up his nose, and arrests any conversation previously in process. That same laugh might bubble up at any time, like when he’s sharing an anecdote from his childhood or one from just last week. Spontaneous, but also predictable, JB’s infectious laugh spreads through a group like a hysterical virus. Trust me: there is nothing mechanical about it.
Plus, a machine would have long ago shut down the nonessential milk bone operation that JB’s heart kicks off every time he drives up his driveway. His truck’s approach triggers the barking dog next door who immediately runs to the the designated meeting place by the fence. She waits as JB reaches into his hiding place and pulls out a treat. “Hey there girl,” he says, “Do you need a bone?” Instantly, that fussy old mutt morphs into pure sweetness as JB hands her the milk bone and scratches behind her ears. “There you go. That’s a good girl.”
Also, I have to wonder if this is a brand-new machine. If it is, it won’t have what it takes to do the job of JB’s heart. See, his heart shows evidence of extensive use. It’s been stretched significantly five times (grandchildren will do that to a heart), but it’s been broken too. Indeed, his life has been a beautiful one, but not one without his share of grief and pain, disappointment and loss. He’s outlived his parents—which he expected, no doubt—but he outlived his youngest brother too. Losing a brother who was closer to his son’s age than his own . . . if his heart had been manmade, it would surely have shattered.
And what about the lights in this device? It will need some with maximum luminosity that won’t dim over time. See JB’s heart shines for lots of things—the first shoots of new growth in his garden, a prayer of thanksgiving, the music of the church—but there’s nothing quite like the Granddaddy Glow his heart has emitted for the past two and a half decades. As each new life joined the family, JB’s heart light found a new height of brilliance. And yet, inexplicably, as JB’s five favorites have grown beyond cradles and playgrounds, to marriage and careers, his heart appears warmer and brighter with the passage of time. It’s a self-sustaining, never-fading illumination of abiding love. That kind of light—well it’s just not something humanity can manufacture.
I know this: no matter how advanced medical science becomes, there will never be a mere machine that can do the job of JB Lawrimore’s heart. But, I sure am grateful for that fancy contraption—and the skilled medical professionals who operate it—that kept it pumping though his surgery. As a result, JB’s heart can keep right on working for many years to come. To God be the glory!
On June 10, 1925, before God and the witnesses present, Mabel Louise Cobb, 20, and Jesse D. Martin, 23, promised to love and cherish each other as long as they both should live. And that’s what they did. For better, for worse, from Georgia to Cuba to Brazil and back to Georgia again; in sickness and in health and through the darkness of dementia. They loved (three boys and two girls; 11 grandchildren) and they lost (their oldest daughter in 1961: she was only 33 years old. . .).
By 1989, when Granddaddy’s death parted them, my grandparents had been married for 64 years. Oh, how they loved each other! Ten years earlier, reflecting on 54 years of marriage, Grandmama (then 74) wrote to my parents who had been married for 19 years at the time, and had three children of their own. She thanks them for the anniversary card they had sent and proceeds to describe what marriage in the golden years was like for them. Here is what she said.
We do feel most blessed to be as well as we are at our age. And to be as thoughtful and considerate of each other, but as the years go by, one learns that there’s much more to love than meets the eye when we start out our marriages. True love calls for lots of giving and taking. We have to learn to realize we aren’t always right. Even after as many years as you two have been married, there’s still things you probably don’t realize will draw you closer as years continue to pass until finally you become so close you can’t imagine life without one another. It’s a glorious feeling to know that there’s one who loves you and wants never to have to give you up, yet we have to realize any time after we get our age that God could call either of us any day. So, you must live each day for each other and thank Him so much for another day together.
My Grandmama wrote that in 1979, back when people worried about gas prices and the cost of long distance phone calls, and when computers were housed in large buildings rather than back pockets. But the wisdom she shares is truly timeless. When Mother uncovered this letter recently, she said to me, “It’s amazing how her letter perfectly describes how your daddy and I feel about our marriage.” (Mother and Daddy got married in 1960 and just celebrated their 57th anniversary.) Every morning, my parents have breakfast together and share a time of prayer. Every prayer begins like this, “Thank you God for the gift of a new day.”
Today is the 113th anniversary of Grandmama’s birth. There are lots of things about Grandmama that I could celebrate—her love of the color purple (my favorite too); her delicious homemade biscuits; her hearty, full-body laugh. But today I think I will celebrate by trying to apply Grandmama’s words, not just to my 30-year marriage, but to all my relationships. I will try to be thoughtful and considerate, to remember I’m not always right, and to thank God for the gift of a new day. I hope you’ll celebrate with me!
My grandmother was born January 24, 1905; it's hard to say when the dementia began, but by the mid 80's it was full blown. I always said that as the dementia advanced Grandmama got sweeter and sweeter to the point that she was just pure sugar by the time she passed away in 1994. For the last five years of her life, Grandmama lived with her youngest daughter, my mother. In this post from 2009, I recall some snippets from those last few years.
“I know someone who will take care of me,” my grandmother told us from the shelter of my mother’s arms. We’d been picking on her—trying to awaken the feisty grandmama we used to have before dementia kidnapped her. She had had about enough of our shenanigans when my mother walked through the room. Grandmama pushed herself up from her chair, walked straight to Mother, tucked her head into Mother’s shoulder, and looked back at us, triumphant.
She was right. My mother, her daughter, took care of her, loving her through the fog of memory loss. Mother loved Grandmama enough to keep her busy, despite the obvious limitations. She kept a jar of coins handy and would pour it out on the kitchen table for Grandmama. “Could you count these for me, Mother,” my mother would say to hers, “It would sure be a big help to me.” And Grandmama would set about sorting and stacking, making sure her towers of coinage were just so. Mother had Grandmama count those coins, water plants, or fold clothes because everyone needs to feel needed. Everyone needs something to do.
Mother loved Grandmama enough to bless her with beauty. On the screened-in porch where Grandmama loved to sit in her rocking chair, Mother kept flowering plants in Grandmama’s favorite colors. “Look Grandmama! Isn’t that beautiful?” we’d say, pointing to a plant she had already seen a dozen times. She would turn to look, her eyes brightening at the sight that was brand new to her. “Ewwweee! What a pretty flower! Look at those purple blooms. You know, I’ve always loved purple.” We knew.
Mother loved Grandmama enough to keep telling her story to her. “Mother, how many children did you and Daddy have?” Mother would prompt her. “Well, now, let me see. . .” Grandmama would begin, searching the faces in her memory. She loved thinking about her children, even though she didn’t really recognize their adult versions any more.
Watching Mother care for Grandmama back then, I wanted to put into words somehow my appreciation for the sacrifices she was making. (Grandmama and Granddaddy had moved in with my parents shortly before my Granddaddy died in 1989.) I wrote this poem in the early 90’s in honor of Mother, in memory of Grandmama.
TO MY GRANDMOTHER’S KEEPER
In the darkness of her mind,
children blend with siblings;
reality slips into the forgotten past.
to mouth, tumble out in jumbled speech.
Alone, but not,
She searches her audience
for a sign
her foggy eyes
find your focus;
her life-worn frame
folds into your
the gray cloud of her mind releases showers of tears.
With firm assurance
call her in
from her private storm.
Knowing it is her greatest fear, you tell her,
(again):“You will never be alone. Never.”
And fleeting comfort shelters her.
And that is all you need.
Happy Birthday Grandmama!
Saturday, my daughters, mother (aka Gangi), and I took a little downtown shopping trip in Asheville, NC. We planned to visit several shops but wound up spending all of our time at Virtue, the (and this is not an opinion, but a fact) absolute hands-down best dress shop in Asheville. The girls found great deals on adorable dresses (deals made even better by the presence of Gangi’s credit card) and we left with smiles on our faces, clutching our adorable daisy-print Virtue bags.
This is always great fun for my mother because she and Daddy had such a limited budget when I was little that Mother made all of our clothes. Easter dresses, cowboy suits, neckties, bathing suits, all of it. She’s still the one the grandkids go to for needed mending and alterations. Anyway, now Mother truly enjoys shopping with us and treating us to the little extras she couldn’t afford years ago.
As soon as we got home, we began sorting through our goodies. Among other things, Gangi had gotten Trellace a lovely goldenrod cable knit sweater, embellished with buttons larger than 50-cent pieces. She removed the tags and modeled it for Gangi who oohed and ahhhed.
“Oh I love it Trellace! It looks just great on you,” she said, her glasses perched on her nose as she examined it with her seamstress eyes, looking for stray threads and fabric flaws. “Here’s an extra button,” she said, clipping the little zip-lock baggy off the sweater’s tag. “Don’t lose that!”
Trellace looked over her shoulder at her grandmother and then down at the proffered notion, tentatively accepting it. As she looked at it, clearly uncertain of what to do with such a thing, she handed it back to Mother saying, “Umm, can’t you just keep it Gangi?”
Published September 2009
Grandmama Mitchell didn’t play.
She gave birth to eight children. Seven of them grew to be adults; she buried her oldest daughter when little Annie was just eight years old. A couple of decades after that funeral, her husband, my grandfather, died in an automobile accident that very literally shook their town. She sent a son or two off to Vietnam; buried a daughter-in-law who left two of her young grandchildren motherless; and watched her children suffer divorce, abuse, and countless other frustrations.
So, Grandmama didn’t play. Her life was just too hard.
Grandmama had . . . well, let’s see . . . at least 21 grandchildren, and I have no idea how many great-grands. Most of her kids and their families lived within Georgia’s state lines. But not us. Daddy, Grandmama’s middle boy, wound up staying in North Carolina after completing his seminary degree. (He and Mother married after her college graduation and before Daddy started grad school.) So, to the Mitchells, my brother, sister, and I were the cousins-from-far-away.
Every summer, we piled into our station wagon du jour, and drove the long, hot hours to visit Grandmama. She lived in an old farm-like house that made no pretenses. Springs had long since been sprung—in the screen doors and in the mattresses. Flies buzzed in unafraid of Grandmama’s lethal swat; mice, unaware of the loaded traps waiting for them, just came right on in. Box fans propped in the windows dispelled any hope visitors might have of really cooling off. (During South Georgia summers, a fan just doesn’t do the job—no matter how hard it tries.)
The front porch, though, offered those same guests their choice of seats—plenty of rockers to go around. Grandmama’s doors were always unlocked, and she could always squeeze one more around the table. So it was to that hot, old, creaky house that my family rushed with annual urgency. Because it was Grandmama’s house, that’s why, and it was the most wonderful place in the world.
Grandmama welcomed us with hot baked peach cobbler, homemade biscuits, and a watermelon fresh from the garden. She would have been shelling peas before we arrived—her efforts bubbled on the stove in anticipation of a family supper. Everybody knew we were on the way; Grandmama was expecting all the kids in time for the blessing.
It always baffled me. How could my no-nonsense Grandmama make such a big deal out of us when she had so many other grandchildren to love? I mean, the three of us together made up only a little over ten percent of the total. Yet she always worked so hard to make things special just for us. Amazing.
Grandmama seemed to enjoy our visits so much:
I remember her laughing at the stories told round the table.
I remember her—a bright twinkle in her eyes—fussing at the men who would always be her boys.
I remember her, hands in the front pockets on her house dress, coming in before we went to sleep that first night and asking my mother if we had everything we needed: “There’s plenty of clean towels and bath cloths there for you.”
A week later, when our last day popped up out of nowhere, I remember Grandmama fretting over us as we prepared to go. It seemed she didn’t want the week to be over any more than we did.
Back in the station wagon, we’d wave good-bye to Grandmama who stood outside the back door, watching us go. She’d wave for a minute, then fold her arms at her chest, then wave again. The tears she had kept in submission throughout the day, always got the better of her before we were out of the driveway. I don’t know when she went back inside after she’d seen us off. As far as I know, she stood right there until we got back the next year.
No, Grandmama Mitchell didn’t play. But Grandmama Mitchell loved. She loved well.
It’s Grandparent’s Day (no matter what the calendar says). Call your grandparents. Tell them you love them.