I apologize for being a day behind; I was traveling yesterday and couldn't get to a computer. I also apologize for being too late.
I've been meaning to write this post for a very long time, because I believe that I have a unique experience that, once shared, can comfort others. I have delayed writing it because I know that putting my feelings into words will be very painful for me, as it is a topic that has already hurt me very much. As I hardly know what to do with my own feelings in this case, I will understand, Gentle Reader, if you feel the same way. Let's get through this together.
I've mentioned that my grandmother, Madre's mother, suffered from Alzheimer's. It's a fairly publicized disease, so I'm sure that you know about it. What you don't know is what it feels like on the outside, because experience is the only way to learn that truth. I hope that you never do.
I must start out by telling you that my grandmother is one of the greatest influences on my life. In fact, both of my grandmothers are. Throughout my life, I was always very grateful for the women that my Heavenly Father gave me to be my parents' mothers. All of my Madre's family lived within thirty minutes of where I grew up, so I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Madre's mom. She is half-Italian, and her heritage has contributed greatly to the culture of my extended family. I remember making raviolis with her by hand as a child. I remember having chicken caccitore every Christmas. I loved how Italian my grandmother was, and I always wished that I had more Italian in my blood, if only to be more like her. She was the successful mother of seven, raising each to value God, family, and virtue over everything else. She was also an artist, who sent me a beautiful water-colored birthday card each year that she had made herself, just for the occasion. She spent thirty years directing musicals for the local Mormon community, having such a great impact that you could tell at a glance who was in my grandmother's stake and who wasn't by their passion for the arts. She believed that children made the world better, and had a rich, personal relationship with each of her thirty-four grandchildren, making each of them feel loved and wanted. She never stood still, always working, always fighting in her own way to better the world around her. She was so beautiful, and so strong. She was everything that I wanted to be. I cannot express to you how much I admire that woman. The only other person that I have ever admired as much has been my Padre's mother, who shares many of the same qualities. These two women are my heroes.
I didn't believe HermanaMayor when she first told me that my hero had contracted a crippling disease. I didn't want to believe it, and I tried to deny the reality for as long as possible. It wasn't until I watched a movie with my grandmother and had the same conversation five times in as many minutes that I admitted the truth to myself. She was slipping. By this time, I was going to school in Utah, while she was living in California, still in the home where she raised my Madre. I only saw her once or twice a year, each time getting a snapshot of a vanishing soul. She would ask the same questions over and over again, never satisfied with the answers. She was constantly agitated and anxious, moving from one place to another, never sitting down for more than a second, always acting as if she was awaiting some horrifying news. In short, she was in constant agony.
My grandfather was always there for her, and when asked, he told us that his wife of fifty years had done so much to care for him in his lifetime that he was humbly grateful for the opportunity to return the favor. There are few in this life who are called upon to suffer as greatly as he has. He lived with the pain that I only came to terms with on a semi-annual basis--watching her suffer without the power to help her. Soon, she was unable to take care of her own hygiene, and he dressed her up in a baseball cap to hide her unkempt hair. Her yellow, greasy nails grew so long that they looked like talons on an animal. In a few years, she was no longer my beautiful, tidy grandmother. She was not the strong woman who faced challenges head-on without showing a hint of fear. She was an impostor, someone who has taken over my grandmother's brain and was holding her for ransom deep inside the recesses of her mind. A harsh blow came the day that PetiteSoeur and my brothers went to stay with them for a day. She turned to my grandfather and said, "There are kids in the house," in the same manner as if she were informing my grandfather that a man in a ski mask had a gun to her neck. He told her that my siblings were okay, that they were her grandchildren, and this seemed to calm her down a bit, though she obviously didn't understand.
I stood there across the street that day, watching her hover around my grandfather as he was putting up Christmas lights, and was unable to stop myself from crying. PetiteSoeur hugged me and comforted me for what seemed like forever. It was just too much. This was my grandmother. This was my hero. She was the strongest person that I knew, and she was gone forever, her soul trapped somewhere inside a rapidly deteriorating shell. It would get worse as time passed, and only weeks ago she was confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak or even chew food, and being spoon fed baby food and Ensure by my wonderful aunts. How are you supposed to handle that? How are you supposed to help her, like fixing her glasses when they fall down as she gazes vacantly at the television, without dying inside?
I'm not a crier. I don't cry in movies, though I feel moved, or anything like that; it's just not the way I express most things. I especially don't cry in front of people, much less on the curb in front of a stranger's house. But I knew, as well as my family, that we were watching her die, and there were a lot more tears to come. We also knew that out of all of the people in the world, she deserved this the least. She didn't deserve to be in so much pain, to be so confused and alone, not when she had her crowning achievement, her family, standing around her with outstretched arms. But if I know God, and I do, I would think that He wouldn't have done this unless there was something that we were supposed to learn from it. And if I know my grandmother, and I do, I know that she would give her whole soul if she knew that it would be for our benefit. I don't pretend to know what the lesson is, but it's there. I know it is.
My grandmother, Diane Helen DeLucia Jensen, died on Saturday, January 17th, 2009 in the arms of her loving, devoted husband, Willis Boyd Jensen. I had the great honor of attending her funeral on January 23rd, to see her for one last time, and to go to the place where she was finally put to rest. My brothers were her pallbearers, along with my uncles and grandfather. It was a strange experience, from watching my uncles cry to seeing how confused the little cousins were with all of the sadness around them. My youngest cousin is only a year old, and I feel a pain in my heart thinking of how they will never know her, and how my future husband and children will never know her either. But the funeral really helped. We were able to celebrate her life, and we were given an opportunity to truly mourn her passing. HermanaMayor felt my grandmother's presence there, and I felt a spirit of love and companionship that permeated the entire ritual.
I was able to spend some time with my sisters and my cousins Rachel, Katie, Julia, and Ciara and discuss all of this over lunch, and let me tell you that we all share the love, admiration, and respect for my grandmother that I have expressed to you. We talked about how we, meaning my entire family, had given everything we had to help her, but it wasn't enough to cure her, and it barely scratched the surface when it came to repaying her for her service to us. That said, it was comforting to know that her suffering was over, and that she was in the arms of the Supreme Healer, her Creator, and that she was being taken care of. We still miss her, though. Most bitterly.
My greatest comfort stems from my faith in the prophet Joseph Smith and his teachings, as well as the teachings of the prophets that followed him. They have taught us that family bonds, through blood or marriage, are stronger than death. They are so strong, in fact, that they remain in tact after civilizations have crumbled and millennia go by. This means that not only is my grandfather still married to his wife, but that I still have two grandmothers, and nothing can take Diane Helen DeLucia Jensen away from me. Our bond is stronger than this separation, though it will be a long, long while before I see her again. But I will. We all will. And I know, without any doubt, that the next time I see her she will be stronger, working even harder, and even more beautiful than she was in this world.
Even as I write this, I wonder if I don't know what a tiny part of that lesson is supposed to be: love. If I have learned anything from this experience, besides the meaning of suffering, it is the meaning of love. Watching my grandfather sacrifice everything for a wife he could never heal, I have learned that romantic love is more than a physical attraction or an enduring obsession. It is essentially loyalty, but of the highest and purest quality. It takes countless years of careful nurturing to develop, and though it is found at the greatest cost, it also produces the greatest, sweetest rewards. If you aren't willing to sacrifice everything, even yourself, and if you don't get the same level of sacrifice in return, it isn't love. This goes for every other kind of love as well, one of the most important lessons being that love is so precious and so necessary that we need to do whatever it takes to surround ourselves in it, at any price. The purest and best kinds of love will give you a harvest of the price you paid, a hundred fold. A thousand fold, perhaps. That's what my grandparents did, and that's how they created the kind of family I am very blessed to have.
It's really a miracle.
In loving and solemn memory of the greatest grandmother and grandchild could have,