Denise Day Spencer

July 20, 2006

The Little Things

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 2:13 am

Whether it’s a pebble in a shoe or a smile from a stranger, sometimes it’s the little things that affect us the most. And so it was in the brief time that Grandma lived with us.

Grandma’s personality seemed to change after she moved into our home last fall. Since we had never spent this much time with her before, we didn’t know if she had really changed, or if we were just seeing a side of her that we had never known. If she were truly different, maybe it was a result of aging. Perhaps it was an after-effect of her recent heart trouble and resulting hospital stay. It certainly could have been the  depression she suffered from being blind and having to give up her independence. Whatever the cause, it was the little things that we noticed.

She had always put others first, with never a thought for herself. Maybe Grandma had just finally had enough. She began to feel sorry for herself, as anyone in her condition well might. At times she would cry and say, “You just don’t know what it’s like to be blind.” At other times Grandma expressed bitterness toward people who, in her opinion, hadn’t treated her as well in the past as she thought they should have. It all seemed so out of character for her. She would even occasionally try to control others in order to get her way. Gee, and I never even thought she knew the meaning of the word “manipulative.”

But just as surely as these small changes served as tattletales to Grandma’s new nature, it was, ironically, the little things that she appreciated most. She raved over the food in our school’s dining hall, and over the simplest meals I cooked. It might be just a salmon patty or even a grilled cheese sandwich, but Grandma would declare that it was the best grilled cheese she’d ever eaten. On the telephone she would always tell her brothers and friends that we were “so good” to her. “They take me up to the dining hall,” she’d say, “and they hold on to me the whole way.” This summer Clay brought Grandma lunch from the cafeteria every day, and she bragged on how well he did the job. “Mom,” Michael said, laughing, one day, “All he does is carry your lunch home!” “I know,” she replied, “but nobody does it like Clay!” One day she was even so pleased with the service that she tipped Clay a dollar.

It was the small changes in Grandma’s personality that we noticed, and the tiniest  details for which she was grateful. And now it’s the little things about her that I miss.

I miss setting up her medications and fixing her breakfast each morning. I miss Grandma peering out the window and commenting–every single day–about the weather. Believe it or not, I even miss changing the water in her denture cup. I miss her sometimes-off-the-wall questions. And I miss her sense of humor. Even in her blind, feeble state, she still laughed and made us laugh as well.

The funeral home set up a display for us of pictures from throughout Grandma’s life. There was a photo of her when she was probably not even 20 years old, vibrant and beautiful. A wedding picture of a very young Dorothy smiling next to her new husband. All sorts of photographs of her as a young married woman with siblings, friends, and a little boy named “Michael.” And, of course, plenty of pictures of Grandma with our two children–her particular delight for the last 21 years.

I couldn’t help but look at the photograph of Grandma at her youngest and then at the body in the casket. It seemed amazing, especially since I hadn’t known her when she was young. “How does a person get from that to–this?” I found myself wondering. Even as I asked the question, I knew the answer: little things.

Days turning into weeks turning into years. A couple of new wrinkles, a few less teeth. Triglycerides a bit elevated, a tad of high blood pressure. A stroke. A broken shoulder. Macular degeneration. And so it goes until we just can’t go any more.

For Grandma, even death was in tiny increments. A gradual descent into unconsciousness. Respirations lighter, more shallow.  Pulse slowing, and slowing, and then just…stopping.

It just hit me today that we never had a chance to say “goodbye” to Grandma. You just don’t say to someone who’s obviously having a stroke, “Well, this could be the big one, so let me tell you ‘goodbye’ while you can still understand me.” Once we got her to the hospital she was already losing awareness of what was going on around her. It all happened so fast; there was so little time before her dozing became a sleep from which she would never wake. If Michael had been taking Grandma to Owensboro to visit her brother, I’d have told her goodbye. But when she embarked on the biggest journey of her life, there were no such words. When I realized that today, I cried.

But Grandma knew we loved her. She knew that for the last nine months we had opened our home and our hearts to her like never before. I’m sure she knew it by…what else? The little things.

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2 Comments »

  1. […] responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. 🙂 Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your ownsite. […]

    Pingback by The Boars Head Tavern » Blog Archive » Denise Spencer on “The Little Things” — July 20, 2006 @ 2:22 am | Reply

  2. Denise, this is simply, utterly beautiful. Thank you for letting me peek inside the beauty of these little things.

    Comment by Jack Heald — July 21, 2006 @ 12:26 am | Reply


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