Posted by: morrowsl | December 5, 2015


My Facebook news feed is filled these days with conversations about dementia and Alzheimer’s.  My friend Zip and her partner are caring for Zip’s mother as she slowly fades into a ghost.  I encourage where I can.  I cry when I’m alone.  There is nothing as horrid as a body with no brain to control it.  There is nothing as heartbreaking as saying that long goodbye.

This is my version.

There are a million little things that come back to me.  The bright twinkle in her soft brown eyes.  Her pointy nose – like a woodpecker’s beak.  Peaches and cream skin with almost no freckles (how did she ever manage that?).  And hair the color of cinnamon that turned white like snow when she finally stopped having it “touched up”.
That odd voice, with a lilt that was equal parts barefoot country girl and high born townie.  A voice that was almost whisper soft and never raised.
No, that’s not true.  I heard her holler at one of the cats for fighting once, “Now you!  Here.  STOP THAT!” said in such a sweet way that the cats ignored her best efforts but did move on toward the barn where she wasn’t likely to come after them.

The day we met, I was standing just inside the front door to my (relatively) new husband’s house, clad in shorts with bare feet and no bra under the rattiest t-shirt I owned.  My mouse-brown hair was piled on top of my head and I wore no make-up.  The gargantuan Kenmore canister vacuum with a head the size of Baltimore splayed out at my feet and two kids ripped and raced through the house like primates.
The bell rang, the door opened and I knew her immediately.

That pointy nose?  Her son has the same exact nose.

I looked through the storm door into the face of my mother-in-law and wanted, very much, to run out the back door and throw up.

Two thoughts came immediately to mind.
One, I swear to God I will kill that son of a bitch for not telling me his mother was coming to visit.
Two, she doesn’t know about me, which means she doesn’t know about Melissa either.
I’m not sure who I wanted to cry for, me or her.  I invited her in and began an almost thirty-five year friendship with the kindest, most genuine woman ever born.

The events of that day are burned like a brand inside my head.  Her only son had not only taken a wife without telling his mother, they’d had a child and he’d adopted her existing children.  All without a word.  She’d had to come all the way to Texas to find out what he’d been up to.
It took both of us years to fully forgive him.  And in all that time she never once said a word against him.  I came to understand that she was used to such treatment.  It’s just the way that family did things.  So un-Southern.  Almost uncivilized.  And I married into that.  Lord.  But the grace with which she met each bizarre twist and turn was like none I’d ever experienced.  She kept her temper.  She kept her mouth closed.  She complimented.  She accepted.  If she judged, she did so in silence without so much as a simper.  I’d never met anyone like her.

From that first day, I was immediately accepted.  And, though I knew she must be so curious, I was never grilled for details of my past.  It was enough for her that I was his choice.  My children were her grandchildren.  My parents her friends.  My siblings her family.
We visited the farm annually and hosted them each Christmas for several years until the travel became too difficult for them both.
From Ginny I learned to make homemade egg noodles and beef.  But I never did get them quite right.  I spent hours reading through the massive genealogy she’d meticulously researched and documented.  I asked questions and watched her face light up at my interest.  I was the daughter she never had.  I stood at her side and took instruction.  I listened closely to the stories.
And I noticed, long before her son did, when she began to repeat them a bit more often than was normal.

As bad luck would have it, my father-in-law suffered a series of strokes and died first.  She had spent years sharing him with his brother as they partnered in the business of farming and now she was truly alone.  In a very short time it became alarmingly apparent that she was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s.  Jim had managed to hide it from everyone, even us.  We knew she was forgetful, but had no idea just how bad it had gotten.  Within two years of becoming a widow, she was moved from her home to a private facility to live out the rest of her days under close supervision.
In place of her modest little house at the end of the lane, she spent her last years in a bedroom in a private home, first alone, but later with another woman with equally advanced Alzheimer’s.  Each trip north was centered around spending time with her.  At first we could take her out to dinner and to shop.  And on those trips she was almost the Ginny we knew.  But eventually she began to have difficulty standing and sitting.  Each trip was more painful than the last.  For a time she knew she was supposed to know us, but eventually we were no different than any of the other visitors.  And then, close to the end, she wasn’t in there anymore at all.

We got a call one warm June evening that time was running out.  She might make another week, but more likely it was down to days.  We managed two visits before she was gone.  At the last, I stood by her bed and stroked her forehead, wondering if she knew, somehow, that it was me.
The next morning, Mike came into the hotel bathroom and called out above the sound of running water.  Ginny had left us in the night.
I said a silent prayer of thanks that her suffering was finally over.
And told her goodbye.

I look at my grandchildren now and I wish so very much that she had lived to know them.  She would have been so proud of her red-haired great-grandson and those twin girls who are so sassy and strong-willed.

And I consider the gift she was to me.

My journey to friendships with women has been a long one.  Early experiences taught me not to trust.  My own mother was a lesson in self-preservation and my first two mothers-in-law were characters even Stephen King might avoid.
But Ginny was different.  She came along when I needed her most and gave me insight into how relationships with women could be.  She taught me to trust and withhold judgement, to accept and believe.
She was my friend.  The very best sort of friend.  I will never be like her, but I am a much better person for knowing her.

Ginny 003

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