What Grandma Taught Me
Last night, I had a vivid dream. It involved my grandma Dorothea, who we affectionately call “Dot” for short. Dot passed away last Summer, and it’s honestly been difficult for our family to function without her. She was such a huge part of our lives, and without her love, patience, sweet-tooth, humor and care for others, it’s like losing the most beautiful puzzle piece in the puzzle box.
The dream was pretty simple: Dot was on her deathbed. Our family was surrounding her. All of us were crying, and she was barely conscious. But then, my mom decided to wheel her and her bed into another room, then close the door. My mom said, “I’ve heard that people who are about to die will make a quick recovery in their last moments and seem to be themselves again, but are really just being given a last chance to love on their family.” I’m not sure where I heard that or why my dream-mom said it, but it became almost instantly true.
Hearing a crreeeek sound from the door my mom just closed, we all turned to see nana Dot, fully awake and fully alive, opening the door to enter the room. She came walking over to me and gave me a huge hug. I bawled in her arms crying, “Don’t leave me, please don’t leave me.” And she just held onto me with her tiny body, stroking my back and replied, “God will take care of you now. And don’t ever forget: you owe me $5.00.”
Then I woke up.
Tears running down my face, I turned and saw my wife was awake. I told her about the dream and cried more, and she just held me and let me cry.
This story isn’t meant to grab sympathy or pity from you. In fact, it’s to share with you what Grandma Dot taught me, and it all starts with $5.00
While growing up, my mom and grandma always took me and my siblings to every garage or yard sale in town. They had an eccentric and weird obsession with garage and yard sales. I don’t really understand it even to this day, but I digress. The only thing you need to know is we went to a lot of garage and yard sales. Enough to the point where we became regulars in the neighborhoods we frequently visited.
One day, my grandma decided to check out a yard sale which was two minutes from our house, and since she was babysitting my sister and I she decided to take us with her. When we got to the yard sale, she parked the car down the street and we went directly to the sale. My grandma Dot moved effortlessly from table to table, haggling and bargaining for simple-everyday items which could definitely be described as “one man’s garbage”. My sister and I would follow along, picking up toys and asking if we could buy them. Being the awesome grandma that she was, she’d always say yes, especially if it was a TY Beanie Baby. She’d pay double for those.
As we gathered up our plunder like pirates departing a well-pillaged ship and headed back to her car, I noticed a green piece of paper lying next to a storm drain. I skipped over and picked it, up...and hit the motherload! I found a $5.00 bill, crisp and clean. For a 7-year-old, $5.00 is the lottery. I excitedly ran up to my grandma Dot and said, “Look nana! I found $5.00!” She smiled and asked, “You know what that means?” Confused, I shook my head and frowned, “It means that you owe me $5.00!” I laughed hard, she smiled and took me and my sister’s hand as we went back to the car.
Over the years, the $5.00 comment became an inside joke between me and my grandma Dot. In every birthday card, she’d give me $5.00 cash, no more, no less, and always sign, “Love, Nana. P.S. You owe me $5.00.” And every time she had a birthday, I’d always do the same, giving her a $5.00 bill and telling her she owed me. It was the greatest inside joke I’ve ever had with another person. It made me feel like someone old was willing to be a kid with someone young like me.
Then my grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
I continued to give her cards, spend quality time with her, and always bring up our little inside joke. I’d give her $5.00 cash for her birthday, and she’d almost always remember to do the same for me. Sometimes she’d give me $10.00 and not write anything but “Love, Nana”. But I’d give her a hug and whisper into her ear, “Don’t think you can pay me back that easy. You still owe me $5.00!”
Over time, my grandma Dot lost more and more of her memory. Soon, she wasn’t giving me cards or remembering anything about our inside joke. She forgot my name. She forgot who I was. She lost all memories of what we had. I counted five years, and she still never remember our inside joke or ever mentioned it in her cards.
Then my 24th birthday came. My grandma Dot had been struggling with Alzheimer’s for six years by then. She remembered some of us some of the time, but most of the time still couldn’t quite figure out who we were. And just like any birthday, I got a card from grandma. My mom gave it to my wife who gave it to me. I didn’t expect much except a chicken-scratch note at the end with “Love, Nana” that my mom probably made her write. I’d given up on our inside joke years ago, knowing it had faded into her memory just like my name had.
So I tore open the envelope and opened the card.
A green piece of paper fell onto my lap. It had a “5” on it.
I looked down and read the familiar chicken-scratch at the bottom of the card, “You still owe me $5.00. Love, Nana”.
I about screamed.
I called my mom and told her about the letter. I asked if she had made my grandma Dot write it. She told me she hadn’t, and thought that my aunt had made her write the letter to begin with, so we asked my aunt. My aunt didn’t make her write the letter either.
So I sat there with tears in my eyes, realizing my grandma Dot did this all on her own.
My grandma remembered me. Even in all these years of struggle. Even though she didn’t know my name. She remembered our inside joke.
That was the greatest birthday present I have ever been given.
I’ve come to learn when love is working, it gets more work done than we could ever imagine. Regardless of condition, difficulties, seemingly impossible situations, or anything else, love somehow bursts through the barriers. The only reason my grandma Dot remembered me was because she loved me and was willing to be silly regardless of her age or condition.
I think our world could use a lot more of that kind of love. This type of love didn’t just flow from my grandma Dot’s heart naturally. It came entirely from her love for Jesus which I’ve learned is the greatest kind of love there is.
Although I’ll never again open a card and find a $5.00 bill with my grandma Dot’s chicken-scratch, I’ll never forget the way she loved everyone, even a little red-headed kid like me.