Friday, September 23, 2011

The Pickle

I was seventeen.  It was late June and my grandmother was visiting from Indiana to celebrate my graduation from high school.  During her visit she had suffered some significant heart complications and had been hospitalized.  When she was released she came back to our home to recover, hoping that she would heal enough to fly home.

I had graduated and was working downtown during the week.  I was off on the weekend and my mom needed to run some much needed errands and get a break from being a caretaker.  I begrudgingly agreed to look after Grandma and make her lunch while Mom was away. 

What I remember most about my grandmother is that she was slow moving.  Being slow could be a positive characteristic at times.  Grandma was patient -- she never rushed a conversation.  Grandma was methodical -- nobody else was interested in darning our socks.  Grandma was thoughtful -- she always gave generously and appropriately.  However, slow could also be a detriment.  Grandma walked slowly, talked slowly, and even ate slowly.   I wasn't much different as a child than what I am now.  I have always been focused on getting through things, whether it's a meal, a project, or a problem.  Puttering through life has never been my mode of operation.  I can recall dining with my grandmother when she would visit.  One of my parent's rules at their table (that I have continued in my home) is that we wait until everyone is served and has eaten before we are excused.  There are exceptions, but one the whole we were never allowed to eat and bolt from the table.  That was never a problem until Grandma visited.  I have never in all my life seen anyone that ate as slowly as my grandmother did.  She would balance one pea on her fork, carefully move it to her mouth, and chew it as if she had just pulled a plug of jerky.  I can remember my eyes bulging and my jaw dropping as I willed the woman to masticate.  If allowed, I would have manually moved her jaws to expedite the process.  It was traumatizing.

I found the whole slow routine to be...well...aggravating.  It often drove a wedge in our relationship.   So, on that June day I was already highly annoyed at having to hang out with Grandma.  I had more important things to do.  Lunchtime rolled around and she requested a bologna sandwich.  I built the sandwich and served her at the kitchen table.  I remember being struck by how frail she suddenly looked sitting there.  She requested a glass of milk and some leftover vegetables to go with her meal.  I served them and asked if there was anything else she needed.  I had to get back to my important stuff...whatever that was.  No.  She was set.  Great!  I started to walk away and she stopped me.  "Oh, could I get a pickle?....."

I will never in my life forget my response to that simple request.  I stopped in my tracks, my shoulders slumped, and I sighed.  I walked the five enormous steps back to the fridge, grabbed the pickles, speared one, and put it on her plate without saying a word.  Then I walked away. 

Grandma died later that week. 

I will never forget that interaction as long as I live.  I regret it.  I was selfish, focusing on my wants and perceived needs.  I would love to go back and serve her a pickle with a sweet attitude.  I would love to go back and have the maturity and patience to sit with her while she spent an hour eating a bologna sandwich and a dill pickle.  I can't.  She's gone and I'm left with the memory of a moment that I didn't get right. 

I have carried that memory, and the lesson it taught me, for over twenty years.  This week will mark the one year anniversary of Marc's death.  I have spent a lot of time contemplating those last few days with my husband.  I wish I could say that I did it all right-- that I was always thinking of his needs and not my own desires.  I wish I could say that the pickle lesson had been a the forefront of my mind in those last days and weeks of Marc's life.  I can't.  Sure, I can pass off my actions and attitudes as responses to grief and exhaustion, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter.  There were times when I was more concerned about getting sleep and having a moment to myself than I was about meeting my husband's needs.  I can't get those opportunities back.   I'm human, prone to bad behavior and being selfish.  Flawed like everyone else. 

What I can do is be transparent and share with all of you the lessons I have learned -- the need to give and serve with a loving spirit.  I have been struck this week with hearing about some of the horrible and selfish ways folks are being treated.  I cringe.  Does that husband know how cutting and demeaning his words are?  Does that wife know how disrespectful her actions are?  Does that teenager know how selfish she is being?  Does that person know how terribly their critical spirit is hurting my friend?  The hardest part about living past Marc's death has been watching a world that doesn't get it.  It's painful to observe the person that only thinks of themselves first.  Don't learn the lessons I have had to learn the hard way.

I reread some of what Marc wrote to me and the kids before he died.  I think a year later it is worth repeating.

Do not forget the compassion and affection you have for others. Show it daily. Never withhold from expressing your love to those around you. Hold your children daily. Never be afraid to show your soft side. It is a gift from God.

Serve God first. Serve your spouse. Then serve others. You are last. This life is not about you. It's about who you are for others. In this you will mirror God's love for His people.

Remember that you are not of this world, but God has put you in it and has given you instructions to follow. Tell the truth always. And, in everything that you do, love, love, love.”

I would encourage anyone that cares to not have regrets, to think on those words.  From someone who has been in the unenviable position of losing several dear loved ones, take my advice.  Actually, take instruction from Christ.  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  John 13:4 

Don't have regrets.  Get those moments right!  And, love, love.

Thank you for supporting me and my family over the last year.  Your love, prayers, and encouragement have been a tremendous blessing to us. 
With love and gratitude....