At some point during my young adulthood, my grandmother was diagnosed with
Alzheimer’s disease. There had been many subtle changes in her behavior leading up to this
diagnosis that was new and unfamiliar to me. More than ever before, I wanted to
savor and treasure the “Gran” I knew and loved. The wisdom she shared was an accumulation of survival during
the Depression, fifty years of marriage, and self-taught skills in a career as
an editor’s assistant. She had been uniquely helpful in the development of my writing
skills and seemed to delight in proofreading my drafts. Over the next years, as
the difficulties and challenges of Alzheimer’s took its toll on my grandmother, an unexpected blessing found its way to me.
Throughout her life, Gran was extremely humble about her musical talent, but
equally willing to share it with others. With few formal lessons, she had
always considered her ability to play the piano a natural gift from God, and
she shared her faith in God through the hymns that she loved to play and sing
so much. Many memories of family gatherings involve singing around the piano as
our “Gran” played. In fact, there is a part of me that chuckles whenever I think of her
skillfully playing the old pump organ and singing until she was out of breath
as she also got her exercise for the day.
In my childhood, I spent numerous hours building memories by Gran’s side at the piano. Now, I was married and a mother myself. My children loved
to sit with her at the piano as I had in my younger years. Even though her
communication skills were disappearing, her patience with their young hands was
predictable and it thrilled me to watch her making memories with this next
generation of her family.
Over the years following the diagnosis, her independence disappeared in most
areas of her life and her capabilities eventually paralleled a preschooler in
many ways. Gran was moved to a nursing home a few miles from our home. She
could no longer speak in sentences, dress herself, or make decisions. Whenever
I went to visit, she and I would take a walk, and eventually end up at the
piano in the activity room. As her other life skills deteriorated, I watched
painfully, anticipating that one day, she would become unable to enjoy our
visits to the piano. However, to my amazement and to the astonishment of the
staff, God’s gift graciously remained with her until the very last of her life. Her ability
to sing and play the piano lingered as a treasured remnant of the capable
person that she was in the past and the relationship shared between us over the
years. Although there was barely a trace of her personality distinguishable at
any other time; when she placed her fingers on the keys, it was as if she was
transformed from a vacant shell into my beloved Gran.
As I brought my children to visit their great-grandmother in the nursing home,
the time at the piano was always the highlight of our visits. Week after week,
we sat snuggled closely together on that piano bench in the activity room,
allowing the words of the hymns that we sang in unison to be the communication
that existed between us. Long after she was unable to call me by name, she was
able to sing emphatically, with tears in her eyes and a passion in the words, “Make me a blessing to someone today.”
Gran, without a doubt, you may be sure that you achieved that goal! Your
blessing on my life and the faith heritage you shared with all your family
continues to impact each one of us today.
Barbara dedicates this story to Margaret Brock, her maternal grandmother, who
died in 1994 after a 14-year battle with Alzheimer’s.