It’s hard to find words to describe the weekend, because it was a whirlwind and poignant and emotional.
There were many people present to celebrate their long-standing relationship, including Grandma’s sisters from Quebec, family from San Diego, my family from WA, neighbors, friends, and so many relatives.
At some point I looked around and realized, truly comprehended, the fact that none of the people gathered would be present without the love story, life story of Paul and Paulette. What beautiful, tangible fruits of my grandparent’s labors. The stories we told, the memories we share, are products of their loves, their sacrifices, the results of their good times and bad times.
I can’t possibly know their relationship the way my Dad does, or his siblings, or even my cousins who have lived so close for so long. But as Grandpa fades into the shadows of dementia, there are memories of them I want to preserve, and this weekend was one of them.
Grandpa sits, confused, but mostly happy. For now, it is a good kind of dementia. Not the angry, violent kind that I have seen in others. Every time I pass by, he says, “How’d you get so pretty?” or “Wow, you are something to look at!” If I’m carrying Dom he reaches over to pinch his fluffy leg or rosy cheek, “Who’s this handsome guy? Yours?! I don’t believe it.” Two or three minutes later it’s the same, loving conversation.
He saves the hard parts of dementia, the annoyance, the confusion, the incomprehension, for my grandma. She is his anchor to a reality that is fading. In a way, she reminds him that there is something missing. And, since she is his anchor, she is pulled the hardest as the ship of his comprehension tries to set sail. So, there is this subtle undercurrent of understanding that this may very well be the last time we are all together in this particular place, in this house, which is big enough for all of us, but too big for the two of them.
Grandma tries to switch between the French of her sisters and the English of everyone else. At some point Mom, Dad, Dom and I are sitting on the front porch and she joins us. She very enthusiastically thanks us for coming and tells us what a joy it is to see us, but in French. “Grandma! You have to speak English,” I say with a laugh. She laughs too, and says it again. In French. My dad chuckles, pretends to speak French “Baguette, oui, oui. Je voudrais allez…Bonjour!” She laughs and tries again. The French flows smoothly. The switch just won’t flip. Before long we are all laughing till our cheeks hurt and tears stream down my face. It is a beautiful moment of levity.
Grandma walks in for The Surprise!!, and is slightly confused. The banner says “Happy Anniversary!” which means happy birthday in the language she’s been speaking all day. “Who’s birthday is it?” she asks.
I see grandpa retreat from the craziness, sit in his chair in front of the TV and tap his fingers back and forth, mumbling. Mumbling a prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you.” Five words. Five fingers. Tap, tap tap tap tap. And while he prays, life and love and laughter surround him.
In a way, each laugh, each smile, is a prayer of its own. A prayer of thanksgiving.
Thanking Grandpa, thanking Grandma, for saying yes so long ago.