Julia Gentry was my grandmother. She had large, brown, doe-like eyes and a gentle touch. She always wore skirts and dresses in pretty pastel flower patterns. She came to the Lord later in life, together with her husband my grandfather changing direction mid-stream and thus altering the lives of her five children. She was a faithful Sunday School teacher, played bridge weekly, and knew how to speak the language of the Southern lady. She collected cook books.
Even while we were overseas, Grandmommy was faithful in supporting our spiritual and mental development. She would buy story tapes for us to listen to: 'Ants'hillvania' and the Odyssey series, spiritual principles broken down for a child to understand. She was the one who built our vast Lego and Playmobil collections, sending a new set for every birthday and Christmas. She was the gentle background figure at family gatherings, cooking, caring, creating the environment for us all to connect with one another.
Twelve years ago, at my high school graduation, Grandmommy was busying herself as usual taking care of us all. But something was a little off. She couldn't remember where she left her purse - was it at the hotel, or had she brought it to the party? She filled a cup to drink, and then came back to get another one, the first cup still standing full on the counter. Her hands shook just a little bit. Most of us didn't know what some had begun to suspect, to discern hanging on the horizon of her life, ominous and looming, a threatening dark thundercloud.
Four years later, Scott and I attended my brother's graduation and saw for ourselves what had been whispered about at recent family gatherings. "Grandmommy's forgetting things." "She can't remember ..." She knew me, but didn't recognize my husband of two years.
As the years continued to slip by, Grandmommy's memories began to trickle from her brain like sand through a sieve. She forgot her friends. She forgot her grandchildren. Eventually she didn't recognize her own kids when they came, with grey hair and wrinkles and reading glasses.
My aunt took over the primary care of Julia, placing her in a nursing home close by. Aunt Peebs would go visit Grandmommy every day with a little gift.
"Looook what I have for you, Mom!"
Grandmommy would say in delight, "I love surprises!" And open the gift. Thirty minutes later it would sit forgotten again on the bedside table, where Aunt Peebs scooped it up, hid it, and brought it back the next day for her to open again.
Julia Gentry's mind completely left her about two years ago. The doctors told us that it would be a matter of time before her brain regressed to the point where it stopped controlling her major organs. So we loved her, and prayed for her, most of us from afar as we lived our own lives. And she would walk, around and around the dementia ward at the nursing home. She, who had been the connecting center of the family, was now adrift and lost and alone, unable to find a safe harbor to rest.
This week, Grandmommy finally sailed home. After years of not recognizing the faces of those she loves, she beheld the face of the One who loves her most.
"Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away.
To a home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away.
I’ll fly away, oh glory,
I’ll fly away.
When I die
Hallelujah bye and bye,
I’ll fly away."
I'll see you soon, Grandmommy.