Spirituality for Today – March 2008 – Volume 12, Issue 8

I Know Who You Are

By Janice Alonso

Photo of an elderly woman's handEvery time I visited my grandmother in the nursing facility, my stomach knotted as I walked down the never-ending halls, and the inside of my nose stung from the smell of disinfectants. With guilt perched on one shoulder and disgust on the other, I beat a path to her room, avoiding the vacant stares of the elderly and deafening my ears to their inane chatter. When I finally came to her door, a dread hovered around me like a mist of noxious fumes. Hesitating for the briefest moment, I'd square my shoulders, force a smile and turn the knob.

Usually, she was curled under a blanket sound asleep, her form barely making a rise amid the folds. I'd walk to her side, stare at this unrecognizable form claiming to be my grandmother, and then shake her lightly into cognizance. She'd awaken, the clouds of confusion parting, and her eyes would slowly focus in on me. She'd smile, genuinely happy to see me. Sadly, I knew she smiled this way at everyone. To her there was a human form, but the faces were interchangeable, like the standup figures at a carnival where people can poke their head into a circle cutout in the face. Often times she'd call me by some other family member's name: I was distantly familiar, but not recognizable.

My grandmother cared for me when I was little, after my parents divorced and my mother went back to work. Here lay the woman who gave and taught me her all, and I felt helpless to do anything for her in her moment of greatest need. But before her death, God gave me the best gift I have ever received.

About four months before her death, while I sat in the plastic chair next to her bed, she crooked a bent finger and motioned for me to move closer. I stood and leaned in so I could hear her words better.

"I know who you are," she said, her voice trembling. "You're my little Jan. I used to take care of you while you're mama worked."

I sat next to her on the bed and buried my head into the hollow of her chest, listening for the thump of her life force. I nestled closer so I could breathe in her familiar scent, a scent I thought I would never again recapture.

"I always loved you best," she whispered.

Tears flowed freely then. I was transported to a time when I crawled into her lap and she kissed away my hurts. She ran her hand across my hair and patted the top of my head. Her touch was like that of an apparition, never making skin-to-skin contact, hovering on the outer fringes of awareness and conveying only the allusion of a caress. I stayed like that for as long as I could, not wanting to let go. I knew that once this moment passed, it would never come again. Soon, her breathing returned to its usual in-out rhythm and she drifted back into a world that I was no longer a part of.

My grandmother died on Memorial Day of 2004. She would have been one hundred years old on July 27th. How fortunate to be in my fifties and to have had her love and guidance for so many years. But during that time with her over all those years, I felt the closest to her that day in the nursing home. I know in my heart that she didn't love me the best. She had many grandchildren and great grandchildren, but at that moment I really felt like I was her favorite. God blessed me with that moment, and that experience will sustain me until I see her again in Heaven.

God gave me an even bigger gift that day. He made me understand that He loves all His children, too. Even if we feel we are far away from Him, He is there with us. We are always a part of His world. When I walk my daily path and try to blot out the cacophonous noises that surround me and threaten to drown out what is important, all I need to do is stop, open the door and feel His peace. Unlike my grandmother, God never confuses me with someone else. My face is never interchangeable with another's. He always knows who I am and makes me feel He loves me best.