Who really knows you? Your parents? A friend who grew up with you? When I say know you, I mean do they know our hearts and the way we feel and think? Do they know what makes us tick? Do they know how we will react to things and situations? They are the one person who knows all about us, but loves us anyway. A good girl-friend of mine once told me that we could call each other any time day or night and we would be there for each other. They are the one person in our life that we can be “real” with.
My grandmother once told me that I would have many acquaintances in my lifetime, but very few friends. She was right. I can count my true friends on one hand.
But when speaking about unconditional love in the truest sense, the one person in my life that I can say without a doubt showed me that was my grandmother. She was a short, but thin, Italian woman with the most beautiful olive skin and long dark hair that she always wore up in a French twist. She had the biggest, sweetest brown eyes that just radiated with love.
She was kind and slow to anger, but she knew what she believed in and what she did not believe in. Her faith was rock solid and it showed by the way she treated others. Most of all, she had the incredible ability to forgive and let things go.
I grew up in a very tumultuous household and she was the one person I could always count on. She was the only security I had. I knew that I could escape my life when I was at her house. When school would end each year, I would pack up my clothes and I would stay with her and my Grandfather during my summer break. It was a time of peace for me. I felt safe and cared about.
The environment at her house was completely different. I can still remember the way the clean, cool percale sheets felt on my skin as I climbed into bed for the night. The tic-tock of the grandfather clock in her kitchen would lull me to sleep.
At home nobody ever said my name, unless I was in trouble or they needed me to do something. I learned how to become very invisible to stay out of trouble and to avoid any kind of strife. However, when my Grandmother spoke to me, I seemed to matter. She was interested in my life and what I wanted to do, or who I wanted to become. She would say to me, “Dori Jo, you can do anything you set your mind to.” “Dori Jo, I love you.” “Dori Jo, don’t let anyone else define who you are.” To this day, I think there is power when you speak someone’s name to them. It exemplifies how important they are to you.
She showed me by example, that no matter what happens to us in life that we just have to keep pressing on. It’s what sets us apart from those that fail, and those that succeed.
I dreaded the days that the summer time would wind down to an end and I would then have to return home. But with each passing year, I would always leave with more of her love instilled inside of me. So when the bad times came, I could draw upon that strength. During my high school years, a lot of my decisions where based on the question; “Would I let my grandmother down if I did this?” It kept me straight and out of trouble. I never wanted to disappoint her.
It was very hard to see my grandmother get older. It didn’t seem possible that such a beautiful spirit could become so week, and the hands that once brushed my hair as a young girl, could be riddled with arthritis. It didn’t seem possible that the same woman who carried me through so much could forget my name.
I will never forget when I had to move away, and when I returned back into town I had to go see her in a nursing home. She didn’t even look the same. She looked so defeated and disoriented. My heart broke because I knew there was nothing I could do for her. I couldn’t change the deterioration of her body or of her mind. I couldn’t make her eat or give her back her will to live. I wanted her to recognize me and talk to me about things in the past. I wanted her to tell me how proud she was of me. I wanted her to know just how much I loved her. I wanted her to remember how I would tell her every day and that I loved her just as much this day, as I did any other day. As I held her hand I kissed her forehead and told her, “Grandma, I love you so much,” yet nothing come back to me but an empty stare from her beautiful brown eyes. The silence was deafening to my heart.
I didn’t want to leave that room, but I couldn’t bear to see her that way. I didn’t want to walk away from her down that long hallway to the door that led outside. I knew in my heart of hearts that once I pushed that glass door open to the outside, I would never see her again.
I forced myself not to look back at her, and almost as though in slow motion, as I put my hand on the door to leave, I could hear her small sweet voice calling out to me…” I love you Dori Jo.”
Although our body and our minds may fail us, I believe that within us lies the greatest gift of all, that can never fail, and that is love.