Editor’s note: Personify Health seeks to reveal the “real medical you.” In this same vein, we truly see the real Laurie Mays through this poignant blog with an unexpected finish. Equal parts serious and equal parts humor, it speaks to human frailty, and the universal need for care, comfort and compassion.
This is surely the most difficult blog I’ve written to date. Why? Because I don’t entirely understand it myself!
It all begins with a visit to my grandmother; she was over 100 years old at the time.
She was my role-model, idol and mentor. An intelligent, independent woman who was “ahead of her time,” she was Kentucky’s first female master plumber. She didn’t do this for the work; rather, she did it to keep her husband’s business running after he died. You see, you couldn’t have a plumbing business without a master plumber in the business, and her crew were all journeymen. She took it upon herself to study and pass the exam.
When I visited her in the nursing home, she braced herself on the metal bed frame, declaring, “I spent my life in plumbing, and I’m going to die in it too!” On that particular visit, she was still sharp as a tack, including her memories of WWII and the Great Depression. She could name every president, his political affiliation, what he stood for, and even personal things like a pet’s name. Amazing, indeed.
The second-to-last time I saw my beloved grandmother, she wasn’t doing as well. Her health was perfectly fine, but her memory was fading. Several times she asked who my parents were. When I’d tell her, she’d immediately recognize me and say my name. A few minutes later, she’d ask again. It was very hard to watch.
When I asked her to watch over me from heaven, “she assured me that if she could, she would.” Then she did something totally unexpected. She told me she had a secret! If she’d been keeping it this long, it was bound to be a doozy, I thought.
I leaned in close to her, as she whispered into my ear: “The secret to a long life is (pause) R-A-C-Q-U-E-T-B-A-L-L!” What? Did she just say racquetball? What on earth is she talking about? My grandmother never played sports a day in her life! Had she seen something on television? Was this a metaphor for something? My mind was reeling.
My last visit with my grandmother didn’t help. She slept through most of it; I don’t even know if she was aware of my presence. She died a few months later in January 2013. Later that same year, I experienced a horrible tragedy and decided to seek the assistance of a counselor.
When I met him, he gave me a firm handshake, and I reciprocated. I asked him if he was former military. “Yes,” he said, “Marines.” The firm handshake continued, until finally I asked, “Are we competing?” He replied, “No ma’am, if we were competing, it would be on the racquetball court.”
Wow! No one had mentioned the word racquetball to me since my grandmother. I still have no idea what she meant. What I do know is in that moment of despair she was with me – looking over me from heaven, just as she’d promised me years earlier. Yes, Virginia, there is a heaven!