Sunday, May 6, 2012
Mothers Day Specials - Lola
Growing up, I was the eldest cousin. I may be the only one of the six of us that can remember when Grandma Lola could walk. In fact, my earliest memory of her is of her using a broom to chase moose from her flower garden, shouting and waving the broom fearlessly at animals four and five times her size.
Back in the late 80's and early 90's, Grandma's only battle was with MS. In my opinion, that should have been enough. I know that it changed her life greatly. Lola loved the outdoors, she enjoyed traveling. When the doctor told her to ride a stationary bike, for her own safety, she'd often jokingly beg someone to throw it in the back of a pickup while she rode, so she might breath fresh air. Some days, she'd start by acknowledging only what didn't hurt, even if it was only her pinkie toe. Some days, she couldn't leave her recliner. I must have been only 8 or 9 when she taught me to crochet with yellow yarn from that chair.
Only a few years later, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. During an operation to remove that cancer, she had a stroke. When she was recovering, my grandfather had to fight tooth and nail to bring her home. The insurance companies and doctor's wanted to have her institutionalized. It seemed absurd to have a woman who could not move anything but her left arm, who couldn't talk or use the bathroom... go home to a small isolated Wyoming town. Somehow, they made it work.
Every day of her life after she returned home, my grandfather bathed her. He changed her catheter and colostomy bags. He slid cotton socks over her feet, and fluffed her curls for her. He put her jewelry on. He used a special lift, with a hand pump winch, to lift her from bed, to chair. He rolled her to the porch for sunshine in the mornings. He mixed her coffee just how she liked it.
In the afternoons, he'd help her to her recliner which faced out the living room window so she could watch the hummingbirds feeding at the feeders he hung for her. On the weekends he'd load her, her chair, and her lift into an Oldsmobile so he could take her to the desert and look for arrow heads as they had done for decades.
After a few years of this, Lola was diagnosed with brain cancer. She didn't have much time left. Soon, my grandfather had loaded her chair, and lift and some belongings into that Oldsmobile to travel from Pinedale Wyoming, to Olympia, Washington to get my mother, sister and I for a final trip with Grandma.
At each stop, we'd have to check the hotel beds to make sure the lift could go under them before we would check in. We drove only a few hours a day, stopping at casinos where Grandma could use her good arm to pull the handle. In one town, not a single hotel had a bed that wasn't built into the floor, so we had to lower her on to a bunch of towels on a coffee table and slide her into bed. With tears in her eyes, she muttered a sentence for the first time in years, "In bed with Dan." She was happy to not be forced to sleep on a roll out bed by herself.
We drove all the way to the Grand Canyon, then back to Puget Sound that spring. I remember saying good bye to her, fearing that I'd never see her again, but a few weeks later we went home to Wyoming when school got out. On the 10th of July we had a family BBQ in which all six of us cousins, some second cousins and many others attended. That night Lola died in her sleep. We buried her that weekend as a crowd bigger than the town itself gathered.
In the years since I lost this fine woman, I have tried my best to be the matriarch of the family she'd want me to be. I've tried to set the example of loving people, of making sacrifices, and of being strong in the face of physical adversity that she taught me. Some days the weight of this fine woman's legacy seems to heavy too bear. Some days, I feel unworthy.
I tell you this big, long, yet sorrowfully incomplete tale for a reason. I tell you about Lola Carlson because the best advice she ever gave applies to more than just my life. It applies to the future of our country. It applies to the questions that plague my generation.
When I was young, and I'd get frustrated with something, she'd say, "You can do this, if you do your best... But it will take your best."
Isn't that the truth? Isn't that what made the difference in her life? Long past when the doctors said she'd be confined to a wheel chair, she'd walk down the street to her friend Connie's house for a haircut. It took her best effort to do so. When the doctor's said she couldn't survive at home, my Grandfather's best efforts proved them wrong. When they told her she wouldn't survive to see all of us cousins together, she did her best... and she made it that one last time.
We Americans ought to take a lesson from Lola. It seems to me that when one offers their best to a righteous cause, amazing things can happen.