In March 2004 my son and daughter-in-law presented my wife and I with a beautiful granddaughter named Meredith.  This was about two and a half months before my sixty-first birthday. Although there was no intention to do so, her name contained the name of my paternal grandmother, Edith. This has caused me to recall my life with my grandmother, by whom I was raised from the age of two months, coincidently an undertaking she embarked upon just prior to her sixty-first birthday. Although I always had great affection and admiration for my grandmother it was not until years later that I truly understood and fully appreciated the sacrifices she had made. Now that I was the age she was when she took on the task of raising me and I had a grandchild very close to my age at that time, it became even more apparent how onerous her sacrifice was. In retrospect I recall a particular event in the life of my grandmother and one that deeply affected me. It was a typical fall evening in late November.  A frosty chill hung in the air.  As I prepared to retire for the night, I entered my grandmother’s bedroom to say goodnight, as I did each evening. As I crossed the room I could sense a strange presence, not apparent elsewhere in the house.  It was not something I could see or hear, yet I knew it was there, as if someone else was in the room.  It was an eerie feeling but I gave it little thought, choosing to ignore the experience. Rays from a streetlight shining through the window dimly lighted the room. I could make out the frail old woman’s torso, as she lay almost motionless on the bed, the silence broken only by her shallow breathing. As I approached her bedside, in almost a whisper, she asked, “Are you alright?” “I’m fine,” I said, “how are you?” “Tired,” she replied, in a feeble voice. “I won’t keep you then, you need your rest,” I said, as I knelt to say a brief prayer, the same one I had said for as many nights as I could remember. Then, rising to my feet, we said goodnight to each other and I left the room. Nineteen years earlier, my father, prompted by my mother’s inability to cope with a newborn, had brought me to live with his mother. Although she had raised her family and was approaching her sixty-first birthday, she unselfishly accepted the task of starting over with a two-month-old grandson. Now she was completely bedridden, unable to perform even the simplest of tasks.  She could not sit up in bed without assistance or even feed herself.  Her mind, however, remained sharp, which must have made her situation more difficult, but she voiced no complaint. This tiny but once robust woman had wasted away to skin and bone, her body wreaked by the pain of severe arthritis.  Yet, for over a year and a half, she had clung tenaciously to her meagre existence. Life had not been easy for her but being a woman of great faith and courage; each day had always been taken in stride. Born in 1882 she had witnessed the turn of the century, two world wars, and many life-altering events. As a young girl she took piano lessons and in later years her piano would be her one source of comfort but that too eventually fell silent, as the arthritis rendered her fingers unable to play. In 1902 she married and over the next forty years raised nine children and lost three others at birth, including a set of twins. She had lived through the great depression and experienced the loss of a family farm. A few years after that loss my grandparents acquired a small piece of land on which they built a modest home.  It had no indoor plumbing, not even running water.  Heated with wood and coal and poorly insulated, if at all, it was drafty in winter.  There was often frost on windowsills and sometimes even on furniture when we awoke on cold mornings. It was, however, one of the warmest homes that have ever existed. From my grandmother I learned that I could do anything to which I set my mind.  “Can’t is a cowardly word,” she would say, when I indicated I was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to perform some task. She admonished me to “be a leader, not a follower,” words of wisdom that have served me well over the years. When I was eight years old my grandfather died.  After his death and on a meagre government pension of only forty dollars a month my grandmother managed to maintain the home and to keep me fed and clothed.  I can only imagine the personal sacrifices she made. Within a few years her own health began to deteriorate but she did not complain and continued the necessary daily tasks to maintain a warm and loving home. When she suffered a gallbladder attack and had to be hospitalized for surgery, my aunt, one of her daughters who had never married, returned home.  She assumed the daunting task of helping to raise me and to give the home care that my grandmother so greatly needed and deserved. Grandmother’s health continued to decline and the arthritis took its toll, finally confining her to the bed in which she now lay. Her main goal in life was simple.  Oft times I had heard her say she wanted to live to her eightieth birthday. The true reasons for that goal I will never know but it was a goal she seemed determined to achieve.  Not a lofty one by most people’s standards but under the circumstances of her life, possibly out of reach. However, can’t was not a word in her vocabulary; that night, without a whimper or complaint, the one who had so little but gave so much, quietly passed away, one day after her eightieth birthday. It was in 1962 that my grandmother died and I have relived that night many times in my mind.  To this day I wonder who the unseen stranger was whose presence I felt in that room that night. When it comes my time to leave this world, perhaps she will be the one who is the unseen and unexplained presence in my room.

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