Evelyn Grace Swearman-Rice was my great-grandmother. Everyone in my family knew her simply as Grandma Rice. Everyone who knew her, including myself remember her as a sweet, gentle woman who loved everyone that she met. She always had something nice to say, and you never heard her swear. She’d give you her shoulder to cry on, a kiss to make you feel better and a whole mess of candy even if you weren’t supposed to eat any!
She was my everything. My fondest childhood memories included her. Every day after school my mom would pack us up in the car to head over to Grandma’s house so we could stay with her for the weekend. I always looked forward to those visits. She was with us for every holiday and birthday, and every day in between. As her dementia got worse, weekend visits turned to her staying with us all the time. As a child, I didn’t realize how sick Grandma Rice was, because to me she was always the same sweet, loving woman that I knew.
Years went by, and as I got older I started noticing a change. Grandma Rice started having a hard time remembering my name, or when my birthday was. She started to get lost, there was a time she wandered around trying to find a candy shop in the neighborhood she used to live in as a child. She couldn’t be alone in her apartment, for fear she would hurt herself. She started hoarding things, food that she would be sent home with would sit in the refrigerator rotting. Slowly, Grandma took a turn for the worst, but somehow she still retained the radiance of a gentle soul. After a while, my grandmother (Grandma Rice’s daughter) took her to Florida to live the rest of her life. I remember the night of her leaving as being the most painful thing to witness.
The last time I would see Grandma Rice alive would be a year or two after she left for Florida. My grandmother brought her up to visit everyone, seeing as it was almost time. I remember walking into my aunt’s house, seeing her sitting on a sofa. She was smiling at me, and I already felt the tears welling. My mother and grandmother told me beforehand that she may not know who I was, and I was certain that I was prepared.
“Hello!” She cheerfully said, waving at me as she scooted over to make room for me on the sofa. I returned the greeting, sitting down next to her. I remember telling her how much I missed her, but I could see the confusion in her face. She didn’t know who I was. What she said next, I’ll never forget.
“I love you,” she said, wrapping an arm around me and kissing the top of my head. That’s all she kept telling me. “I love you, I love you, I love you”. The more she said it, the harder it was to keep myself from crying. Here was this amazing person who had forgotten who I was repeating these words to me. I was told that as she got worse, that saying “I love you” was the only thing she could say. I love you too, Grandma, I said to myself. I didn’t want to leave her, I just wanted to sit on that sofa for as long as I could, held in the arms of someone I loved with all my being, who was there for me since the day I was born. I wish I could have.
I went home that night knowing that I would never see her again, that her voice would only be heard in memories and dreams. Watching home movies of her would never be the same, because I knew she couldn’t be there to watch them with me, let alone remembering them.
Learning of her passing was the most gut-wrenching thing I have had to bear in my short lifetime. I was 13 years old, and up to that point I never experienced such loss. For weeks, I could not sleep, each night I drowned my pillows in tears. Everything reminded me of her: music boxes, butterflies, butterscotch and krimpets. I taped a picture of her while she was young above my bed, hoping that should would bring me sweet dreams. When I dormed in college, I did the same thing but with a picture of her and her husband known as Pap-pap, writing underneath it in silver marker “Dream a Little Dream of Me”. She’ll always be alive in my memory.
Grandma Rice was the embodiment of grace, kindness and love. Even up to her final days on Earth she loved with every fiber of her being. My family tells stories of her making them smile. She was truly a gentle soul, and I know that she’s resting peacefully with Pap-Pap, wherever they are. I hope that one day I can be like her. Whatever awaits me after I leave this world, I hope it’ll be me with her sitting on a sofa forever held in her loving arms, hearing her tell me again and again:
I love you.