Lyle Seeligson ’21, talks about a special moment with her grandmother, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell.
This past week, I was lucky enough to go home and spend time with my immediate and extended family. It’s our tradition, coming from a ranching family in South Texas, to spend every Thanksgiving at the ranch we all share. For at least five days, there are upwards of ten shedding dogs of various shapes and sizes, not to mention twenty or twenty-five people, also of various shapes and sizes. We pass the time by playing cards, catching up, hunting, driving around, and eating. Eating a lot. My family is full of foodies, and throughout the entire week, there are always quite literally too many cooks in the kitchen. This year alone, in addition to the normal Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes — the works — we also had no fewer than 13 different pies, which were continuously snacked on for a few days after Thanksgiving Day.
At one point on Friday, I’m helping myself to a pre-lunch snack of raspberry pie, when my grandmother comes up and asks with a knowing grin, “Well, what’s going on here?” Granny is a tall, slim woman, with gleaming short white hair and an always-present coat of red lipstick. Giving me a wink, she picks up a spoon of her own and grabs a bite directly from the pie pan—there are no worries of germs or personal space in this country family. We eat together, talking about the different types of pie on the bar and which ones are the best, which crusts are better than others, and which pies remind her of her childhood. Eventually, the conversation turns to school, as she asks me how I’m liking my classes, am I getting along well with my roommates, what extracurricular activities am I involved in. After a while, we’re talking about politics before my eleven-year-old sister comes in and drags me out of the room to go play with her.
This interaction with my grandmother may seem commonplace, especially for someone coming home for the first time after starting college—everyone wants to know how school’s going and asks pretty similar questions. But it is genuinely one of the most special interactions I had with any family member all week. It was in those moments that I saw my grandmother as her. Not as a woman who gets overwhelmed and clams up in large groups of people, even with her family. Not as someone who has lost all sense of confidence so that she has trouble making any decisions for herself. Not as a widow of 11 years who doesn’t go a minute without thinking of the loss of my grandfather. Not as a feeble woman who spends her days cleaning out cabinets again and again until they’re practically empty, anxiously forgetting everything except that Alzheimer’s is taking over her mind more rapidly every day.
No, then, I saw the old Granny. I talked with a mother of three, grandmother of nine, a doting wife and a loving, highly intelligent woman. I discussed politics with someone who had traveled the world on her own as a young woman, an impressive figure known for her sharp intellect and unending curiosity, who loved learning new things and sharing that knowledge with others. I ate that delicious pie with my grandmother, whose eyes twinkled with genuine happiness, who deftly carried the conversation and held unbelievable social grace and confidence. I got to talk to Granny again.
That evening, with my grandmother in my thoughts, I watched the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever witnessed. I was at a lake on the ranch, and my cousins, aunts, and I were getting ready to head back to the house. Suddenly, however, the sky turned a brilliant fuchsia color, followed soon by a myriad of oranges, yellows, and blues that lit up thin trails of clouds and reflected perfectly on the water. We all stopped in our tracks, unable to leave, for every second the colors of the sky’s painting changed slightly and somehow became even more stunning. The day ended with a masterpiece that left all of us feeling unbelievably lucky and blessed.
That sunset is my grandmother. At the end of the day, one may feel like the sun has nothing left to offer until its final moments in the sky remind you that it is so much more than it appears. And you stand there in awe of what it’s capable of and what beauty remains, perhaps even stronger than before. My grandmother may be elderly, depressed, and struggling with a disease that is taking her own mind away from her, but she is still Granny. That intelligent zeal, that brilliant color on her lips and in her being—it hasn’t left. And for as long as I can, I will stand there in awe and watch every moment of her sunset.