I knew this day was coming, and I was able to prepare.  But as you know, no one is ever fully prepared to say “goodbye.”  And to tell you the truth, I knew when I woke up that it would be today.  Why?  It was raining.  And ever since I was a little kid, I always thought the rain was God crying, and God cries for the extra special ones.

When someone you love has Alzheimer’s disease, you mourn them multiple times over the years.  I mourned Meemaw the first time she forgot I was her granddaughter, standing beside her as I held her hand.  I mourned her the last time I heard her say my name, sitting beside her on the couch while we watched TV.  I mourned her when her legs no longer walked, and I mourned her when her words were taken from her.  I mourn her now as I write, the inevitable finally came, releasing Meemaw from her disease to fly free with the angels above.

But I also rejoice.  I rejoice for so many things that I just want to share with you.  It’s been my goal to be Meemaw’s voice over these past few years, and I continue to feel that’s what I am to do.  The world should know what a beautiful soul it held for 83 years.  The world should know how many lives were affected by a petite woman who only stood an inch over five feet.  The world should know that a disease may take over a body, but it will never – never – take over a heart.

The first time my oldest brother John attempted to say “Grandma,” he completely flubbed it, and it came out “Meemaw.”  My mother began to help him pronounce Grandma, but Meemaw stopped her.  She loved the name; it was special.  It would not be changed.  It was given to her by her first grandchild, and that’s what it would forever remain.  Meemaw.

I was the only granddaughter.  I feel like that made us have a special connection right off the bat.  I have so many memories that pertain to just she and I.  I hold them closer to me now more than ever.

Meemaw would pull a chair over to the sink so I could help her wash dishes after every meal.  She was the washer; I was the rinser.  It’s funny how I hold that as one of my dearest memories.  Evenings spent with Meemaw, her handing me a soapy plate, and I taking it and dipping it in clear water as we talked.  This ritual continued for many years, even past the point of me needing a chair to reach the sink.

After our dishes were done, I would make a deal with Meemaw.  “If you scratch my back, Meemaw, I’ll scratch yours when you’re done.”  Meemaw never complained when I always broke my end of the deal.  She would laugh, showing that beautiful, genuine smile, and let me run off to chase John and Mark around the house.

Then, of course, were the times she would let me practice my make-up skills on her beautiful face.  She didn’t care if the lipstick was used to give a Rudolph-nose, or that the eye shadow on her right eye differed from that on the left.  I see now that she let me be a kid; she let me be her granddaughter, and she didn’t mind what I did as long as she got to experience it with me as I did it.

I could tell you story after story of her scrumptious food – her perfectly poached eggs, and the toast she would cut into triangles.  I could tell you about her yummy garden produce and how she would spend hours on one meal.  I could tell you how she taught me to can tomatoes.  I could tell you about her love for animals, particularly how she enjoyed watching birds.  I could tell you how she would belly-laugh at Jay Leno and swear that Kevin was paid just to laugh at Leno’s jokes.  I could tell you how she’d be up at the crack of dawn every morning and never needed an alarm clock.  I could tell you so many things, but I just don’t have the paper to hold them all.

What I do want to tell you is how special the bond was that I shared with Meemaw, and how it only seemed to grow stronger as Alzheimer’s took more of her away.  You see, maybe it’s because I refused to let that stupid disease steal my Meemaw, but I fought for every eye connection, every smile, every hand hold that I could possibly get when I was with her.  As you already know, I never once believed that Alzheimer’s had taken Meemaw’s memories or thoughts; I believed she could just no longer express them to us.

But when I walked in the room and finally made eye contact, that beautiful, genuine smile came back.  Sometimes she would crinkle her nose and point her finger at me like she did when my brothers and I were young and ornery.  She would laugh.  She would hold my hand or touch my face.  She’d play with a lock of my hair.  And I just don’t think that someone would do that if they had lost all their memories and recognition.

I could tell you how much I hate the disease that Meemaw had, but instead let me tell you what I learned from Meemaw, even as she progressed with it year after year.

She taught me to love when words could no longer be.  She taught me that holding hands can mean more than a thousand “I love yous.”  I learned to let silence be ok.  I learned to accept the things I couldn’t change, as it was either accept them or deny them and walk away, and I wasn’t about to walk away from Meemaw.  She taught me how to be strong, to hold on and fight, and she taught me how to let go and be comforted by others.  She taught me that there is always beauty to be found in every situation, and showed me time and time again when she gave me her sweet, sweet smile.  I learned to find inspiration through her, for not only my art, but for my life.  I learned to fight for a cure to a disease, to be an advocate, to share her story – our story – so the world would never forget the special woman I called Meemaw.  She taught me that love will always travel from one heart to the next no matter how far apart those two hearts are.

I guess what it all boils down to is that I just want you to know how special Meemaw was, and still is, to me and every person she ever came into contact with.  I want to continue to be her voice, and I will.

While I’ve said for many years that “memories live within the heart,” I still believe that.  And now, I will carry Meemaw’s memories and let them live within my own.

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