Four and a half years ago, I decided to start a blog. I wanted to write and record my thoughts & feelings as I move through the years from a “you are going to have dementia” state to a “you have dementia” state. It’s going to happen, we know that. I cannot stop it or change it, but I don’t have to be a passive victim. I can write and record what I’m thinking and feeling. I can give voice to pain and fear but I can also share joys and insights. I chose the name “Thoughts from Below” for the blog. It was a way of confessing that no matter how great or how “normal” things seem for me, the knowledge that dementia is coming, is creeping slowly into my reality, is always there. The worry, the fear, the dread may be ever so slightly removed from my consciousness, but it hovers just below the surface of all that I say and do.
I was reminded of this last week when I travelled home to Statesboro, Georgia for a quick trip to visit with friends. The purpose of my trip was to spend time with a friend in Statesboro and another friend down the road on St. Simon’s Island. There were no special plans, no tickets to events, just a chance to catch up and spend time together. But I found myself feeling especially sentimental throughout the entire trip. I don’t know why. I have some ideas, though:
- This is the only time in a VERY long time that I have traveled home alone. Typically, I would have my kids with me and focus much of my time and energy on showing them special places, telling them old stories, helping connect my children to my story and setting. I love visits like this, but I was reflecting that when I bring my children along, there are many ways I’m focused on their experience rather than allowing myself to focus on my own feelings. Or, the time I brought mom with me, I focused mostly on her needs, what might be meaningful to her to see or experience. This trip… there was no one else to consider, to share with, to distract me. It was just me and my memories, my thoughts, my feelings. So… I listened to myself and I thought about things that I had time and space to consider. And I remembered and felt many things deeply. Wow. How often am I focused on other people or other tasks or other responsibilities and not fully in touch with my deepest thoughts and feelings? That’s an important question for me to ponder. Perhaps it’s something we all should ponder, how distracted are we and how often are we truly aware of our thoughts and feelings?
- For years, conversation with mom has focused on one thing for the most part: Cairo, Georgia. Mom names her close childhood friends, tells me where they live and how to get to their houses from her house. She recalls a list of names of relatives, townspeople, church folks. I appreciate hearing what she shares (though it’s often predictable and repetitive), but I’m not all that familiar with the people or places we talk about. Still… I sense how important her early years are to her, how aware she is that the people and places and events and traditions of Cairo, Georgia are an essential part of who she is. So… being in Statesboro caused me to reflect: What stories will I repeat and re-tell over and over again? What facts are most memorable to me? Which people were central to my life when I was young? Throughout my visit, rather than just seeing places and people, I constantly asked myself, “Is THIS what I am going to remember? Is THIS whom I will talk about? Is THIS what is most important to me?” I honestly don’t know how my brain will work and if “importance” or “value” is what causes things to be remembered 20 years from now or if it’s just neurons and brain connections that are somewhat random. I don’t know… but I wondered about it constantly.
- And… just the opposite. As I pondered what I WOULD recall in the future, I wondered and worried about what I would forget. I saw places and people who are dear to me and realized that someday I may honestly not know who they are or what my connection to a place or event or experience was. In my mind, my reality, it will be gone. It won’t matter to me. It won’t comfort or inspire me or warm my heart. I will listen with the blank polite stare that has grown so familiar for me to see in mom and in others too. This awareness, this fear, this worry caused me to look at everything and cherish it in a way that I haven’t done in the past. I’ve always loved going home, but I’ve never wondered and worried if what I’m treasuring is going to be lost to me in the near future.
- Most every visit to Statesboro, I drive past the dental office dad shared with Dr. Thompson, then past the office dad built in the 1980s. Both places are filled with memories. I drive by the house where we lived when I was age 3 until I was about 7. Then, I go out into the country and drive past the home my parents built around 1979-80. Both homes and neighborhoods are filled with memories. In the past, I have always just driven past… slowly so that I can look and see and remember and “feel” present. But this time, I did something unexpected, I stopped and introduced myself. First, I stopped at our neighbor’s (the Hunnicutt’s) home. They were the family who had lived in the area for years and years. We were the newcomers in the late 1970s and they welcomed us. Mr. Hunnicutt died when I still lived at home and Mrs. Hunnicutt died about 15 years ago, I think. At that time their daughter was living in the house. Would she still be there? How would I know? I don’t have any contact information for her. Why don’t I just stop and knock? I was so nervous, so afraid that a total stranger would answer the door and think I was creepy or crazy. It turns out that the one who opened the door wasn’t a total stranger, but at first I didn’t recognize her because it had been so very long since we had seen one another. “Um, hello,” I stuttered. “My name is Kendra Grimes…” and she threw her arms around me and pulled me indoors, which was the warm, wonderful beginning of hours of conversation and catching up. I had been terrified and nervous to knock on the door, but within minutes, I felt so at home… so anchored in family and memories and community. Mostly she told me her memories of my parents and I told her my memories of her parents. When it was time to leave, she encouraged me to stop next door. “Just stop and knock, the family there knew your family,” she reminded me. And they are just the third owner of the home/property. They plan to downsize and sell it soon, you should stop while you still can. I assured her that I would, and then my shyness and anxiety took over. There was a line of trees that hid the house, indicating their desire for privacy. There was a sign at the driveway entrance reading, “Beware of dogs.” I drove slowly hoping to catch a glimpse of the house, though I did not intend to stop. But as I crept along, a car came toward me and had to wait on me to pass so that it could turn into the driveway. It was the owner. Whoa. What? If I turned around and pulled in, I wouldn’t be knocking on the door, I would be meeting him in the driveway and introducing myself. I would just meet him and ask if I could take a photo of the front of the house. Yeah, why not? So I pulled in. And as soon as I introduced myself, he welcomed me fully and genuinely. I went inside to meet the rest of his family and they offered for me to look around, even to go upstairs to my childhood bedroom, to see the new rooms they have added. So much was different yet so much was the same. So many memories are rooted within those walls. I was overwhelmed and mostly speechless. Then he took me outside, out the back door. The backyard (including the screened porch, the deck, the pole barn, and all the fruit trees) is probably my favorite part of the property. He pointed to and mentioned the blueberry bushes. Four blueberry bushes were still there. We had about twelve when we sold the house 30 years ago. But four were still there. He commented how they were all different varieties and bloomed at slightly different times. “Yeah, that was intentional,” I remembered. I told him how the very last memory I had with my dad was together spreading netting over those bushes to keep the birds away as the berries were ripening. He said they still produce today. I mentioned that we had grapes, peaches, pears, apples, figs, plums, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and more. He said many of them were still thriving. And then he commented what a significant impact all of dad’s plants were still having today on the ecosystem of this area. Those you reading this may think it’s small and insignificant, but his statement was a way of affirming to me that my dad’s actions, my dad’s existence more than 30 years ago still matters today… it matters to this man’s family every time they enjoy the fresh blueberries, it matters to bees and butterflies and deer and cardinals. It matters to his grandchildren enjoying the house and yard. And it reminds me that the impact of dad’s life echoes on in many other ways too… through his friendships, his dental care, the music and woodworking he shared, his basketball playing, his volunteer work and mission trips… and so many things I can’t even imagine. When the weight of grief (dad’s death in 1992 at age 44) or the fear of dementia (my reality) tries to pull me into a place where everything is limited and broken, one simple sentence from a man I met less than an hour before reframed everything. Every life, every action, every word has an impact… not only in the moment but it ripples and echoes long beyond what we might think. Whether I remember or forget, whether I have three more “good” years or thirty more… my life matters, every life matters, every life is connected to other lives around it and makes a difference.
This is by far the longest blog post I’ve written yet. And honestly, it doesn’t cover all of my thoughts and feelings and insights from the brief holiday trip home, but the words of the man living in the home that my parents built were the greatest gift from this entire, wonderful visit home. So I will wrap things up here and leave us all with the image of 40+ year old blueberry bushes growing and blooming and offering fruit that benefits humans and wild animals and insects, then stops producing and growing all winter… then it blooms again the next spring. May all of our lives have impact and beauty and fruit that we can’t imagine, season after season, making a difference to those we know and to creatures we have never even noticed with ripple effects far beyond our imagination and understanding. Every life matters. Your life matters. My life matters. That will never change.
9 thoughts on “A quick trip home & a long blog post!”
Oh my goodness Kendra you are such a good writer! This was absolutely amazing to read! I’m so glad you knocked on those doors! Sending hugs and love to you!
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Wow. This is one of the best things you’ve written, Kendra. You’ve touched my heart once more 💚
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Beautiful … the writing and the author. I had tears as I read. So personal, so reflective, so encouraging….. always encouraging. Thank you, Kendra.
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This is truly beautiful and insightful. Thank you for sharing it. And I agree, every life matter and has an impact. And I am particularly thankful for the impact your important life continues to have on mine, friend.
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Hi, you came up on my “news feed” (not sure if that’s what it’s called) here on WordPress. Dementia actually runs in my family, but I haven’t feared it… and I truly offer this with all the love and respect in the world. I did something called cellular level testing a few years ago with a machine called a qest diagnostic. It’s a lot to explain, but it was life-changing for me and directed me to the homeopathic remedies that my body needs to correct different imbalances that we all have. I also once met a man who swore that he kept his dementia from progressing by eating a tablespoon of coconut oil everyday. Again, I offer this with all respect! I am just passing this on in case it somehow helps you. Best of luck!
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Kendra, thank you, my friend. What a journey, no….what journeys you are taking. I hope for you, pray for you, love you. This is important work you are doing and sometimes walking alone brings us this best insights. 🥰
Thank you Kendra. Your reflections are always good ; this was stunning.
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Thanks for shareing your thoughts.
What a beautiful post, Kendra. Thank you. You matter, and you do make a difference. It’s an important thing to carry with us each day.