In life, I often experience anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly. This feeling is also known as bitterness. I am bitter about a lot of things. You more than likely are too if you are honest with yourself. I challenge you to close your eyes after this sentence is finished & think about all the things you’re bitter about deep inside.
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Welcome back from that brief journey of self discovery. Lol
You know how they say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?”
None of us ever really feel like doing that. Hard to make ‘lemonade’ out of something so sour in our lives sometimes… But i’m about to tell you a story of a woman who did just that: she made lemonade – even when the circumstances were less than awesome. This is the story of my Grandparent’s James & Hilda… It’s really the story of Papaw, but it’s told through the example of Grandmie.
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My grandpa (aka Papaw) Johnson was born on January 8th, 1937, & was the 3rd son in a family of 8 children. He was raised on his family’s farm where he learned the value of hard work and being a good neighbor. He developed an interest in horses at age 16 and earned the money himself for his first horse. The first moment he rode it, he knew he would be a cowboy – he even worked on a ranch in Colorado! For the rest of his life, a broad brimmed hat and boots were his daily attire. He went on to become an expert horseman and was well known in the SRA Rodeo Association in the late 1950’s. He was one of the top riders in bull and bronco in five states. He married Hilda (aka Grandmie) in 1958 & together they started their own farm in 1962. They had 2 children – my uncle Jimmy and my mother, Jonna. They went on to have 5 grandchildren, & (sofar) 6 great-grandchildren.
When I was 7 years old (1996), Papaw had to have an aortic dissection (open heart surgery). 1 month following the surgery, he suffered a stroke. 1 year after that, he had a grand mal seizure & was diagnosed with epilepsy. These are the most severe type of seizures because they affect the entire brain at once. After that, for the rest of his life, he began to lose his basic abilities little by little… My grandpa was a strong and tall man – a rodeo star, a carpenter, and a farmer. He worked hard his whole life. No one could’ve imagined the kind of disabled life that was ahead of him… It was a shock to everyone.
I remember when he could still drive. Grandmie had written a note & taped it to the visor in his truck. It said, “My name is James Johnson. I have Aphasia. It is hard for me to communicate sometimes. My wife’s name is Hilda” & it had her phone number – in case he was ever pulled over by police, or in an accident. (Aphasia disrupts the process of language.) I remember going over to their house as a kid & Grandmie would have flashcards out with words on them. He had lost his ability to read and write, & she was trying to teach him how again. He no longer could sign his name. Eventually he re-learned some reading skills, but he viewed letters as someone with dyslexia does…
One of his first big challenges, other than having trouble with spoken & written speech, was that he lost his ability to do math. He was a carpenter, & this caused him to no longer be able to do that. He was really good at it too.
As the years rolled on, he had trouble with dizzy spells. He fell off his tractor once. His german shepherd started barking like crazy, & suddenly he didn’t feel right, & felt he might be heading toward a seizure. He was right. He thankfully hit the kill-switch on the tractor & slumped forward. When he woke up, he was on the ground ontop of the dog. (We think the dog sensed it & broke his fall) As his seizures became more frequent, his speech began to suffer more. He could only speak a few words. He had a seizure at the house when we were eating cake for my 16th birthday. He increasingly became more frustrated trying to build things & take care of tasks around the farm. It must have been IMMENSELY frustrating to not be able to put your words together when you have so much you want to say… Papaw wasn’t one to ask for help. He really wanted to try to do things on his own. Then Papaw’s mobility began to be affected. He walked with a cane for awhile because he was really unsteady.
In 2006, he had a status seizure. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance & they were not able to get the seizure stopped. He had to be airlifted to another hospital. This particular seizure lasted over 6 hours. The day of this seizure, he had broken a horse earlier that afternoon… after it, he could no longer ride horses because he lost his sense of direction & was not able to turn loose of the reigns when he wanted to. Eventually, his abilities started to decline & he became bedridden. He had to be bathed, dressed, changed, & fed. He lost his bathroom abilities. mobility – almost the ability to do anything on his own. Grandmie became Papaw’s full-time caregiver 24/7. My Grandma struggled with taking care of such a tall man.
One day I went up to their house, & she was changing him on the bed, & I heard her laughing. Papaw was flailing his legs around everywhere & she was having trouble cleaning him up because of it. Instead of becoming frustrated, she was just laughing because truth be told, it really did look ridiculous. Lol. Papaw was laughing too. I don’t know why his legs were doing that, or how – they were so weak. Lol My Grandma was good at finding the humor being in a caregiver position.
Papaw was taken to many different doctors, & even once to the Mayo Clinic in Florida, to try to find out more about what might help his seizure activity. But they found no answer there… Eventually, his local doctor discovered a way to stop his seizures – by adding a simple diuretic to his previously existing medications. After that, his seizures finally ceased.
Then one afternoon, my grandma went to the doctor.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Fearful of what Papaw would think if he knew she had cancer (she was afraid he would get very upset), we never said the ‘C-word’ in front of him. Ever. He had trouble navigating some emotions, and Grandmie was concerned it would make things harder on him than it needed to be. We don’t think he ever knew she had it. She had to have chemo and a mastectomy. After many rounds of treatment, she was declared cancer-free thankfully.
Through some caring family, they were able to obtain a used wheelchair accessible van at one point, & from then on, Grandmie took him everywhere with her. There was no DISability with my Papaw as far as she was concerned- only ability.
As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Papaw started having a lot of difficulty with swallowing. It was discovered that he had throat cancer. He had to take radiation. I do not know how this conversation went between my grandparents, but I also don’t know if he was ever directly told. The Doctors think radiation took care of it, but regardless, eventually Grandmie had a peg-tube put in his stomach, which ended up being a blessing in disguise… No more bad tasting medicine, etc.
Papaw died in October 2015 when something in his lungs hemorrhaged. His cancer may have spread & went undetected there. Dr’s were not sure. Regardless, nothing could be done. He died quickly & was surrounded by his family.
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Through all this, my grandmother experienced deep mental anguish watching her husband’s health decline over a 20 year period, but I never once heard my grandma complain about the hand they were dealt. She decided that my Papaw’s life was going to be as fulfilling as possible, & that she would live a fulfilling life too. She was going to take the lemons life gave her and find a way to make lemonade… Even when Papaw was in his worst condition, I still remember him laughing a lot, & saying “yeah.” Lol That’s what love is. Most people would become selfish in this situation & whine about how their life was robbed from them and become resentful… but that just simply didn’t happen with my grandma. She often ran on empty, & reached breaking points – but never complained. She did the best with what she was given, and she says she had no regrets whatsoever. I want everyone that reads this post to think of my Grandmie the next time they drink a nice glass of lemonade.
My Grandma was able to find joy in the midst of being a caregiver because she allowed their trial to refine her, not break her. She was thankful for the abilities that he DID have, & thankful that she had a healthy body that could care for his, even in the midst of Cancer. She also knew that God had a purpose in their suffering. I theorize that a lot of people were “silent watchers” to their plight. By watching them through the years, I think these watchers learned a lot.
He caused Mary and Martha to grieve by taking the life of their brother, Lazarus, so Jesus’ power could be displayed (John 11:1-4 and 41-44).– South Bay Church website quote
I can’t explain it, but I feel that God’s power was displayed through the steadfastness of my Grandma through the years. She was always an encourager.
After Papaw died, she had a lot of time to herself that she didn’t know what to do with. Instead of being selfish, (don’t get me wrong – she travels, she’s went on a cruise, etc) she decided to give back to others what she had learned over the years about joy and finding it in the midst of trials. She shared her lemonade with everyone.
So, she started a widows group called “The Lemonade Ladies” – a devotional group all about finding joy in your “new normal”. She also holds a monthly caregivers breakfast at her house.