Friday, March 8, 2013

West is West

I love my memories.  I love how the smallest, gentlest reminder can transport me from the most mundane moments to the truly extraordinary.

This past week, I was inadvertently transported to the same extraordinary moment on several occasions by way of the contacts I have saved in my phone. 

I live in a town called Westlake Village.  As such, my children attend a school and receive care from a pediatric office named for the town.  For reasons far too boring to detail here, I made a couple calls to each over the course of the past week, placing me smack in the W’s – in the West’s, to be precise, of my contacts.  I found myself looking at the name Martha West on my display screen, and frankly, wondering if she were dead or alive.  Morbid but real.

Once upon a time, Martha West was a dear friend of my late grandmother Elizabeth Stribling Bell, for whom I was named.  Martha and Elizabeth became acquainted through their church and the volunteer work they did together for many years at a home for seniors affiliated with their church.  Elizabeth was more than ten years Martha’s senior.

I only met Mrs. West a handful of times but hope to carry the memory of our last meeting with me forever.

It was my wedding day.  Jeff and I chose to marry in my grandmother’s church because it was more a part of our family than any other church.  While my grandmother was still alive at the time, her battle with Alzheimer’s had taken all of her; all of her that mattered, anyway.  She was 91 years old.  We debated on having the nurses from the hospital wheel her into the church and position her next to the first pew but my father decided it would be too much for her.  Too confusing, too exhausting, just too much. 

It’s amazing how long you can stay alive without really living at all...but I digress... 

It was probably about a half-hour until go-time and the bridal party was gathered in the bridal room, as they called it, which was in a small building set away from the church and groomsmen.  My mom, sister, brother, dearest friends and the flower girl were all ready.  We were just taking pictures, talking and laughing; fussing over those little, last-minute, bridal details that really don’t need to be fussed over.
Then the door opened and a beautiful woman with silver hair walked up to me and extended her hand.  I stood and extended mine in return. 

“Elizabeth.”  She took my right hand and held it in both of her hands.  I knew her face but could not remember her name.  I didn’t say a word and she continued.

“I’m Martha West.  I’m one of your grandmother’s friends.  I know that she can’t be here today but I wanted to be here in her place.”

As a member of the church’s Altar Guild, Mrs. West had seen my name, her old friend’s name, on the schedule of events and made herself available to help support her the wedding ceremony of her old friend’s granddaughter. 

The room fell silent.

I was so moved by the gesture.  My eyes filled up and I nodded my head.  I finally uttered a small “Thank you”.

“Well, you look just beautiful.  I know your grandmother would love to see you,” she continued.

It took everything in me to just nod and choke back the tears.

“I’ll see you inside,” she squeezed my hand and gave me a warm smile.

And she was gone.

I never saw her again but she made blankets for my sons when they were born, five years later.  I still have them.  

I initially got Mrs. West's address and added it to my contacts to send her a thank you for the blankets.  For the first few years following the boys' birth, I sent her a Christmas card.  Then one year, the card came back "return to sender".  I later learned that Mrs. West's husband had passed and she had moved into a nursing home.

And so I love my memories.  I think about what life would be like without them; lately a little more than I should.  My best friend from college is now facing the cruel effects of Alzheimer's through her mother's battle with the soul-stealing disease.

So to Alzheimer's, I say suck it!  

In fact, after I typed that last line, I paused to lean back in my chair, extend my arms to the sky and flip double-birds to Alzheimer's.  Feel free to do the same.

Or do something constructive, like donate your time or money to the cause. 

Or better yet, make it a point to just show up for somebody in a way that only you can. The way Mrs. West did for me all those years ago.