Hers was a good life for many, many years.
I think God was good to her when he took away her short-term memory.
Gert, a wife, mother, a Sunday School teacher and church pianist, lost three of the people she loved most far too early and too close together.
First, it was my dad. Pop died unexpectedly. While he was diabetic and had heart problems, no one expected him to leave us so soon. It was devastating for Gert. The world she knew ended.
But it was a few years later when tragedy truly struck our family. My brother and his family lived next door to Gert. She saw them every day. A few years later, Michael, her grandson, was murdered. He was 17 years old. Only two weeks later, Coy, Michael’s father, was killed in a traffic accident.
At first, Gert’s decline was slow. But, repeating myself, God was good to her when he blocked out those horrible memories.
When Gert reached the point she did not know where she was, I brought her from Sparta to Canton Nursing Center. That was the saddest day of my life.
Dementia had severely affected her ability to take care of herself, but physically she was in great shape.
Gradually she had lost her independence. Some days it was like I was her enemy. First, I convinced her to give up her checkbook. One day, when leaving Sparta she could not find her way home. I was the one who insisted she had to stop driving.
For a while, I arranged for someone to be with her at night. Then it was around-the-clock care. She hated that.
Taking her from her home with the realization that she probably would not return to her beloved Sparta before her funeral caused some of the greatest pain I have ever felt.
At first, I would go to the nursing center to see her. After she had adjusted, I would take her places with me.
Sometimes we would come back to my house and I would cook some of her favorite foods — vegetables like butterbeans, squash, mashed potatoes and peas.
While I was in the kitchen, Gert would walk over the house.
Everything was like it was new to her. When she would see the pots and pans in the sink, she would state emphatically that she was not going to wash them. She never did.
It was easy taking her back to the nursing center. During those few hours we were gone, she would have totally forgotten she lived there.
When I parked the car, she would ask what I was doing. I would say that I needed to go in for a minute. She would get out of the car, too, and walk in with me.
Without fail, when we went inside the large sitting room area, Gert talked about how pretty it was.
After we walked down the hall to her room, I would ask if she needed to use the restroom. She always did. While she was there, I would leave. By the time she came out, she had no memory of my being there.
Gert seemed to think she was back in her working days. A registered nurse, she had taught in a college of nursing. She happily went from room to room checking on “her” patients. “Are you all right?” “Are you warm enough?” “Do you want me to get you something?”
Sometimes, if she heard there was going to be a meeting of the nurses, Gert went, too.
Some of those days were good ones for me. We would go to Cracker Barrel on the days they had chicken and dressing or Dairy Queen for chocolate milk shakes. She liked to see the flowers when we would drive around Canton and Waleska.
Shortly after her 89th birthday, Gert walked up to a nurse and collapsed. She died early the next morning.
She was ready for death. Often she would dream Pop was talking to her. He would ask, “What are you waiting for?”
Many times she said to me, “I want you to bury me so close to Pop that I can reach out and touch his hand.” I did the best I could. There are only a few inches between their vaults.
Happy birthday, Gert. I hope you and Pop are walking around Heaven holding hands.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.