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For months, I tried to persuade her that she lived in a nice neighborhood and she had no reason to be frightened about anything. I told her I preferred to keep the storm door unlocked, but she never changed. It remained locked. So I continued to use the doorbell because that’s what she wanted. I never used a doorbell so much in my life. But she loved that ding-dong sound, for it signaled that I was finally home. The loneliness was over, at least for a while. 

JUNE 2015

I drove by her house the other day, it’s been many years since she died and I still think about her every time I drive by. I bought her home that same year; she wanted me to live there. It has the same shingles I installed and my do-it-yourself paint job still looked pretty good.

I have no idea who occupies it now, but it’s funny how years of memories of my time there are able to flood my mind in only the few seconds it takes to drive by. Just like that, I’m back in time, reliving those days with her and thinking of how when I lived there, we changed each other’s lives. Remembering of how she’d always sit at the kitchen table with her baseball cap on to keep the lights out of her eyes, longing for the moment when I’d get home and ring the doorbell.

I lived with my grandmother, Anne, for three years—the last three years of her life.

At first, I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think it would work out. But Grandma needed care and attention. And I needed cheap rent. Since money talks, I figured that I could put up with false teeth, wool sweaters, and Johnny Carson for a while. It was a “You help me, I’ll help you” kind of agreement. So, in the summer of 1987, I moved in.

At first things were difficult. We had to learn each other’s habits and living styles. I could never understand why she washed and saved baggies and plastic wrap. She could never understand why I didn’t want another blanket on my bed each night.

Soon, we became accustomed to each other. It wasn’t long before we became friends. Best friends.

That fall when school began, I didn’t see Grandma as often. I left for school early each morning. On days I worked, I went directly to my job after school and sometimes didn’t arrive home until 11 or 11:30 p.m. When I’d come home, she would be in the kitchen—still watching TV. It was her only companion while I was gone.

I had a key to the front door, but I could never walk in because Grandma kept the outside door locked. It was a flimsy aluminum storm door, but she felt secure by keeping it locked. So every night, I had to ring the doorbell and wait for her to let me in. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re home!” she said. “You don’t know how lonely I’ve been. It drives me crazy to be alone all day.”

For months, I tried to persuade her that she lived in a nice neighborhood and she had no reason to be frightened about anything. I told her I preferred to keep the storm door unlocked, but she never changed. It remained locked. So I continued to use the doorbell because that’s what she wanted. I never used a doorbell so much in my life.

But Grandma loved that ding-dong sound, for it signaled that her grandson was finally home. The loneliness was over, at least for a while. I hated waiting outside to be let in, especially in the winter. But I never pressed the issue.

One night I rang the doorbell as usual, but Grandma didn’t come. It always took her between 50 and 60 seconds to reach the door. Always. After a minute and a half, I forced the storm door open and rushed in. She was lying on the kitchen floor between two tipped chairs. “It hurts, it hurts, it hurts….” That was all she said.

She had fallen on the way to open the door. I tried to help her up, but she just wanted to lie there. Realizing that nothing was broken, I placed a pillow between her head and the hard floor. I didn’t know what else to do. I lay down beside her and tried to comfort her. For about 10 minutes, all I could do was stroke her grey hair. Eventually, I helped her get up and put her to bed.

I grew to appreciate her like never before. I wanted to do all I could for her. I fixed meals, cleaned tables, retrieved blankets and sweaters, helped her walk, even double-checked doors I knew were locked—all to make her more comfortable. She liked that.

I did a lot for Grandma, but I couldn’t do everything.

I couldn’t keep her from falling, crying, or suffering. I couldn’t keep her from getting depressed and I couldn’t keep her from growing old.

Still, our evenings together became times to look forward to. Even for me. We talked a lot. Some of our greatest moments together occurred just before bedtime. I’d help Grandma to her bedroom, and we’d sit down on her bed and begin to talk. We talked about family, friends, pets and TV shows. We talked about pain, arthritis, hardships and sorrows.

We laughed. Sometimes we cried. We always hugged.

Grandma always asked me about my girlfriends. She wanted to make sure I had a “good woman” who treated me right. In the summer of 1989, I bought an engagement ring and couldn’t wait to show it to her. “My, my, look at the size of that thing!” she said. “That’s one lucky girl. Make sure she takes care of you.” “Don’t worry Grandma, I will.” Grandma was the only one who saw the ring before I gave it to my girlfriend a few months later.

In 1990, things changed.

Grandma’s health began to deteriorate. She suffered a stroke that summer and soon afterwards her mind began to fail. Her balance, already unreliable, worsened. After a while she couldn’t walk—even with help. My mother finally admitted her to a nursing home.

All of a sudden, it wasn’t the same. The house was empty. This time she was gone and I was alone. Now it was my turn to feel lonely.

I visited Grandma often. She hated the nursing home. “How’s the house?” she asked. “Fine Grandma, everything’s fine,” I said. “Don’t worry, I’m still double-checking the locks every night.”

I was engaged and soon my wedding day was near. I wanted desperately for her to attend. It meant so much to me, but I knew it would be impossible. I got married on Aug. 18, 1990. The next day, my bride and I went to tell Grandma all about it. She was sitting up and was looking quite attentive and perky. This was unusual.

We told her about the wedding, the reception, and the delicious chicken dinner. I showed her my ring. She smiled. We told her about our plans to drive to Florida for our honeymoon. “You lucky dogs,” she said. After more wedding talk, we said we had to leave—to pack our bags for our trip in the morning.

“We’ll see you when we get back, Grandma,” I said. “Okay, have fun.” “We will Grandma. I love you.” “I love you too,” she said. We turned to leave, but before I walked out of the room, I felt impressed to look back at her. She was still looking at me. We knew each other’s thoughts. I waived. She smiled.

The next morning, grandma died. She was 84. I was the last family member she talked to. The last person she smiled at.

After our honeymoon, we bought her house and moved in. The doorbell stopped working but I never felt like I should fix it. My wife was now my new companion, yet it wasn’t the same in the house.

Every time I eat a corn dog, I think of Grandma. Every time I see a bottle of rubbing alcohol, I can’t help but smile. I think of the chair she always sat in and the blanket she always draped across her legs. I think of how we used to play cards, and how happy I was whenever she won. I think of the times how we struggled down the hallway together.

I think of many things. But most of all, I think of what Grandma always used to say to me after I helped her to bed each night. “You’re my boy,” she said. “You’re the only one who cares about me.” I wasn’t the only one who cared about her. But I was her companion, her best friend.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
(John 14:1-3 ESV)

When Grandma relocated to heaven, it left a void in my life—an emptiness that I could fill with either sorrow…or joy. It was up to me to determine how I was going to honor her memory.

Naturally, I was sad at first and I missed her terribly, but I also realized it was dangerous to set up camp and live in my grief. Author Marianne Williamson once said, “We do not heal the past by dwelling there; we heal the past by living fully in the present.” Yes, the Bible says there is a time to mourn (Eccl. 3:4) and I did that. But it also goes on to say there is a time to dance as well.

For me, the passage of time certainly helped put things into perspective. And as time passed, I found myself smiling more and more as I fondly recalled all of the intricate details of how our initial arrangement of convenience evolved into a lasting friendship marked by dependence, trust, and love.

So while Grandma has been busy enjoying the place that God has prepared for her, I have been smiling and enjoying the delightful memories of our time spent together on Wingard Lane. I believe that is how she wants to be remembered.

The other thought that makes me smile is knowing that I will see her again soon. As the Bible says, this life is nothing more than a vapor, a margin of time, and then it will be over. As a believer, I will move into the timeless hope of heaven. A time to see my loved ones again; a chance to pick up where we left off. And of course, an opportunity to rule and reign with Christ…forever.

Eternity with Jesus— and with our loved ones—is right around the corner. That grand union in heaven will certainly be a sweet one.

And when I do finally get there, I’ll be sure to ring the doorbell to let her know I’m home.

Jeff Litfin
cfaith staff

Author Biography

Jeff Litfin
Web site:
Jeff Litfin is an actor, spokesperson, writer, and life-long content and communications student who strives to put his optimism to work every day.

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