Near the end of the time she had with us, my grandmother’s declining health led to times where it was difficult for her to remember things, like where she was and who was with her. It also made it hard for her to communicate some of the things that she wanted to say.

As I sat with her one night, she woke up and began to ask me “Can I have a glass of…” and then she trailed off and began rambling into a number of words that just didn’t make sense. After a moment, she stopped herself and said “I’m not making sense, am I?” In here eyes was a look of defeat for not being able to form the words of what should be a simple sentence.

It was hard to watch, but at the same time, you could tell that she was there with us, she just wasn’t able to connect the dots in her head the way she normally could when it came to saying what she wanted to.

When I asked her if she wanted a glass of water, she told me “That would be okay; yes.” And, with a good long drink, she seemed content at having been able to get enough of her message through for me to understand what she was after. She fell back asleep peacefully.

Not long after that, she woke up again and looked at me. I thought she might want something more, so I asked her if there was anything I could do for her. This time, however, she answered my question with a question, and after she could formulate the words, she asked me “What do you think the symbolism is of what’s going on with me, and you, and Blossom?” (For anyone not familiar with Blossom, I direct you to the photo of the little yipper of a dog on the photo board, with an attitude much bigger than the biggest of Rottweilers.)

The question didn’t have a good answer, at least not one that I could put together at the moment. I tried to figure out what she was getting to, what she was trying to say. This time around though, I was the one with defeat in my eyes, and I had to answer back to her with “I don’t know.”

Someone looking in at this situation from outside might be tempted to think that this question really didn’t mean anything, that it should just be grouped into nonsense and forgotten about. I’ve had that temptation too, but it’s something that I just can’t let go of. Deep inside, I know that she really was trying to say something, and I think that those words and that question was the best hope she had at trying to get it out in a way that we might be able to get to it eventually.

Because she spent so much time trying to get the right words together before she asked me the question, I think the words she used in particular should be paid very close attention to, piece by piece, to try to put together the whole of the picture she wanted to paint for us.

“What do you think the symbolism is…?”

Wikipedia would tell you that ‘a symbol is something that represents an idea,’ and that ‘the purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning.’ What idea was it that she had? What meaning was she trying to communicate?

More interestingly than its definition, the article on symbols also mentions a man named Paul Tillich, who argued that symbols themselves have a life span. ‘Symbols are complex and their meanings can evolve as the individual or culture evolves.’ A symbol ‘lives’ for as long as it has meaning.

Keeping that in mind, let’s look at the other things she mentioned.

“What do you think the symbolism is of what’s going on with me, and you, and Blossom?”

In addition to herself, she mentioned me. How am I a symbol?

At my base, I am the son of my grandmother’s son. On the outer level, there’s not a lot of meaning to that idea, but if you dig a little deeper, it really does mean more than you might think.

The son of her son…

A large part of who I am is because of the parents that raised me. My dad, her son, did a lot to set me on the course of my life. He wasn’t just a provider; he was, and continues to be, a mentor, an advice giver, and a role model for me. This is a man who has worked hard his entire life to make sure that his family is taken care of, a man who always seems to hold his own values in mind when making even the most difficult of choices, and a man who was raised well enough by his own parents to have been a worthy enough person to marry my mother.

And, just as I am the product of the marriage of my father and mother, he is also the product of his parents, a product of the marriage of my grandmother and grandfather. Their relationship has certainly weathered the test of time. They have made it through the best of times and the worst of times, through big screen TVs and through canoes, and it has shown that time can take almost all things, but it cannot erode a love as pure as theirs. It is because of that loving relationship that my dad is here today, and it is because of him that I am as well.

“…the symbolism is of what’s going on with me, and you, and… Blossom?!?”

Now, I’m sure more than a few of you have some raised eyebrows about the mention of Blossom. I don’t blame you. That dog has a reputation for being just plain, well, ‘hard to deal with’ is probably the best way to put it. But, it’s that same, shall we say, ‘special’ personality that gets to what I think Grandma Carol was trying to say.

Blossom was a surprise to just about everybody. Not a single person who has ever seen how my grandmother deals with pretty much any other animal in the world would have suspected that she could learn to love a dog… any dog… let alone that one. And yet, even at the end, she took great comfort in having Blossom at her side. As a symbol, Blossom shows us that there really were no bounds to her ability to love, even with all the odds in the world stacked against it. I think we could all learn a thing or two about caring from her, even when it applies to a mutt like that.

“What do you think the symbolism is of what’s going on with me, and you, and Blossom?”

The end of the question brings us back to the beginning, back to trying to decipher what my grandmother was trying to say.

“What do you think the symbolism is of what’s going on with me…?”

I think that Grandma Carol herself was a symbol, and that with her spirit leaving this earth, that symbol of her is what still remains. Like Paul Tillich said, a symbol doesn’t die until it has lost its meaning, and that meaning still lives within all of us who have been lucky enough to have been able to know her, and to have had our lives touched by her.

If we continue to pass along the love that we got from her, I think that the symbol of Carol Blake will live forever.

1 reply
  1. Kitty Blake
    Kitty Blake says:

    Beautifully said, Jimmy. I am sorry for your loss. Grandmothers are special people and hard to tell good-by. You are in my prayers.
    Kitty Blake


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