Shortly before we left Virginia our friends Andy and Loya had us over for Sunday dinner. As we talked about the upcoming changes we told them what little we knew of our new home. Andy remarked that he thought we’d be moving into his grandparent’s ward and to look for them. We consented, skeptically; LA is a pretty big place.
That first Sunday an older gentleman sought us out, eager to welcome us, and introduce himself and his wife as Andy’s grandparents. Within a week or two I was given the beloved grandmother as my assignment for regular visits.
It began as obligation, monthly visits to get to know people within the congregation is one of the many duties of an active Mormon and we take it seriously. I was pregnant with Red and not working and I enjoyed the company. It wasn’t long before I went out of true desire to spend more time with her than because of obligation. I even went so far as to tell the organizers of the visits that unless something catastrophic happened to please never change my assignment to visit her. (To further make my point I made that request multiple times.)
I loved her and her husband as my own grandparents. Surely I was closer to them than my own. I loved their stories, their perspective. They came to me when I was housebound with a newborn, to ensure we didn’t miss a visit. I cherished every moment I spent with them. I loved their stories of Latvia, of Brazil, and finally of coming to America. I loved their calm peaceful spirits and their unending optimism. Zelma was so stubbornly optimistic that I would have to check with Jacob to see how she was really doing at times when I worried for her health or comfort.
One day she had a stroke. She recovered miraculously but the Spirit told me I needed to prepare myself to say goodbye to her; she wasn’t a young woman and wouldn’t be around forever. It was a weird September for me: grieving in my heart for a woman I still saw in church on Sundays and in her home at least monthly. By the end of the year they decided that they needed to live closer to family and before their house was on the market it was sold and they had moved to Utah.
It wasn’t the goodbye I had expected, but it was hard for me. I no longer had our monthly visits and I missed her terribly. The preparation for the fall had helped but nothing ever takes away the pain of missing someone. I knew that I would miss her –miss them– for the rest of my life.
We’ve kept in touch, sending Christmas cards back and forth. They seem to know which years are the hardest and slip a twenty into the card for us. How do they know? How do they always know? We try to keep them updated on the progress of the boys they’ve known since infancy and beyond, the boys who know them and love them better than their own great grandparents. It wasn’t the same as being in their home but there was great comfort in communication. It helped the two and a half years since they left seem not so difficult.
Monday morning after I sent my children to school I discovered that my beloved Zelma had suffered a massive stroke, was unconscious, and was not expected to live long. I had been able to gulp back my tears when I dropped off Blue for his first day of school only hours before, but I was a fountain of tears as I grieved for my beloved Zelma. Yesterday, having never regained consciousness, she passed away, surrounded by family. She was 92 years old and a faithful friend to everyone who knew her. She had lived a beautiful, full life.
The church’s visiting teaching program is certainly inspired. What a wonderful way to get to know someone you wouldn’t otherwise. I am definitely a better woman because of my monthly visits with Zelma and her doting husband, even though it was I supposed to be helping them. I will always be grateful of the years I spent in her home, learning from her and gleaning from her vast knowledge. And I hope that someday, before I see her again, I can be more like her, because she was fantastic. I shall treasure her memory forever.