This One’s for Dorothy

For the love of my grandma.

By J’Mel Davidson

Fair warning: This one may be a little sappy. But if you’ll allow me to talk about something and someone who is the very reason I’m here, writing for you people, I’d appreciate it. Next month, I’ll return to telling you how you’re continuing to negate the “social contract” with my totally relevant pop culture quips. Deal?

To honor the passing of J'Mel Davidson's grandmother, Dorothy, we are re-running this column from 2014.

To honor the passing of J’Mel Davidson’s grandmother, Dorothy, we are re-running this column from 2014.

What is the soul? Is it a magic ball of light that encompasses your whole self? Is it 10ccs of genetic material? A rabbi once told me that each person has a limited amount of words, and when those words are spoken, his life is over. So have I wasted years of my soul talking about the Blues Brothers and Zombie Apocalypse theories? Eh, I had a good run.

Some of us are taught from a very young age that we are watched by a bearded saint who knows every good or bad thing we do and punishes or rewards us accordingly. But even if you don’t believe in Santa, the idea that when you draw you last breath, your very being is extinguished is hard to swallow. And a bit terrifying. So even if there is no tangible proof, the glimmer of hope that the soul continues on is just another thing that we hold on to, to comfort ourselves in the constant and ever-prevalent threat of humanity’s limited mortality.

Dorothy May Edwards is my grandmother. She’s outspoken, boisterous, religious, and sometimes a little bawdy. Grandma is the oldest girl of 13. A country girl, born and raised right here in Alabama, in the little town of Abernant. I inherited her loud nature. I inherited her ability to insult people in ways that are abstract yet apropos.

When I was growing up, Grandma would take me to the movies. I could probably name every flick she took me to. Lots of 80s staples were shared with Grandma at either the Centerpoint 6, the Village East Twin, or the Cinema City 8, where we’d always stop at the Jack’s first, for cheeseburgers.

Now, she is sick. She has dementia and she lives with us now.

The first time she called me the wrong name, I wanted to cry. Every time I hear her speak, confused yet unaware, I want to cry. I hate this. There is nothing I can do. I know it’s not about me, but I’m human, so everything is personal in some respect. My sadness is mostly empathetic. I feel bad that Grandma has to go through this. And I wonder how much of her is staring out from behind the haze. Are we only assuming that she doesn’t understand? Occasionally she has to be reminded where she is. Most of the time, her answers to simple questions are rambling, often name-checking a person who’s not in the room. But that person is almost always a family member.

Look, I go back and forth on the “big question” in life. I’ve watched my grandma’s soul, her words, the things that made her her slip slowly away into a fog. What was there is now gone. She still smiles, laughs, and watches her westerns, but Grandma won’t ever be herself again. So I decided to write this for her. It’s the least I could do to pay tribute to the lady who fed my stomach, my mind, my hobbies, and my soul.

We are faced with mortality every day. Most of the time, it’s not pretty. It’s the end. Perhaps not ultimately, but for the loved ones left behind, all that remains are the memories. I hope that when my number is up, someone cares enough to shed a tear or two…or, even better, can talk about a time I touched them positively.

Today, I sat with Grandma and held her hand while we watched Gunsmoke. I thought about how she took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark when I was six. I thought about sitting at her house watching Porky Pig cartoons, my legs dangling from the chair in the den.

The birthday cards.

Breakfast for dinner.

The hugs.

I’m not here to “get deep.” I just want to say that I love my grandma. That’s all.

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