Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Sufjan Stevens has a song called “Romulus.” I was listening to it today. It makes me think of my grandmother Shelton, my mom’s mom. The song has nothing to do with my grandmother. Not really. But there’s this line where he says...

“I was ashamed. I was ashamed of her. I was ashamed. I was ashamed of her.”

He’s talking about his mom, or A mom. But, for some reason, this makes me think of my grandmother Shelton. I was never ashamed of my grandmother. But that line, for some reason, reminds me of a particular thing that happened.

You need to understand that my grandmother loved me. She really loved me. Massively. She talked about it. She told me she loved me constantly. She called me “My David.” She loved me way more than I deserved. I lived with her and my grandfather for about 6 months while I was going to school at Wayne State University, and it only cemented our relationship. This woman, my grandmother, was like Christ. I’m not saying she was perfect like Christ. I’m just saying. She was like Christ. She was loving and kind and full of grace. I can’t think of a single negative when it comes to my grandmother. She was, to me, a perfect human being, even though I know that she wasn’t perfect.

And when I hear the song “Romulus,” when I hear, “I was ashamed of her,” it makes think of this moment...

My grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. At that time in my life I had no idea how serious that was or what it could mean. I do now, unfortunately. I’ve seen a lot more. But, at the time, I had no idea. I knew she was sick, but it didn’t register how serious it was. She went to treatments. They didn’t seem to help. She went into the hospital. And I failed her. I failed to go see her as much as I should have. In my ignorance, I thought there was time.

But sometimes there’s no time.

There’s no way around it. I failed her. I was in school. I was really, honestly busy. And I didn’t understand cancer. I didn’t understand. So I neglected her.

Finally, I found time to go visit her. I went to the hospital. I was walking down the hall, looking into the rooms. I couldn’t exactly remember which room she was in, so I was looking in to see which room I should go in. There was a young woman in a room. Not Grandma. There was a black man in a room. Not Grandma. There was a skinny, bald white man in a room. Not Grandma. There was a black woman in a room. Not Grandma.

Then it dawned on me. The skinny old man with the bald head. That was my Grandma. It stopped me in my tracks. I had walked right past her and not recognized her. The treatments she had endured over the past week and so many days had reduced her to an unrecognizable person. She had been reduced to skin and bone, hairless, looking like an old man. And, I have to say, it devastated me. I was ruined.

I walked into her room and looked at her. She was in so much pain. Her body shook with the pain. She looked at me with vacant eyes, but she took my hand and held it. Standing there, holding her hand, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I wanted to run away as fast as I could. I wanted to fly away like Bono in Bullet the Blue Sky. But I stood there and held her hand and watched her frail little body shake with pain.

I have since stood in hospitals, holding the hands of dying people, or sick people. And it still wrecks me. It messes me up emotionally. It all takes me back to that moment. And it’s a hard thing.

She died a few days later. It was a mercy. She was with Christ, and that was something.

And here’s the thing. I want to remember her for her smile. I want to remember her for how she called me “my David.” And I do remember those things. But I can’t get that moment out of my head, where I saw her and thought she was an old man. That moment when I didn’t recognize her and I passed her by. I can’t forget how I failed her by not going to see her more often before she became so sick.

I am ashamed. I am ashamed of me. I am ashamed. I am ashamed of me.

Peace to me.

© LW Publishing 2010


  1. I'm sorry for the pain that you remember. But remembering all those good things about her, don't you think her love for you and the pride she had in you, didn't depend on how often you came to see her, but on the person she knew you would be. Grandparents are like that.

  2. i've been waiting to comment to see if i come up with anything genius to write. and nothing. you told that story beautifully...

    you loved her. and she knew it.

  3. Thanks, both of you. This was painful to write, but I felt like writing it. Part of the shame, the disappointment in who I was at that time in my life, is that Peggy is so right. I was a shmuck, but my grandmother's love didn't depend on anything I did. This is what made her so like Christ.

  4. One of my favorite songs, because it reminds me of specific moments too. I won't name them.

    Sorry that you feel bad about your grandma. I held and old woman's hand and pushed back her hair to annoint her with oil and baptize her before she died, her one wish. She had become a Christian just after hearing that she had cancer. She never got well enough to go to the church and be baptized. I leaned over and whispered in her ear that she was officially baptized and she could go now. She, although comatose, squeezed my hand and began to cry. She died the next day. It was one the best and worst moments of my life. I had met her once before.

  5. In the song, I think it is the confession that he felt something so wrong, and yet he felt it. It's the truth of where he was in that moment, and even though it's a shameful moment, it reveals the struggle that we have to show grace and kindness, especially sometimes to the people we love the most.

  6. I have nothing brilliant to say. The story is very touching. I'm sorry for the pain you feel but you've expressed it beautifully.


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