Orange is a bold, vibrant, warm, and happy color. It is the color of the sunrise, pumpkin pie, the lilies that grew in my backyard growing up, and monarch butterflies.
My grandmother’s favorite color is orange. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and it has progressed to the point where she barely functions, let alone remembers any of us. She can’t form a sentence; she can’t feed or bathe herself.
When people ask me what my grandmother was like before she was diagnosed, I tell them her favorite color was orange. My memories of her are full of laughter — a big hearty laughter that makes you throw your head back and feel your chest open up to the warmth that is filling the whole room. She made everything brighter, bolder, and more fun. She hugged and winked, told stories and jokes. Mostly, she loved people and made people feel loved more than I have seen anyone do so in my life thus far. I don’t mean to say that she was particularly philanthropic — she is generous, for sure, but the distinguishing factor in her actions was that they were unforgivingly real.
I vacillate between the past and the present tense here because most of these personality traits and actions have been stripped away by the terrible disease that clouds her mind. I miss her. Missing her feels like I have a hole in my lungs that prevents me from ever quite filling them with air.
My roommates tell me that I am too trusting of people — I joke, laugh, offer and accept favors from strangers. They think that someday I will be taken advantage of, and I will get hurt. But I don’t want to believe that. I honestly think that, to a certain extent, people will live up to the expectations you set and the way in which you treat them. When I smile at a stranger, I see the warmth in their eyes that ensues and I feel that piece of my grandmother inside me.
In between her vacant stares and mindless wandering these days, every once in a while I see her wink at me, or smile that sly, mischievous smile. She still hugs and touches my cheek and I am reminded of days filled with sunshine, tea and molasses cookies, card games and singing. In these brief moments, these flashes of orange, I am thankful that I know what it feels like to love and be loved. I am thankful to have had an example of a genuinely giving and generous person who knows how to make people feel cared for because she genuinely does care.
My grandmother used to ask me, “How am I doing? You see, I don’t know how to be a grandmother because I never had one.” I am thankful that someday I will know how to be a grandmother because I had the best one.