a portrait of ileta
her tiny 4'11" frame belied her abundant love for life and radiating warmth of spirit. she had piercing blue "bette davis" eyes. a warm, playful smile. and she was infinitely glamorous in her love of simple things—baking pies from the ripest fruits of the season, catching fish in the rivers and lakes of michigan, admiring the colorful birds from her living room window, and spending time with family doing everything or nothing.
though she looked like a movie star from the golden days of hollywood, she chose a simple life in a small town, and devoted herself to the one thing that mattered most: her family. she fell in love with paul, a gentle, kind-hearted soul who shared the belief that there was no better place in the world to be than with ileta, the love of his life. together for more than 50 years, they were blessed with two children, five grandchildren (including my husband, curtis) and 12 great grandchildren. they lived life to the fullest, weathered the seasons and life's changes, always together, until it was time for him to say goodbye.
in the ten years after paul's passing, she was surrounded by the family she cherished. watching the constant swarm of babies, toddlers, tweeners and teens parading through her house and playing with her first-edition fisher price barn and metal tonka toys became a favorite pastime.
often i would see those sea blue eyes well up—no doubt because of the joy and gratitude she felt for her loved ones—but it also felt as if there were something more. that despite the flurry of activity, the boundless energy around her, there was loneliness too. a longing for that special someone who completed her, made her whole.
then one fateful day, ileta took a fall. she broke her hip in several places and she was faced with some dreaded news: she would have to leave her condo on the river, the picturesque view from her living room window, the beautiful birds, the stacks of family photo albums, the barn and tonka trucks, and the last place she shared with her beloved paul.
she was devastated...and the family was horrified at the thought that her will to go on, the twinkle in her eye, would extinguish almost as soon as the wheels of her blue oldsmobile drove away from the condo parking lot for the last time.
the royal view assisted living facility looked warm and welcoming: a large white colonial facade with several fountains spouting gentle streams of water into the manmade pond out front. the idyllic scene failed to impress. she stared out the window silently as they brought her there. and we all collectively held our breaths, gazed up to the heavens, and prayed that she would be ok.
after several weeks, we got the call.
"so we went to visit her this week."
"yeah, how's she doing?" [fingers crossed]
"oh you'll never guess."
"what do you mean? is everything ok?" [heart starting to race nervously]
"oh yeah, it's not only ok. it's...amazing. grandma's got a boyfriend."
"a WHAT??" [mouth gaping open in complete and utter shock]
his name was huson. clad in suspenders to hold up his khaki pants, with a checked flannel shirt and a hearty handshake, he was a simple man from a small michigan town, warm, gentle-hearted, and seemingly familiar.
they were smitten. i hadn't seen those blue eyes sparkle with such affection since the many meals with grandpa eating his "bread with dinner as a rule" and hearing him reflect on how lucky he was to "land such a catch" as ileta.
seeing them together reminded me of the scene in the robin williams/de niro movie "awakenings" in which catatonic patients are awakened from their paralyzed states through stimuli that stirs something deep within them—whether a certain type of music or poetry or even human contact.
for ileta, at 90+ years old, the catalyst was finding love again. a partner. a companion. a gentleman to hold the door open for her. an arm to grab onto while she walked. an ear to listen to her stories and share his own. a person to sit quietly with her on "the davenport" for hours on end. a "we" to her "me."
ileta was an amazing woman. a wife. a matriarch. a mother. a grandmother. a great grandmother. an even greater human being.
she also taught me an indelible lesson: it's never too late. to find love. to start over. to take the first step in a new direction. to let go of old habits and safe routines. to ultimately embrace change (whether you're forced into it by circumstances or diving toward it feet first).
sometimes we live. we go through the motions. we feel trapped by choices, by roles, by work, by expectations, by fears. but if you're truly passionate about something, if it's been lying dormant for months, years, even decades on end, if it feels true to who you are and what is most important to you, be open to "awakening" it...and trust that the rest will fall into place. it's never too late.