Tuesday, March 5, 2013


        Flowers, a note, a special delivery?  I agonized over the perfect way to tell my mom the good news.
        David and I had known since about week two, but I wanted the revelation to my family to be a moment we would never forget – a special beginning in our new journey as a family. Finally, after searching all of the stores on Town East Boulevard, seeking the advice of friends who had traveled this path before, and then keeping the secret for way too long, I found it – a gift that could be displayed throughout the next nine months, used after the baby’s arrival, and a true representation of one of my loves – a picture frame. 
I know that doesn’t sound very fancy at first, but I am a picture taker and a scrapbooker, a hobby dating back to my childhood.  Everyone always made fun of me growing up because I never left home without a camera in my bag.  My friends were used to having to stop and pose in the middle of a shared event, a habit that has transferred to my family today.  So yes, this was the one.
The 5x7 picture frame had the word GRANDCHILDREN written across the top, with the rest of the wooden material covered in descriptive words – LOVE, LAUGHTER, MEMORIES – all words I would use to portray my family.  Inside the glass opening, I placed a piece of paper with the words BABY JOHNSON, DUE DATE: FEBRUARY 21, 2001 written across the middle.
Nervousness filled my stomach as we arranged to meet at a little café in Wills Point, Texas – halfway between our house in Mesquite and their place in Hideaway Lake.  I knew Mom would be excited, but she had not been around a baby since me - 25 years ago. What would she think or say?
I needn’t have worried. At first she didn’t quite comprehend, unsure of why we wanted her to open a gift during lunch. Then, while untying the pink and blue ribbons and pulling the frame out of the sack, a huge smile covered her face, and tears filled her eyes.  She would have a new role in her coming years – Grandma.
We embraced and of course took dozens of pictures, then began planning the next nine months. The nursery decorations, shopping for maternity clothes, and preparing the house for our coming bundle of joy happened easily with Mom by my side.  We did have one obstacle though – What would the baby call her?  First she simply said “Linda”.  I vetoed that immediately.  Everyone knew her as Linda.  I wanted a distinctive name, one that would set her apart and reveal her important NEW position in the family. Everyone called her grandmother, whom she loved dearly as a child, Nana. I liked it, but with so many cousins calling Aunt Donna that already, confusion might arise at Christmas time. After watching her teach French for many years, Grand Mere seemed like an ideal choice to me, but the family decided that its pronunciation would puzzle some. Feeling quite exasperated over the whole name calling business, Mom began saying, “Whatever, the baby can just call me whatever.” After hearing that phrase repeated so much, I thought that just might BE what the baby ending up saying first.  Finally, while reading a book one day where the main character called her beloved grandmother Grams, I decided on this as Mom’s new title.
Mom stayed sitting by my side in the delivery room, holding my hand, as Caleb Westlee Johnson made his entrance.  I could see the pride and joy written across her face, the memory embroidered with the flourish of her smile.
Grams moved in with us for the first week, helping me become familiar with this new little member of our household and providing me with time for those few extra hours of precious sleep. Then the unthinkable happened.
After nursing Caleb one morning, I laid him down on the bed next to Grams.  He turned to her, bumping her chest, and she cried out. When I asked what happened, she told me that a sharp pain had shot through her breast. She could feel a small knot under the skin in the place where he had reached out to touch her.  She and I immediately looked at each other, concern in both our features, wondering what it meant.  We knew the family history – both her mother and grandmother had died from breast cancer.  But they were both in their 70’s, not 52 like Mom.  Realizing the potential gravity of the situation, I placed Caleb in his bassinet, forced her to get up and call her doctor. She had always scheduled her mammograms faithfully, but the last one had occurred a few months ago.  Her appointment fell on the next Tuesday.  She told me not to worry and simply concentrate on the baby. I realized that all I could do was pray.
We got the news the next day.  The lump that had caused her to cry out was a cyst and could be easily removed.  But, the other three lumps they found were on opposite sides of the breast and would require a mastectomy.
I spent the whole summer with Mom, encouraging and comforting her, praying for God’s healing hand, and hoping Caleb would bring laughter and smiles to her time of recuperation. 
After major complications and another surgery to remove lymph nodes, Mom started her chemotherapy. The worst part of this all was that Mom really didn’t get to enjoy being Grams as much as I wanted her to. As Caleb grew stronger and more mobile, her strength diminished. Even through the pain of holding him at times, she did not give up and spent her moments bonding with him through her songs and stories. Watching her with him reminded me of my childhood, lying next to her in bed, listening to the stories of Noah’s Ark or Jonah and the Whale, and singing songs about Jesus and His love for me.  I wanted Caleb to grow up with these memories of her as well. She was HIS Grams now, an even more special designation, I thought, than being MY mom.  I wanted her around, not for a few more months, but for many more years. 
Through the next two years of watching Mom lose her hair and experience bouts of chemo induced sickness, I learned to rely on my favorite Bible verse from Proverbs – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and He will direct your path.”
Caleb is twelve now, in middle school, and Sophie Ann, named after her Grams, arrived in May of 2005. In this stage of her life, Grams has another name to add to her list - Survivor.   
If I had to choose the name that fits her best, I couldn’t. Each is a part of her and now a part of me. As I continue along the pathways of life, I want to be more like her – each part of her – and that is my daily prayer. Linda Ann, Mom, Grams, Survivor.

                           Robin D’Ann Johnson
                         Daughter of Linda Ann
                                    March, 2013


  1. Very moving! I have found that grandchildren bring more laughter, fun, and memories to their grandparents than we can ever imagine. It is so wonderful that your mom is a survivor and your children have grown and had the experiences they have had with her.

  2. What a journey your family has taken. I was dreading the end of this piece, convinced that things would turn out badly. So glad that was not the case!

  3. I too am so glad to hear the happy ending of survival and love. What a touching piece to share and save forever.