In a few hours I have to leave her. Every time I say that to myself, I start crying. I am getting silly and irrational. I am lashing out in my mind, annoyed and angry at people who I smile and say hello to. Relatives. Friends. People who say stupid shit like ‘how are you?’
Yeah. That’s where I am.
I’m also a huge baby because , I mean hardly anyone I know gets to be 46 and still have their grandmother with them. And even that sounds weird because as a culture we just stress superficial relationships. We don’t really bond with our grandparents. Or we aren’t made to or we don’t make the effort.
I see this present in some of my younger cousins who know little about her. The ones who talk about themselves at her bed side instead of talking with her about her. I mean, I could do that too. Guess what grandma? Theatre groups are considering my play. I have a book coming out. I’m working as a reporter now. I’m doing marginally okay. But I don’t want to see that look in her eye when she tries to focus on what you’re saying but can’t.I don’t want the look of confusion. So instead I say.
Remember when we went to New York together?
And her face lights up and she says, yeah. Oh yeah. We have the best times, don’t we? And I say yeah, we do.
I want to spruce up her side of room 28 A. Sit here all day for as long as I can and micromanage CNAs to come change her and bring her water and anything else she needs, but my reality doesn’t work that way. I might miss the very end. Like I’m here for most of the movie but I’m getting up before that final scene and won’t be back till the credits.
I’m watching her sleep. Every once in awhile she reaches for my hand. I take it in mine and stroke her soft soft skin. We talk about when her mother died in 1977. I was her only grandchild then. None of the other one’s met Nana. And by the time they went to New York, things were different.
She has a fractured knee. She fell a few weeks ago in the few short feet from her bathroom to her bed in the early hours of the morning. She can’t sleep on her side anymore so her movement is just elevated bed, lowered bed. Hoyer lift. Chair. And back again.
There’s less back and forth each day.
She sleeps open mouthed like a fish gasping for air. I sit. I watch. I spend time wallowing in self pity and wishing I hadn’t moved away. I drive around when visiting hours are done and remember why I left. It’s not her fault that after moving back and forth to and from New York a few times she no longer had the desire to move and stayed put. I’m reminded that when Nana died she was 3000 miles away and had just picked me up from the airport to stay with her for the summer. I was playing pinball in the den. The yellow phone on the wall in the kitchen rang and she left alone to New York the next day and I stayed behind probably passed between aunt and grandpa. I don’t remember those details , I only remember her and that I was in baby blue pajamas.
She cast a long shadow of both kindness and verve. You would think those things would be mutually exclusive. That this sarcastic and tough skinned woman from the Bronx –the woman to whom I owe my sense of humor and wit what not be the same one who would teach me kindness and gentleness. But there you go.
My mother used to say that if the devil himself showed up at her house she’d invite him in to dinner. She’d remind you when you ran into an asshole that that asshole was somebody’s child and perhaps you shouldn’t be quick to judge. But then she wasn’t shy about calling the person out either. Just perhaps wanted us to have better manners.
Sometimes she would tell me. Oh Maggie. You just care too much. Stop caring so much. It’s only going to hurt you. And then she’d tell me that’s what makes me me and that’s okay.
She pretends not to have favorites but I was the first born after my uncle died. She whispers to me that I helped her survive. That she doesn’t know what she’d have done with out me. And I feel the same.
She was just always there. No judgement. Rock solid. There.
And it’s not like she was non judgmental because she didn’t know what you were up to. She always KNEW. OMG did she know. But her love was unconditional. And where will any of us ever find that again?
I’m hoping to be here at the end. Which is to say that selfishly I hope the end is a few weeks away when I can come down again. I will be slightly less devastated if I’m here. I’ll fucking want to kill self and others if I’m not here. Particularly people who don’t repay her decades of kindness and love and gentleness with the attention due to her. But there I go being emotional again and, you know, feeling too much.
For anyone thinking that perhaps this is just a grieving granddaughter crying over her grandmother, I say yeah. I can totally see how you’d think that. After all, many of us have grandparents that we sometimes grow up with.
But she was exceptional. Ask anyone who ever came to the house on Gunn Avenue in Whittier. She welcomed the unwelcomed. She fed people. She was willing to love. What great lessons to any of us, the many of us who walked through her doorway. Even now friends I have not seen in years say things like –do you know what your grandmother meant to me?” She did that for each one of us and each of our friends. My aunts and uncles and their friends all have similar stories of this wild acceptance.
We are not to the end yet, but we are hovering and circling and wondering. The hours become sleepier. The drift in and out of consciousness longer. The hours of lucidity reduced to fewer. There was an hour when she ate a piece of chocolate cream pie I bought for myself because she likes cherry (which I also bought). She announced she didn’t like cherry and would be eating mine. For four mouthfuls, she was mine again and I thought of all those Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings where we snuck pie and coffee before anyone arrived at her house for the celebrations of the day. It would be our secret pie we’d share with no one else. I smile as she licks the spoon in her hospital bed. She hands it to me. Falls back asleep.
The stories and the dreams begin and she communes with the long dead and the short lived.
And every once in awhile she reaches for my hand, and I fall apart.