Over the River and Through the Woods
It’s hard to see my grandma like this.
Ever since her first stroke, she’s been slowly slipping out of touch with reality, and seems only the palest shadow of her former self. I remember her adeptly playing the piano; I remember our card games and love of reading; most of all, I remember her razor-sharp intellect and sharper sense of humor. As the years pass, remembering them takes more and more effort.
Conversations will begin with her telling me that she loves me. If I respond, she tells me she loves me again, and repeat. If I don’t respond, she thinks I don’t love her and starts crying, until I finally tell her that I do love her. She does this with anyone nearby, and would go on for hours if she could stay awake that long.
Instead, I try to change the subject.
Remember when we’d play Sorry! for hours at a time? Or Go Fish? Or Gin Rummy?
She might nod and smile in recognition; she might not. It’s a crapshoot. If she does remember, I know I’ve made her happy. If she doesn’t remember, she’ll break down, crying. Given the that I might make her happy, I decide the risk is worth it, and so I take it.
I doubt she’ll remember either way. I decide to try.
Within 45 minutes, she goes back to bed. I talk presidential politics, high finance and cattle ranching with my grandpa, and I enjoy it. Within the hour, we hear grandma calling to us from the bedroom. We head back.
As I feel my moment of panic, fear and trepidation approach — as I feel like I want to leave, and now — I, inhaling, think to myself:
The grandma I want to please lives still.
The rest comes naturally.
As I exhale, the grandma I see laying prone on her bed isn’t the grandma who sticks her finger in her nose and then puts it in her mouth, anymore; she isn’t the grandma who needs help getting out of her chair; she isn’t the grandma who leans heavily on the walker while grandpa keeps her from stumbling onto the tile hallway.
On that bed, I see the grandma who’d regularly drive me down to the local library in her Lincoln Continental, ketchup and baloney sandwiches in tow. I see the grandma who’d toast cheese and pepperoni on white bread, and, serving it with orange soda and a side of SpaghettiOs, call it lunch. I see the grandma my sister and I would help put up the Christmas tree every December, long after my immediate family stopped bothering.
We go back to the living room, and we visit. The first thing she tells me:
I love you.
I love you, too, Grandma.