I haven’t written lately. I haven’t known what to say. On top of my own all-too-natural questioning of the universe and my place in it, I’ve been dealing at a long distance with feelings over my grandmother’s deteriorating physical condition. Everytime I talk to someone about it, I seem determined to tell them she’s 92 years old, that she’s surely lived a long life, and hopefully much of it was good as we could make it for her. And everytime I make that comment, I feel like we all deserve more time with one another.
When I was younger people felt I had a flair for writing, something I haven’t nurtured in years beyond e-mails to friends and family. And now, I know my words are going to fail me. How can I tell anyone how much she’s meant to me over the years. We didn’t live nearby, but when I was a young child, we would write letters back and forth to one another. And I will always miss those letters and lament that in my college years I slacked off on my end of that deal more than I ever should have. In grad school at Auburn, I lived closer to her than every before and made an effort to visit as often as I could. Somewhere along in this time, the partings kept getting harder and harder. The medical problems were mounting up. She had a heart scare and a couple of other bad moments along my trip from high school to adulthood. And I noticed that everytime we said goodbye, she would cry. And once or twice, I cried along with her, when my dense mind finally understood the tears were because she wondered if it was the last time.
The conclusion of the college experience has found me in Atlanta, GA, far away from south Alabama, and once again the trips became less frequent. So, everytime I would visit, I would make it a point that we would spend as much of my time there together as possible. I’ve never been the most demonstrative of emotion, but I hope she knows how much I love her.
And this week I got the call from my cousin that it didn’t look good. She was sick at Christmas, flu apparently. Christmas eve, I had visited someone in the ICU in the hospital that I couldn’t see my grandmother in. Empty eyes had stared out at me as labored breaths escaped. A week later, I heard she was back in the nursing home but very weak. In another week, I heard that the doctor had recommended the family contact hospice. I couldn’t talk about it. I discussed it with one friend. I read about hospice and the private tears welled up. And the call came that the doctor had said she was shutting down, little by little losing ground… Brian, who is working strange hours right now, visited her in the middle of the week. I asked for Monday off so that I could go down today with my dad. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my boss the extent of why I was visiting, just that my grandmother was “not doing well.” I’ve noticed that I haven’t been able to use any of the blunt words for what’s happenning, just euphemisms.
And this afternoon, my dad and I went over with my Aunt, who has seen Granny through these last years, and done a better job than I think she may ever know. She shouldered a lot and I wish often that I had been somehow able to help. Or that I could tell her in person how lucky we all have been to have her there. I’ll never be that good at exprssing how I feel.
At first, I saw much of the person I saw in ICU. But gradually, Granny’s gaze shifted to us. She couldn’t speak. Aunt Margie said she hadn’t talked since Sunday. She doesn’t have that much strength. She barely moves and can’t feed herself. She would look at us and when I held her hand she squeezed back. I hope it’s not just hopeful thinking, but I think she knew who we were more or less. On a couple of ocassions, a few tears would trail down her face. My aunt said that when Brian visited, she cried after he left. My dad’s baby brother and his wife showed up later in our visit and as everyone talked, Granny rallied a little energy and her gaze would shift from person to person as we all spoke. All too quickly, she started to drift off again and it was getting time for us to all leave and head back home. I leaned in to kiss her and tell her how much I loved her, to say goodbye for what may well be the last time. I’ve never experienced the feeling in such sharp focus that it could well be the last time. With all of us, there’s always the off chance that something sudden may happen, but that’s the danger of living. This was so different.
And somehow, I held back a little, not wanting to saddle her with my emotions. It was one thing for her to feel sad, but it was another for me to add my sadness on top. I’m sure anyone who bothered to look could see the tears I felt welling in my eyes. And when I finally got back to the safety of my home and told my Mom about the afternoon, that’s when the dam broke. I cried like I don’t remember crying in a long time. Some part of me was able to oddly look at me in that moment and wonder what the real thing was going to be like next to this dress rehearsal.
Someday when the pain isn’t so close to the surface, I hope to at least pen down some of my memories, some of the things that stand behind the sadness right now. I’m glad I went (because I nearly didn’t), but I want to be able to write about all the good times we had and all the tales of her childhood she told me. And I wonder if I’ll ever be able to without the tears…