It was a good weekend – kind of. There were definitely highlights and good times, but the part of this weekend that has profoundly affected me most was a spur of the moment decision.
I believe I’ve mentioned before that my grandmother on my Mom’s side is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s been in an inpatient facility for the better part of a year now. I have not visited her as much as I ought, nor have my cousins. We talked about it – it’s just hard, unbearably so, to do it. I know that whenever I go, I have a bastard of a time afterward. Puffy eyes. Scratchy throat. My mind crunches down on hard facts, and it won’t let go. It’s not good. I cannot describe the sadness.
So, I finally went to see her again after a long time without having done so.
I could say the decision was made because I love her – and I do. But, it was guilt more than anything else. My grandparents love us. And just because it’s hard seeing her in the home doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it as often as I have the chance.
So, I pulled in for a visit a little after 11:30. I signed in, took the long walk down the halls to her room and found her there, eyes closed, chewing on a bit of her lunch, most of it uneaten. She’s a wisp of a thing now. She’s lost most of her weight and she doesn’t move around a lot. I pulled up a chair quietly, and let her chew for a bit. She never really stopped and I never really saw her swallow whatever it was – pork maybe?
After a while, I spoke to her as gently as I could. She asked who was there – her eyes were open, but far away, glassy. I told her that it was her grandson, LB (shorthand for Little Burt – a name we used frequently in childhood to differentiate between me and my father).
She said in a shaky voice: I have a grandson?
And in that one sentence, you can see all of the terror of this disease.
But, I was undeterred. I held her hand – the stunted one that never developed correctly in the womb before she was born. She never really liked people to do that, but it was the hand I could reach and she didn’t fight me. It was surprisingly warm.
Continuing to hold her hand, I told her it was Little Burt again and she came out of what I’ve come to call Nanaland a little. Little Burt. she echoed. Immediately followed by You have a girlfriend, right?
I told her I did. She smiled a lot then. Said my girlfriend’s name. It’s amazing what she does and doesn’t remember.
We chatted a little now and then. I asked if she’d like a bird feeder outside the window, provided the care facility would let us. She seemed to like that, and then we just kind of talked about whatever came to her mind.
And then, the strangest thing happened. She just says out of nowhere: we never got to know each other very well did we?
I felt sadness and a bit of shame at that. Because in a way, that was my fault. Nan immediately brought up my other grandmother who fought jealously for time with me. My Nan and Pop on my mother’s side had all the time in the world when my older sis was born, and they doted on her and spent a lot of time with her and built up a connection I never had. The day I was born, my paternal grandmother just pushed Nan and Pop out of the way saying this one is mine. She literally said that. And it was so.
Both of my grandmothers were real pistols.
But it wasn’t just my paternal grandmother that caused the rift – though she affected it. The other half was me.
I was nineteen when Nana Hopkins passed. It affected me profoundly. I had never lost someone in my almost-adult life who was so close. And it hurt. It hurt so badly I can’t adequately describe it. And I decided that I would never, ever feel that way again. It thought wasn’t worth the pain.
I was stupid. A dumb, hurt kid, making a dumb, hurtful decision.
I disassociated myself from my remaining grandparents because I was hurt and scared. I didn’t want to feel that pain and suffering again. It was an awful feeling, hitting me at about the worst time it could. I was in a bad relationship, I was in college, away from my family for the first time. I had nothing. It was the dead of winter. The heady mix of hormones, late teen angst, and the crushing pressure of reality and being something not grown up but no longer a child made me think that I knew how to handle things best in my own life.
And I pushed them away. I pushed for… I don’t know how long.
Long enough that Nan noticed.
I have never felt so ashamed.
But I held her hand. I let her know that yes – we didn’t get to know each other as well as we might have liked. But I let her know that I love her. That I always have. All of the grandchildren. Even if we were lautenspaker (sp – I am told it is the Danish word for ‘shitkicker’ which contextually translates to a profane version of ‘troublemaker’). She called all of us that, and she smiled and said who taught you that word?
I told her she did. She smiled again. I added that she loved all of us to spite being lautenspaker, that it was hard not to love a lautenspaker. She nodded.
I lost it – that chance to know her. I lost it a long time ago. The disease that ravages her mind and body now started whittling away at her a long time ago. In the past ten or so years, her famous temper was quick to come out, quick to wound, quick to humiliate or hurt. She’d always had the tongue of a viper and swore like a sailor – ironic given how even-tempered my Pop is, and that he was actually a sailor. It’s one of the first signs – the abusive streak in behavior is the hallmark first symptom I’m told. So even when I was able to see her outside of the confines of a home… she was already not really all my grandmother any longer.
I offered to stay a while longer. She told me it was okay, that I should go. I want you to live your life she said to me.
I kissed her on the forehead and said goodbye.
When I signed out it was only twenty minutes later.
It always feels like much longer, but time is illusory. You never can accurately hold it in your mind. You don’t get enough of the good, and get more than you ask for when you’d rather not. Even when the brain is working, memory distorts, it gets away from you.
Time got away from me. I had it. And in a moment of youthful pain, I forsook it.
But, I think my grandmother and I… we worked it out – and I think, I hope, she forgave me.
There’s still time I guess. I hope to see her again soon.