I grew up in a house built on an acre of land that my grandparents sold to my parents. Gram and Grandpa lived right across a big field and my brother and sister and I were at their house almost all the time.
My Grandpa was loud and funny and passionate about all things in which he invested his time or energy. He could build absolutely anything in, what seemed like, no time at all. He made crazy things in the kitchen– including macaroni and peanut butter– made popcorn with bacon grease and always had Mexene chili powder in the spice cabinet. He would sneeze so loudly that it would shake the house and rattle the chimes for their doorbell which would make a loud, vibrato *BONG* and, if we were home, we could hear him sneeze from clear across the field! He wore black, nylon-blend socks that were always threadbare on the soles and if we tickled his feet he’d shriek like a girl. He’d scoop us up in his arms and hold us while he sat in his brown recliner and say, “Gotcha where I wantcha; gonna keepya where I gotcha!” And at Sunday dinner every week he’d say a prayer from which most of us could only understand, “Bless this food about us now… *speed mumble* …Christ’s name. Amen!”
The last time I saw Grandpa was February 13th, 1992. I had gone to his house to get a little basket to use for a Valentine’s Day gift. I picked up the basket, said something like, “See you later!” and left. I didn’t say I loved him or Gram. Ten days later, he died. It was a Sunday.
I never forgave myself for any of that, not for neglecting to say that I loved him or for neglecting to visit in those ten days. So, every single time that I have seen or spoken to Gram for the past twenty years I have told her that I love her.
The last time I visited their house to talk to my Gram, who is now 99 years old, she told me that she wasn’t going to have any more birthdays– she’d turn 100 on September 19th– and that she hoped she’d just die in her sleep like Grandpa did because she didn’t want to be stuck in a bed with people taking care of her. She asked me if I would take care of her if it ever came to that and I told her, “Oh, Gram, I’m really not good at that sort of thing! I do hope you get exactly what you want though.” we laughed and I hugged her and told her I loved her.
And, now, here we are.
Gram had a stroke on August 25th. I’ve heard doctors describe it as “massive” and “severe”. The scans of her brain show damage to 4 regions of the right hemisphere; she has lost muscle control of the left side of her body. She doesn’t open her eyes most days or talk…
Gram was responding to me for a few days. She said she loved me, she asked me to get her water, she kept asking for me by name… just me. She even called my mom, my cousins, and the nurse by my name. So, knowing that last conversation we had, it is always really difficult for me to leave.
I wish I could sit by her side and hold her hand all day every day, but I can’t. I have to keep working and paying my bills and living my life even as hers is ending. That is hard.
My Uncle R and my mom were the ones who regularly visited Gram before the stroke and made sure she had everything that she needed. Now, when Gram needs the most, Uncle R and Mom have been there with her every moment that they can be. It seems to me that they are bearing the weight of this enormous, heavy darkness that is creeping across our family. I am so thankful for them doing that. I don’t know if they realize how much it means; that what they are doing is not just helping her, but helping all of us. It can’t be easy for them and no words exist to thank them sufficiently for this.
My heart aches for everyone who is losing Gram however, for her sake, I still hope she gets exactly what she wanted.