Sunday, April 4, 2010

conversation with my grandma

The room is dim and warm, and the sleeping form of my Grandma is just a small vertical lump on a bed full-piled with pillows and blankets. I cross to her side and sit down next to her, curve closely over her body with my hand on her back and my mouth close to her ear. "Grandma," I murmur. "Grandma, it's time to wake up."

Her eyes open reluctantly. "Oh," she whispers, "oh." Her eyes slide back down, her mouth still holding that small round shape.

I pat her back gently. "Grandma. Grandma, it's time to get up. It's dinner time."

When her eyes open this time she asks, "What time is it?"

"A little after four," I answer, "and we're almost ready for dinner."

We can hear the noise from downstairs, all the kids being gathered for Easter dinner, the table being set and the doors being carelessly hurled shut.

"This is a nice place," she says, and I can see she's looking at the wallpaper in a distant, unfamiliar manner.

"Yes, it is. You picked out everything in here, I think, Grandma, and you've always had very good taste."

She processes my information slowly. "Well, I've been...told before...that that's so," she says, starting to drift again, "by some ..."

Her sentence never finishes, so I rub her back again and say, "Are you just too tired for dinner, Grandma? We need to get up, or everyone will be waiting for us."

Her eyes open, "Oh, no, no," she mumbles, and is silent for a minute. Then she asks, "Is my mother downstairs?"

"No, Grandma. Your mother is ... in heaven." I can never quite bring myself to say 'dead' to my Grandma, not about her mom and not about my grandpa. "But...your daughter Jeanne is downstairs."

She nods as if this is what she meant all along, which it might be. Or it might not.

She turns and looks at me for the first time. "Where did you come from?" she asks. Her voice is still slow and confused, and I can see she's trying and failing to place me.

Just then Chris puts his head around the corner. He sees us talking and is about to turn away, but I raise my eyebrows and he answers the unspoken question.

"Is Ivy up here?"

"No, downstairs. I just checked on her, she was still sleeping."

He walks off quickly, and I look down to find Grandma watching me, her brow furrowed.

"I was talking to my husband," I explain. "He was looking for our little girl, and I told him our little girl is still sleeping."

Her brow furrows further. She says, "Am I ... your little girl?"

"No," I reassure her. "No. I'm your granddaughter Elizabeth. My mom is your daughter Jeanne. She's downstairs right now finishing dinner. And my daughter is Ivy, your great-granddaughter. The house is full of your great-grandchildren. Eight of them. Can you believe that?"

She turns slightly and her eyes unfocus. "How time flies," she murmurs, and I nod slowly.

I wonder, briefly, what this must be like for her, and I wonder if her dreams seem more like real life than waking. Because in sleep, I know, she becomes a little girl again. In her dreams she helps her mother in the house in Plain City, she runs across the farm and relives her childhood fears of snakes and Indians; sometimes when she wakes the memories are so alive they can't be shaken. And it must, it must, seem more substantial than these wakings full of people you only half-recognize, strangers who act like your parents, vaguely familiar faces walking in and out of your bedroom; only your bedroom isn't your bedroom, not the one you remember. I wonder if she's relieved to fall asleep the way I am relieved to wake-up--a return to normalcy, a return to the natural order. A return to life. What is real for her, now?

I pat her back again, and remind her about dinner. "We've got to get dressed, Grandma, or Jeanne will come up here looking for us." That makes her smile.

So I help her get dressed, and explain who I am again, and explain about her great-granchildren again, and tell her how happy they will be to see her. It's true, too. She will hover over them, and call them "Sweet Darling," and exclaim enthusiatically over any trick or story, no matter how small. They, in turn, will bring her small stories and small tricks and be delighted by her attention.

And by the end of the night, she will look at me and know my name is Elizabeth.
And when I leave she will say, "Must you go? We miss you terribly while you're gone."
And I'll hug her and tell her yes, I must go, but I will miss her terribly, too.

The truth is, sometimes when we're together I miss her even more.


ayoungblut said...

Great Story that many are going thru, some with their own parents. You should submit this to and aarp magazine or something. Very nicely written!

Katie Lane said...

that was a wonderful story.
now I'm crying. My grandmother had a stroke a little over a year ago and now can't talk and I don't think remembers a lot of things. It's hard for me to remember the fun we used to have and that I miss her so much even though she's still here.

Adam D said...

Wow Elizabeth, I love your writing.

Nama said...

Oh, Liz. This brought tears to my eyes. I love how you were able to bring this story to life so beautifully.

Ashley said...

Huggie's grandpa was so similar, though, he even lost his ability to speak. I never did know him before Alzheimer, but I would have liked to.

Diane said...

Great post Liz. I lost my Grandpa about 6 months ago and he was suffering from Alzheimers. It's so difficult to watch them suffer. Thank you for sharing this.

Megan & Trever Ford said...

That was touching. I miss my grandparents so much. I always think of them playing with my future children in heaven. Keeping them company and telling them stories until they can be with me. Thanks for the story.