If you wanted a dose of humility, you could never come to her. She was the one you called to boast to. She was the one who would add helium to your ego so that you could float five feet in the air from the nachas she was shepping.
I talked to her about mostly everything. A time difference and an ocean separated us for a long time, but we still spoke at least once a week. She would let me rattle off accomplishments, I spoke to her how I was feeling when pregnant, and she never interrupted to suggest I wasn’t the first woman who had ever been pregnant in the world.
It was her strong, liver-spotted hand I clutched as we sat together on that hot July day mourning her grandson. We didn’t need to speak to each other; her tears for my cousin were solemn and graceful and restrained and spoke for the family. Gracious in mourning, open with her heart.
When I moved back across that ocean and time difference, we still spoke. I brought my daughter to her. She sat, in a familiar chair to me, as my little girl toddled around asking questions about the people in photographs.
The dementia came so quickly.
I last visited her a couple of weeks ago. I offered to help the nurse get her into her wheelchair to get her down to lunch. She cried as we lifted her, skin and bones from a wonderfully soft grandmother, from that familiar chair into her reality. She no longer walks. She screamed, pitifully, that she was afraid. She kept asking me if I knew what was going on. I didn’t cry when we left. She would have told me off if she had been lucid.
They found her on the floor on Friday morning. She didn’t know to press the red button attached to the necklace she always wears except when she bathes. An ambulance came to take her to the hospital, where she spent 36 hours in pain on a gurney in a corridor. Alone, she was forgotten. Just another elderly patient with dementia. They complain anyway.
No pain medication.
My mother told me not to come.
It wouldn’t help anyway. I’d scream at the hospital. They may not know her, but she is a wonderful and amazing human being. How dare they treat my grandmother like a dying animal? How dare they treat anyone like that?
She’s sitting in a hospital bed, not far from me, confused and alone. I desperately wish I could stroke her arm and let her know it’s ok. I desperately wish that I could see her another time, and then for something merciful to happen.
I had a dream last night. My grandmother came to get me and take me back to 1947. It was early summer, the fields were yellow and green. She was wearing a white dress with a black belt, and the wind caught it. Her hair swayed in the breeze, and an infectious smile came across her lips. She danced and moved behind a house I’ve seen in a picture somewhere.
“Can you see how happy I am?” she calls out as the wind whips the bottom of her dress.
I can see. And I wonder if this isn’t the vision she’s having in her head right now, desperately wishing it were her eternal reality.