Sunday, October 24, 2010

My grandmother died, part 2

Continued from Part 1

The next most memorable visit with Grandma was when my oldest son was four years old and my second was nine weeks old. She'd been declining ever since her stroke and I wanted to be sure she had a chance to see my baby.

Grandma was always the type who loved to jabber a mile a minute, cleaned obsessively, couldn't stand to not do things for herself. Now she couldn't walk without a cane and even as it was, she used a motorized wheel chair most of the time. She had regained some speech ability, but it was still very labored and she couldn't always think of the words to articulate her thoughts. She couldn't do much for herself and what was worse couldn't always tell other people exactly what she needed or wanted.  

My experience of recovering from a c-section was fresh in my mind. I'd needed help getting up and down the stairs, in and out of bed, even showering and using the bathroom. The doctor had said it was important to walk as much as possible so one day we went for a walk but I had to turn back just two houses down from our house. I remember how weak and helpless I felt, how humiliating and discouraging it was to be reduced from someone who runs marathons to someone who couldn't walk down the block or get out of a chair without help. It was so depressing for me, even though I knew it was temporary. Not so for my grandmother. She'd been this way for three years now would be this way be until the end.
I sat on the couch talking with her and told her about an incident when we lived in Mesa, Arizona. I was at the grocery store with my first son, about a year old at the time, and overheard a Hispanic woman say "¡Qué lindo niño!  Mira los ojos azules." ("What a beautiful child!  Look at those blue eyes.") Grandma learned Spanish on her mission in Mexico so she knew what that meant and smiled. I told her about another incident when we were in a hotel parking lot when he was a baby and some French people who were walking past said, "Regarde le bébé!  Ooo la la!"  ("Look at the baby!  Ooo la la!") After about a minute of tangled speech, Grandma got it out that she used to speak French, and then ended with saying, "But now I can't. I can't." And tears filled her eyes. It wasn't just her body that was broken; it was her mind. And yet enough of it was left that she was still aware of all that she couldn't do anymore.
She loved being with my little one. It brought her so much joy to see him smiling and cooing. She couldn't hold him because she didn't have the arm strength, but she would sit next to him while he lay on the couch. She would look down at him while he looked up at her and they would talk to each other. She said she missed holding babies.  We were sitting together and he was fussing and I was bouncing and shushing to calm him. "Sussha good mother," she said proudly.

Though I'd always known that Grandma loved me, prior to her stroke there had been a sharpness to her too, a critical edge I frequently found myself coming up against. Grandma was a talker, and she could be opinionated. She wasn't known for her patience when things weren't the way she thought they should be. But all that bite was gone now, all of Grandma's rough edges sanded smooth. Only love, gratitude and serenity remained and they radiated from her.

Several months later, I wrote a poem about this transformation:

Grandma is a sock puppet now.
Once all charm, chatter and chastisement
Suze Ormanesque
Spouting spreadsheets of my supposed sins.
But Grandma is a sock puppet now,
Audited by a clot.
Hair like unraveling gray yarn,
Googly eyes and gums,
Gaping and slack when she sleeps.
Crumpled, humbled lopsided mumbles.
Grandma is a sock puppet now,
And I love her so much more.

One evening, I went into her room to tell her and Grandpa good night. A copy of  The Ensign and Our Search for Happiness were on their bed, a picture of Jesus on the wall, mementos of their faith all around the room. Grandma, still faithful and enduring to the end, going to church with her oxygen tank in tow and attending the temple every week. I knew the peace and joy she found there, because at one time I found it too, and it stung to realize I no longer shared that with her.

She rode along when my father drove me and my children to the airport. She couldn't stop looking at my children and I imagined her thinking that this was the last time she would see them, and me. I got to tell her that I love her and she told me the same. Then I didn't say, "See you next time," or "See you later." I said, "Goodbye." She wasn't strong enough to walk with us to the gate. We left her in the parking garage in the car with the window rolled down. I couldn't help thinking of a dog and I felt sick. I heard her sobbing as we left. It was one of the hardest things I've done to just keep walking and not stay with her.

Part 3


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  1. Good-byes are so hard. I was the last person in our family to see my grandpa alive, and leaving him that day was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. He was so sad, to be in a nursing home and almost completely deaf. The way he said "I love you" that day, with such force and emphasis, I knew he was saying good-bye. Leaving him was torture.

    Your grandma sounds like an incredible person.

  2. Thanks, Carla. She really was.

  3. I had a talk with Mom after you left last week. At some point during the conversation, I mentioned how it had bothered me when, after I had finished singing for grandma on the night she died, she said what a wonderful gift it was I had given grandma and that she knew grandma had heard it. Mom knows that I am an atheist, and I'd assumed that she was being consciously contradictory and insensitive to my perspective.

    But in talking with her, it seemed like it honestly didn't even occur to her that I didn't believe grandma was up in heaven and that I wasn't singing so that grandma could hear me up on her cloud. I think that perspective is so far outside her usual mode of thinking, it doesn't show up on her radar.

    When I explained that I believed that grandma was really and truly gone, and I was singing to her lifeless body only to help me cope with my own grief, I felt like she really did understand at last what the whole experience had been for me.

  4. Powerful. A lump formed in my throat as I read about your grandmother.

  5. I'm falling in love with your grandmother. Thank you for the reminder that it's complicated. Not good or bad, black and white. We are all just people. If you know what I mean.

  6. You are an awesome poet. Sorry about your grandma. I lost one of my grandmas last April. The other is 101.

  7. Mike, I"m glad you were able to feel like you got some understanding from Mom.

    Ahab, thanks.

    Cognitive Dissenter, I absolutely know what you mean! Complicated seems a vast understatement at times.

    Becky, thanks!

    Kriss, Thanks!

  8. I'm falling in love with your grandmother. Thank you for the reminder that it's complicated. Not good or bad, black and white. We are all just people. If you know what I mean.


Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism