I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandma this week. On Monday, she was placed in hospice care. While this isn’t the first time she’s been in hospice (the first time, she rallied after being taken off most of her medications), we’re fairly certain it will be her last. She has fairly advanced dementia, and she fractured her hip last week; the main goal now is to try to keep her as pain-free as possible.
Top left: Grandma as a little girl (this photo lived on my desk when I was growing up); Bottom left: Grandma as a young woman, looking like a movie star; Top right: Grandma and Grandpa with my brother and me; Bottom right: Grandma and Grandpa as they’ll always look in my head.
Quite frankly, I don’t know how to feel about the impending loss of my grandmother. Because of her struggle with dementia, she’s been slipping farther and farther away over quite a long period of time. In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve been mourning my grandma for years, and so this doesn’t feel like very much is changing.
But it’s still sad.
And sadder than the thought of the physical loss of my grandmother is the knowledge that a lot of my memories of her from before dementia took her away are getting hazy.
This particular grandma is the archetype in my head for what all grandmas are supposed to be like. She’s tiny (at her tallest, she was only ever 5’2″; I’m fairly certain she’s been under 5′ tall my whole life). She baked cookies, and made lefse, and her apple pies were the best in the entire world. She was always prepared with activity books and other fun things for my brother and me to do whenever we saw her. She sang with us and colored with us. She reacted with enthusiasm to the news of any sort of achievement we’d managed, however small. She read us books and told us stories from her youth. She was unfailingly kind, particularly to children.
And even though my brother and I were her only biological grandchildren, I know for a fact she was a grandmother to many other people. She taught Sunday school for many years. After they retired, she and my grandfather were part of a program that brought in adults (possibly elderly adults, specifically) to help young elementary-aged children with their reading skills. They loved being Reading Buddies, and my grandmother would show off the artwork the students made for them at the end of every term.
When my grandparents moved into the senior living complex they were in for most of my life, they started women’s and men’s Bible studies. My grandmother, ever the social butterfly, made so many friends and recruited such a large group that they had to divide into two or three smaller studies in the end. She was kicked out of bingo (where the prizes were candy, which she would save to give to my brother and me) multiple times, because she won too often. Every time we went to visit them she had some new craft project from their activity time to show us.
She loved music. She played the piano quite well, and she sang. Whether it was age or simply her voice, my memory of her singing is that she was always enthusiastic, and usually a bit off-key, and it all came together to be very endearing. Even when my grandparents were in their tiny senior home apartment, she had her little electronic keyboard and her hymnal to play from.
I could talk about dementia, and how it snuck in and we all tried to laugh it away and chalk her lack of comprehension up to bad hearing. But that’s not the part of my grandmother I want to keep with me.
The last time I talked to my grandma was about nine months ago. I had called my parents one afternoon, and they were over visiting, probably for her 90th birthday, though I doubt she grasped that part. My dad insisted on putting me on speakerphone. I was terrified. I didn’t want to face my grandma not knowing who I was.
But she did. She knew my name (my birth name, anyway, because I’ve only been Alyx for two and a half years, and she’s been forgetful and distant for longer than that), and was able to track for the few minutes of the phone call when I told her I had gotten a new job. She was very excited for me.
That was one of the clearest days she’d had in a while, and was quite possibly one of the last days she was particularly lucid, according to the experiences the rest of my family have had visiting her in the months since. I feel a little guilty that I haven’t called or been to visit since then, but I know firstly that she wouldn’t remember the calls or visits, and secondly that I am grateful to have my most recent lingering memory of my grandmother be of her knowing who I was.
Saying goodbye isn’t easy, even when it feels like I’ve been doing it in stages since I was in college, and even when it’s expected. Whenever she goes, she will leave a big, grandmother-shaped hole, not only in my life, but in the lives of the many children she poured her heart into throughout her life.
Update: After a rough beginning to the night, Grandma passed away peacefully May 8, 2014, a few hours before this blog went live. She is already missed.