It Could Be Days Or It Could Be Years

When I spoke to my mom last night she told me that my grandmother is not doing well. “It could be days or it could be years.” When my mom went to see her for a routine visit a couple of weeks ago, Grammy just sort of fell apart. It’s similar to what happened over the summer when Mom went to Kalamazoo for three weeks to be with her. It was really scary then and it was really scary this time around too. My grandmother has been living in an assisted living type apartment deal for about fifteen years and they’ve just moved her to the “health center,” which I gather is much like the subacute medical center I had a practicum at during grad school. She’s on a lot of medication of course and apparently is clear and controlled about half the time and the other half the time needs help walking to and from the bathroom. She turned eighty-eight in January.

Mom was there again this past weekend, and she’s going up again in two weeks. She’s holding up pretty well, and I know she appreciates just being able to kind of talk about it with me. She feels responsible…not for her mother’s sickness, of course, but responsible to take care of her. She told me that she’s no longer talking to my grandmother about “when you get better” but now about “when you let go,” that being the euphemism for death we are using. She told me she’s trying to find some meaning in all this, as is Grammy, because of course my grandmother has spent something like the past twenty years saying she didn’t want to be a burden and she didn’t want to fade slowly but just go all at once, with no inevitable decline and no pain and fear. She keeps talking about how she wants to die and she can’t die. I can’t express accurately the sadness of that sentence when pronounced by my mother on the phone. I can’t tell you the size of the emptiness in my heart when she told me that. She wants to die and she can’t die. It seems simple.

I don’t know my grandmother very well. We used to go see her when she was still in the farmhouse, when I was very little, and I remember loving the house because it was two stories, which I always thought was very chic, and because she would let us choose one of the teacups in her collection and drink out of it for one day during the visit. She’s come to see us in Miami a couple of times, for Christmas, but she’s never liked the bug factor of Florida. My uncle, in a very generous move, brought her down to Tampa this past May for my sister’s graduation, and that’s when I last saw her. She was pretty healthy and happy then, I think…Becca took us to high tea somewhere and we laughed a lot because our waitress was just so rude to us. In the car on the way there she told me “if anything happens with you and Carl, I’d love to hear about it.” It was sort of stressful because of all the things going on that weekend…running interference with my dad, living out of a bag, seeing my pregnant friend, and ten hours across Florida in a car with no air conditioning…but it was nice to see her all the same.

Other than that, I don’t know, it’s like I write her letters and she sends me checks for my birthday and somehow that’s it. I have generally benign feelings for her. Both my parents were very rebellious when they were young and they spent time being very estranged from their parents. I know for my mom it something like ten years and ended when I was born and Grammy came to the cabin in the wilds of Canada to help her out with screamy baby me. But we were so far away, and we had such a different family situation from the rest of her siblings, and family has never been my family’s strong point, to be honest. In fact, the first thing I thought when I typed “my family’s” up there was that I don’t really have a family. I mean, I have aunts and uncles and cousins and everything, sure, and I could even tell you all their names and where they live, but I don’t feel connected to them really. I have my mom and my sister for my family. Technically my dad too and all the Italian-Americans in Queens. But I’ve always felt that my extended family didn’t have much to do with me, like they were all just a bunch of people with only a tenuous relationship to me. I’ve thought it would be cool to have the kind of family where you all lived in the same city and got together for big family dinners and everything but I’ve never had anything like that for more than a weekend.

All this is to say that this stuff about Grammy mostly makes me think about how tough a time my mom is having with it. I sort of feel the way I did when I was working at the abovementioned subacute medical center…sort of as if Grammy is my client and I’m talking to her daughter about options for care and quality of life and things like that. It’s a little otherworldly for me. I feel intellectually sad and a little empty inside but it all feels very removed. Typically for me in my self-obsession, I feel worse about not feeling very much than I do for the fact that my grandmother is very sick and sad and far away. In fact I’ve managed to make this whole entry about ME when it’s not about me at all, really. I just don’t know how else to feel.

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