I am fortunate to still have a living grandparent. Well… sort of. It is a strange season of life when you see a loved one decline in both body and mind. It is incredibly hard. Yet what a privilege I have to know this woman, and to have had her in my life for such a length of time. The following is something I wrote about two years ago. I would like to use it to begin a series of vignettes about my grandmother. I will post them in story form under the title, ‘A Once Vibrant Life’. They will probably appear rather sporadically, as the mood and inspiration strike.
The sound of my shoes seemed incredibly loud as I walked down the dingy hallway. It had sprinkled this morning and my sandaled feet were making a squishy squeaking noise. “I sound like Squidward on that Sponge Bob show,” I thought, and had to suppress a giggle. Not that I found the thought that funny. In fact, I thought that that particular piece of pop culture was highly overrated. But the visuals that went with the sound of my wet Tevas were so out of place in this hallway that stank of desperation, I couldn’t help but giggle with the absurdity of it.
Squeak, squish, Squeak, squish; almost to the end of the hall. I wondered where everyone was. Shouldn’t there be more signs of life? Employees, residents, visitors… anyone?
Her door was slightly ajar and I hesitated before entering. Grandma had had a stroke the night before and I was not sure what to expect. Dad had told me on the phone earlier that morning that she was doing well and could speak but that she couldn’t remember the names of anything. Her words were sometimes coming out all jumbled too. Mixed Salad, the professionals called it. I took a breath, put on my best smile, and breezed through the door.
I was relieved to see my dad sitting in a chair next to her bed. His head was drooping toward his chest, but he looked up as I approached. “Hey Beck,” he smiled tiredly. I could tell that he’d been up most of the night. “How is she?” I whispered, glancing at the still figure in the bed. Grandma looked so small lying there covered in a mound of warmed blankets. She was sleeping on her back with her mouth hanging open slightly. A thin trickle of saliva was running from the corner of her mouth to the blanket tucked tightly around her neck. In better days I knew she’d be horrified to be caught in such an undignified pose.
Before he could answer, her faded blue eyes opened and fixed blearily on my face. “Hi Grandma,” I tried to sound upbeat and hoped that the smile on my face didn’t look as strained as it felt. A bony trembling hand emerged from under the covers clutching a ratty tissue. She wiped the side of her mouth and rasped, “Must’ve fallen asleep.”
“Do you know who this is, Mom?” my dad prodded.
“I sure do!” she replied firmly. But then a small frown began to form and her eyes looked puzzled.
“I hear you’ve got your names all scrambled up Grandma,” I said, hoping to put her at ease. I knew that she recognized me, but my name was not processing through her brain’s fried circuitry.
The therapists had instructed dad to give her a series of choices, to allow her to try to retrieve the information that was locked inside. He spoke, “Is this Susan, Linda, or Becky?”
Without hesitation she stated, “Becky!” I smiled wide and teased, “I knew you’d think of it!” Returning my smile with a rather lopsided one, she settled back and her eyes drifted closed once more. Dad and I visited quietly while she slept. Every once in a while she would startle awake, see us at her side, and drift off again. After an hour or so I left.
As I walked back the way I had come in, I wondered why these places always seemed to be painted in washed out colors. It was yellow in this particular wing, but not a cheery sunny kind of yellow. It more resembled an old mustard stain, faded from the wash but still a ghostly presence. Sort of like the folks ensconced in these rooms, I thought. They had become the faded, ethereal stains of once vibrant lives.
I stepped outside and sat for a moment on a little bench in the outer yard. My eyes felt grainy and I knew I was close to bawling like a baby. I took a few deep breaths and looked down at my toes. I tried to remember the name of the nail polish that currently graced my feet. I hated having my feet confined and so wore sandals whenever going barefoot was unacceptable. Having pretty toes was important to me. I pondered these inane things for a time until the urge to cry had passed. Crying never made me feel better. In fact, I always felt worse. I have never cried daintily like you see in the movies. My face contorts painfully, my nose runs, I get all blotchy and I heave more than sob. Not a pretty sight. Besides, crying wouldn’t change the fact that I was losing my Grandma, bit by bit.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. (ESV)