Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Visit With Grandma

We went to see our Grandmother in the nursing home today, along with The Father, to say goodbye to her, and him, before we leave on Thursday to England.  It was a struggle to keep the tears back at first, watching her, realizing this might be a real goodbye, to one of them. We hadn't seen her in a year and a half.

Watching the elderly people with their walkers, in their wheelchairs, wandering about was so sad, but in a terrifying way. We are not ashamed to say we are more terrified of growing older, than we are of actual death.

The nursing home is one typical to a small town, cozy, clean and well kept with cheery nurses. All the people know each other, The Father's old school-bus driver's widow sits at Grandma's table during meal time every day, as well as two other ladies who raised their children alongside Grandma in a smaller town, twenty minutes outside of the one where they all now share their accommodations.

We were in the dining room of Grandma's retirement home, we had shown up over an hour earlier to find her sitting in a chair staring into space, alone, looking so small. Her short stature has gotten even shorter over the years due to osteoporosis from overall lack of calcium, hard farm labor, and birthing and raising seven children. She had been sitting there waiting because the nursing staff had told them that if the residents were not in the dining room by 2pm then they wouldn't get their snack for the day, so she was waiting, even before 1pm, though her room is right around the corner of the dining room. I could tell she didn't recognize me until halfway through the first hour, after sitting and listening to her talk about her confusion over her recent incontenance.

Grandmas heart is not functioning at full power, the doctors say it sounds like a washing machine in there. Her legs, after a life time of severe vericous vein problems, are puffy inside her circulation socks. Her circulation is so poor her lips intermittently turn blue as she talks, and boy, can Grandma talk. She is frail, her once strong shoulders hunched in her chair as she eats the chocolate ice cream cone The Father has brought her as a treat.

We sit there next to The Father, trying to get a word in edgewise, as Grandma talks and talks, and we down cup, after cup, of coffee. She's always been a talker. She mentions she is consciously drinking more water lately but her tongue seems to keep getting dry. Later we joke with The Father that we should have told her if she didn't talk so much she wouldn't have such a dry tongue. She probably would have laughed and or giggled about that, and jested about flapping her tongue. The people in our family tend to have a good sense of humor, and even at her age she is no different.

The Father nudges us at the table, trying to get us to tell Grandma what we've been up to, it's hard to interrupt...we don't want to set her off track or confuse her. We mention we're leaving for England on Thursday, this starts her off talking about one of our aunts who has just went to some foreign country for nursing work for a few days. All in all we get very few words in but we manage to get across that we will be gone for a few months and we introduce her to James.

"I didn't see you there, you're a shadow against the light" she says, because the sun shines nearby him. We've already been there a good 30 minutes. She finds out he is from England and she says "You know
real English then!" she chuckles. 

She continues to talk about people and places that we don't know, and telling stories that are actually many separate stories, some which are not factual; and recalling people from when she was as young as two."That was a few years ago, hey ma?" The Father grins, jokingly.

She smiles, laughs, and says "Give or take a few years". The smile on her face is beautiful.

It was about 2:10pm and people started to file in for snack time.

"I don't know why they started having snack time in the morning" says an older woman at an adjoining table.

Some of the other women look at each other, you can tell the different levels of cognitive awareness and functionality, as one tries to explain to another what the woman had said, and on her face you can plainly see her thoughts. Where have you been all day, it's clearly afternoon...

Having lived for a few months in a facility for the elderly, we know, and it reminds us. People judge others until the day they die, it's ageless.

We get up from the table, kiss and hug Grandma goodbye, leaving her with her snack of peach cobbler sans whipped cream, "because I don't want to have to buy new clothes" she laughs, explaining to the staff, as they pour her coffee. 

I realize this may be the last time we see her, she's 82 and not in good health, and after losing grandpa just over two years ago, she's already survived longer than most of the people in our family probably expected her to. 

On the over hour long drive home we tell James things we remember about her, and things many people don't know, private things that she's told us as an adult that, for us, highlight her free spirit and stubbornness, and also reinforce her ability to be the biggest supporter of her grandchildren, having almost unconditional love for some of them, even the ones that make
US look like we have our shit together. An ability no doubt born out of a lifetime of hard experience. She, and our Grandfather, had always been the most positive influences in our life, living a life dedicated and faithful to God, without pressing upon people their beliefs, as respected members of their community. Preaching by example only.

When we were young Grandma used to tell us she wanted to be a gypsy, because of the travel, and she definitely had an adventurous soul that had been tamed by marriage and children, an adventure in itself that she excelled at. She loves wide open spaces and farmland; used to be a great cook, raising seven strapping children, with low income, on a dairy farm with the addition of produce from several large home gardens, canned and stored in the cellar; fresh country cooking, never skimping on the lard. She cooked and prepared wild game hunted by the men of the family in the Fall, and helped jar the maple syrup made from the trees tapped by her children, and grandchildren, on their land, in Spring. She used to make her own soap, sewed her children's clothing and raised beautiful flower gardens. In the early summer she would serve bowls of fresh raspberries and cream to her grandchildren for snack time, and the smell of "Grandma's house", was always of coffee and bacon, the happiest smells in the world.

Grandma always portrayed an air of independence, even now in her frail state she fancies the idea of buying a house in the small town she lives in, even though she must understand she cannot take care of herself any longer. She has recently been moved to a more full-service care section of the nursing home.

She has always been smart and educated, though not without that "charming" small town American perception of none European-Americans. She is of 
that age, and small country living, that news programs are, and have been, a primarily influence on the character of many races of people; we have always been willing to overlook it, because she is not hateful about it, she is simply a product of a sheltered life.

Moving about the United States as a young adult, she would always find joy in our frequent letters, and on occasion she would correct our grammar, and punctuation, in the letters we wrote to her. Had she had her way as a young woman, with her passion for words, grammar, and proper English, 
she would have been an English teacher. 

We are trying to be okay with the facts of old age, and we wanted to honor Grandma while the memories of our visit with her, and memories we have of her, are fresh and at the surface. Such a visit is sobering, and sad, and causes for some reflection.

This entry is to serve as a memory, for all of us, to share with all of you, of an amazing woman in the winter of her life.

~Frank et al

1 comment:

  1. I was teary-eyed when I finished reading this. Thank you for sharing your lovely memories.