I am a horrible granddaughter. This is something I have struggled with for most of my adulthood. Oh, Mo–you shouldn’t feel that way people say. But let me speak (or write, perhaps) because I have something to say on this subject. I have posted more than several posts on my precious Gram. There’s a reason for this–she helped raise me in a sense. She was close by. She was my mom’s mom. She was one of my best friends. I think most people get it.
The flip side–my granddad died when my mom was 10 and Gram never remarried. So, the only “complete” set of grandparents was on my dad’s side. And let me tell you something–I loved the life out of them. I still do. Some of the best memories in childhood are at Disneyland with my grandparents, huddling and oohing and ahhing over the Main Street Electrical Parade and fireworks.
My grandfather and I shared a deep love for singing. My grandmother and I shared a deep love for musicals. She took me to my first one –Carousel– right after Grandpa died in 1987. My first grown-up trip to San Diego. I was 9. She also took me to New York for the first time right before I graduated from high school, on a theater tour. I fell in love with Show Boat, Sunset Boulevard, Miss Saigon and all things Broadway. Don’t be confused–I loved Broadway before that but seeing it in first person made an impression on me that I will never shake.
My grandmother is currently lying in a beautiful room, receiving amazing care, talked about in a positive light by all of us every moment we can. But sadly she does not know us. Every day gets worse and worse. I shut the door emotionally mostly the year Gram died. Gram savored life and faked her illnesses and deficits in the end. On the contrary, Grandma has been wanting to move on for some time. I resented her survival after Gram’s brief demise. I hate to say it because she cherished, cherishes me as a granddaughter still. But I hated that she wouldn’t let go–miserable as she was living in pain but ironically outliving everyone.
I think about her especially today because I went into a craft store. This is ridiculous I know. Stupid Michael’s has made me anxious since 4th grade and this blasted store continues to do so. I had to go get supplies for my cousin’s baby shower. I am creative, yes. Artistic? Depends on who you ask. My dad’s take–“She can draw a horse and I can’t”. My youngest brother’s take–“She can draw stick figures that are decipherable”. My other brother’s take–“Well, she certainly can’t paint”. Mom’s take–“She’s crafty”. See. That’s why the damned Michael’s makes me anxious. I feel judged when I walk in the door.
Grandma was artistic. I wish I could say she still is but I don’t think she knows what that means anymore. After we moved her into assisted living, she joined an art group and painted a front door. This sounds silly, but it was one of the most gorgeous things I have ever seen. She shook it off as something commonplace, something generic. It wasn’t. I was impressed. This was a side to my 85 year-old grandmother that I had never known. Dad told me it had been buried deep inside of her.
The last time I saw Grandma was a little over a year ago. I went with my parents to see her for Christmas and it took her a while, but she finally recognized me. It’s always a sticky situation when I ask Dad about her. I don’t care what he says, his emotions are more raw than he knows what to do with. Guilt– for being far away although he does so much more for her than he or she realize. Grief–he has finally started mourning her demise although if one asked him he would deny it. Fear–what does it feel like to be orphaned? Even in your 60s? Does life change? My dad is definitely in touch with his feelings and emotions but he keeps them somewhat reserved until he has to change that. It’s rare. I have seen it three times in my life. It’s scary and real and overwhelming but healthy. This week, after asking him about Grandma, I feel he’s conceded a little. We’re at the end. It’s in someone else’s hands.
I’ve never been through this stage of Alzheimer’s, or Dementia, or Hell. Whatever it might be, it terrifies me to be the child and potentially watch my parents go through it some day if that’s in the cards. But what reassures me more and more about life and death is that there’s a big party Upstairs. This I truly believe–my Scottish and Irish ancestors enjoy their booze. Just saying. The welcome committee is beyond amazing. My grandpa has been gone since 1985. That’s a long time. He’s ready to have Grandma home to cut his grapefruit and make sure his coffee cup is always full. Her little sister needs her to play Follow the Leader, as my grandmother never shied away from any new experience.
And then there’s my Gram. Let me tell you something: Never in the world were there two mother-in-laws who loved each other more. Honest to God, my two grandmothers were very good friends. Dear friends. They truly loved each other. They had lunch every day before both moved into assisted living. They cherished their family together. Both spoke more highly of each other than their own children. That’s a whole new view on family, right?
When Gram died, Grandma told me how sad she was that my sister died. I had to excuse myself to the bathroom because it had only been two months. I know it was genuine, she was just confused. That was when things went South.
Maybe it was the fact that Dad and I had a conversation about Grandma this weekend. Maybe it was stupid Michael’s and my roaming for 88 minutes. 88 minutes–that’s a long freaking time to stare at Fimo clay and ribbon and silk flowers. I passed the beading section and let my fingers roll through the strands of beads. Grandma made me three necklaces that were beautiful, but were for a child–perhaps the way she still thinks of me. So I gave them to my best friend’s niece, the best home ever.
I still feel guilt, which she would hate if she could express anything to me. She continues to have her good days and bad, although I hear this through Dad because I haven’t been able to phone or send letters since it confuses her so much. And yet I need to stop for a minute. I am nearly 35 and I still have a grandmother, and she knows me after hearing my name a few times–“my little Irish granddaughter”. My grandmother once upon a time (in the early 40s) was the secretary to the president of Washington Mutual in Seattle. She traveled to Norway, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Portugal as a newly widowed woman. She laughed a great deal. She wrote letters, until recently, either by hand or typewriter, praising or criticizing the decisions of people in power–and received well-written responses as a result. She moved to Las Vegas by herself, against the advice of her three kids, and was an influential volunteer for the Agassi Foundation. Cheers episodes could be recited word by word upon request. She loved her music so so much–almost as much as her family. And if she could consciously be aware of how much we all think of her on a regular basis, well, she would tell us all “Good Night!”.
I wish a Billy Joel song was on the list tonight because when I hear him, I think of her. But she’s been on my mind and I cannot neglect that. Thanks Mick for infiltrating my thoughts via song tonight. “Till the next time that we say goodbye, I’ll be thinking of you.”
Apologies for the long post, but it comes from a place of true love and even confession…
Till the Next Goodbye– The Rolling Stones
Thunder Road–Bruce Springsteen
Get off of my Cloud–The Rolling Stones
Perdido en un Barco–Mana
Hey, Good Lookin’– Hank Williams
Just a Little Bit of You– Michael Jackson