I don’t think my Grandmother ever stood above 5 foot, even in her younger days before a bad slouching habit and gravity pushed her downwards even further. A lady whom was married at the age of 19, birthed 5 children, and saw the death of her youngest child a couple days after he was born. Raised 4 girls as a single mother when her husband, an electrician, was killed in an on the job accident when their youngest child, my mother, was only 9. From 4 kids, she had 8 grandkids, and 7 great-grandkids. She also remarried once her own kids were grown, adding on 3 stepchildren and 5 step-grandchildren to the mix.
We had ups and downs in our relationship. She was a strict baby-sitter, no blowing bubbles in your milk, finishing off your entire plate because “people were starving in Africa” and old fashioned as to how people should be dressed. I would never wear black, or anything above my knee or revealing in front of her as I didn’t want her to have a bad impression of me.
But she was also a blast. On one of my parents trips out of town she threw an impromptu party. The guest list was all her children and grandchildren so my parents would have approved anyway, but I like that she did it behind their back. At dinners out she would write down everything she ate and confirm with me if she was correct or not. Not because she monitored what she ate like I do with MyFitnessPal, but because she didn’t want to forget anything. She shipped my mom harlequin romance novels that she’d finish. My mom considered this type of books trash and never gave it a second glance, so I would ferret away the book to read on my own. I had no such qualms about trashy reads. She also introduced me to the awesome world of Archie, Betty and Veronica.
When I went away to college our relationship changed the most, and for the better. Alone in a new place 5,000 miles away from home, my care packages from her started to arrive. Care packages filled with Hawaii treats, because she knew I’d miss them. And the letters. She was a good letter writer. Email was out there, but not so significant that a hand-written letter was too out of place. We got so much closer during my first couple years at college, writing letters back and forth to each other, than I ever did living only a 30 minute plane ride away from her.
And then the Alzheimer’s kicked in. Letters stopped, but she could associate who I was when I showed up for a visit with my mom. My parents got a divorce and my mom waited several years to tell my grandma for fear of her anger (old-school Japanese upbringing). And when she finally did, my grandma promptly forgot and figured that my mom’s new boyfriend was actually still my dad. The great-grandchildren were forgotten and the grandchildren. She was too forgetful by my wedding for her to handle such a big crowd of “strangers” and so I don’t think my grandfather ever even told her when my invitation arrived (as she wouldn’t have known who I was anyway),
And that’s when I made my mistake. If my grandmother didn’t remember me, there was no use in my visiting. When my dad’s mom grew ill she got on the phone and begged me to come see her. My job doesn’t allow me to travel at certain times and it was a horrible time to take off. My dad told me not to bother, but I left within days to head out to Montana. Because I could not have the last thing I ever heard my grandmother tell me was, “I want to see you, why aren’t you here.” In this situation, there would be no such call. I’m glad. As sad as it has been, and as hard as the Alzheimer’s has been on my mother and aunts, who have spent the last decade + taking care of her, I’m glad that as she gets sicker she’s not thinking about me. Wondering why I stayed away for so long. I’m glad that I’m the only one with those questions and fears.
Alzheimer’s is funny. Last week my cousin went to visit. They sang the entire song of “you are my sunshine” together. My grandmother knew every word. She didn’t know who my cousin was though.
I booked a flight to Hawaii for a very different reason. A business-type of meeting that needed to happen sooner rather than later. But I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and see my grandmother one last time, because who knew when I’d be back in Hawaii. And at 95, she was starting to deteriorate. This would be a great idea. I could mix business with pleasure and see the family as well.
And then the calls to come home happened. My grandmother was now on hospice care, only in-taking juice at meal times and not expected to last through the end of the month. I have 1 more week here and then I fly back home. I’m terrified it will be too late. I need to say goodbye. I thought about changing my flight dates, but the mother of all colds has landed me flat on my back, and I can barely get out of bed myself. Clearly not someone you want roaming the hallways of the hospice care unit of the Honolulu nursing home (or whatever it’s called).
So to my body and health – if I promise to take better care of you will be please expedite this cold!
And to my grandmother – please hold on, I’m coming home.