I saw my grandmother yesterday for the first time in too long. Every day I think about her and think about how I can’t go this long without visiting her but then time passes and I let life get in the way.
Or have I?
Nine months ago my grandmother suffered a heart attack. We thought it was the end then, and relatives from near and far fled to her bedside to proffer hugs and kisses and words of love.
She wasn’t 100% herself then but moreso than today. And as I drove away from the assisted living facility yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder if my pattern of not visiting often enough has something to do with feeling like the grandmother I have known and loved for 42 years has already disappeared.
Except she is still here, and her eyes light up when I walk in the room, when my son’s hand slips into hers, and she nods when I share news of my kids and my life.
So it is my shortcoming, my discomfort at seeing someone I love in this state of diminishment. Many of my relatives are stronger than I, visiting her daily or weekly. I say that I have so little time, but who has extra time, really?
My eldest son has a big heart. He wants to see her far more frequently than we do, and he even wants to visit with elderly residents of the same facility who may have no one to visit them. My little guy goes along for the ride – he doesn’t protest, he doesn’t yearn to see her, he gives her a hug and a snuggle when we go.
My daughter is another story. A strong girl with a strong mind, she adamantly does not want to go. “It’s uncomfortable,” she says. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean we just avoid going,” I say. And then I wonder – is that what I’ve been doing?
My daughter protests, insisting that it’s not fun to see Gigi like this. Well, no, it’s not fun, I hear myself say, but that shouldn’t be the sole reason we decide to do something. And when you are old and alone, don’t you want people to visit you?
As the word should slips from my lips, I cringe. Really? I “should” do something? There’s judgment to the nines in such a statement. We visit Gigi because we love her, a statement with which my daughter agrees, and yes, it is painful and hard and uncomfortable to see someone we love who used to be so independent and dynamic and active sitting there, disinterested, giving up.
I know in my gut that I could probably find a way to go more. I have lots of protests and objections lined up even as I type the words. Like…I barely have enough time to get all my work done, I hardly have enough time to exercise, I have four kids, blah blah blah.
I am just that much geographically farther from Gigi than my sister. My office is closer than my house, but I am so frantic with work that I can’t steal away. Except I make lunch plans and breakfast plans (some of those I cancel, over-promising).
So what’s the outcome? It’s hard to even write the blog except I am doing so because I know these feelings and this pattern and these late-in-life observations are universal truths.
How we react in difficult situations speaks volumes about our character. What we make time for, WHO we make time for, and the excuses we give. Think of someone you know who suffered the loss of a loved one or battled cancer – maybe you were there, maybe you had a good excuse. I’ve been in both situations. Just like I am now.
Gigi is neither gone nor suffering from painful treatments. She is simply old and winding down. Yesterday, I gave her my new lipstick because the color was better for her than it turned out to be for me. I don’t know if she cared, but I’m glad I could give her something.
And yes, it is uncomfortable and not fun to visit her these days. She doesn’t carry on much of her end of the conversation. What can you do? Except show up and give hugs and hold her hand and show her love because it’s still there, as it’s always been, all my life.
When I was 25, I had surgery on both feet to remove painful bunions. It was so easy for me, that my then-75-year-old grandmother had one of her feet done the next week. We sat on the couch in her apartment with our feet elevated, watching TV and having Grandpa Artie wait on us.
When I lived in Washington, D.C., my grandparents flew to visit me, with more energy than I had at my young age to sightsee and shop and see Hitchcock movies and go out to restaurants.
And the last month of my grandfather’s life, I visited him a lot. I was pregnant with Asher then and 9/11 had just happened and my first niece was a newborn. I went to the facility where he was winding down and held his soft hand and showed him love.
Perhaps it was easier then because I still had Grandma, alive, vibrant, fully aware and active.
Or perhaps it’s never easy. I can already hear the excuses in my mind for why I didn’t go more. Something to overcome, for sure.