Friday, February 20, 2015

The Circle Game

Click, click, click, click...

It seemed like every step I took in my chocolate brown heels echoed louder than the one that came before it off of those dull linoleum floors. One of my grandmothers was in the South wing of that nursing home with the people who needed occasional care. My stepfather's mother was in another wing, dying.

I wasn't even sure what I was doing there. Alzheimer's Disease set up camp in her brain shortly after my mom re-married, mining away diligently at her memories since.

Yet there I was, saying goodbye without actually saying it. I was saying goodbye because my stepsister couldn't make it into town in time to do it. I was saying goodbye, because I remembered her even if she couldn't remember me.

I'll be honest, though. I couldn't get out of that particular wing fast enough.

Click click click click click click...

I made my way through the sterile halls back to my grandmother's wing, where they were serving her lunch. She has good days where she talks and smiles and even laughs once or twice. And then she has bad ones, where she is confused and frustrated and agitated. This particular day was pretty bad, but it was still a breath of fresh air from where I just was. We didn't tell her what was happening in the other wing. I unwrapped her plastic utensils and sat with her while she ate a plate of food that was all the same color.

One grandmother was actively dying in one room, another grandmother simply surviving down the hall. My mother was busying herself with hanging up nightgowns and gathering laundry. I was six weeks pregnant and too scared to be hopeful. Four generations in one room.

The life-and-death irony was not lost on me.

I was visiting my grandmother the other day. A year had flown by since my step-grandmother died, but not much had changed for Granny. She was having a great day, smiling and laughing at my lame jokes. I am the only grandchild that visits her regularly these days. This is partially because she lives in my town, but mostly because the other grandchildren have children of their own and thus more pressing things to do it seems. I guess they make it into town as often as they can.

"Audrey! Let me tell you something real quick before I forget!" She was so excited to have news to share. "Pam just called, said there was another baby boy in the family!"

It was true. My phone was loaded with pictures of the newest addition to show her.

The time I've spent with Granny has made me feel closer to her, and to my entire family in general. In cultures around the world, it is an honor to be the daughter or granddaughter that takes care of the family's matriarch. I am grateful for my time with her, even though she's a pain to deal with sometimes (aren't we all?) She won't be around forever, and I am honored.

I want to memorize her-- all of her, even on the bad days-- because I want to tell my children about her one day. I want to tell them about her wrinkled hands and the delicious meals she used to cook. I want to sing the songs she sang to me when I was young.

If I ever have children that live long enough to be sung to.
I wonder if I'll ever be lucky enough to have grandchildren one day to take care of me.

Right now, though, I constantly find myself fighting through this underlying resentment toward my cousins who have babies over and over and over like it's the easiest thing in the world. I'm bitter toward my mother's sisters who get to become grandparents over and over and over while my mother doesn't. I have a drink or two before family baby showers as not to feel the worst of all of the emotions-- left out. I wonder if mama feels the same way sometimes, too, but I'm too scared to ask.

Being able to talk about my most recent visit with Granny is the only way I relate to my cousins these days. They thank me for going to see her in their absence. I tell them about her nurses, the awful meal I fed her because her hands were too shaky, the verses I read to her after I tucked her into bed. It's the only way I know how to relate to them anymore.

"Our lives aren't so different," I'll say. "The baby I'm taking care of these days just happens to be 85."