I love my grandma. I really do. But sometimes it’s hard watching her grow older. Grow different from how I so fondly remember her.
I love my memories of her from when I was a child. Of my four grandparents, she was my favorite. She was always so good-natured, so loving, so indulgent, the most permissive. She always plaited my long hair and told me stories of growing up in the south during the Depression, working in the mills, raising her siblings. Anyone who knows me knows that I love stories. Enrapture me with a story and I’m yours forever. Of my four grandparents, she’s the only one still alive.
Her health has deteriorated rapidly over the past several years. First my parents had to hire someone to check in on her in her house in South Carolina. Then she fell and broke her hip. After hip replacement surgery they moved her to an assisted living facility, much to her chagrin. She lost use of her legs and became confined to a wheelchair. After a year or so, it became evident she needed more care than that facility could offer, so my parents looked for a nursing home. They couldn’t find one in her hometown, so they moved her to our hometown in North Carolina. She cried the whole way.
Now she vacillates between the sweet, caring, loving grandma I remember and a bitter old woman I don’t recognize.
At Christmas dinner we were all laughing, joking, anticipating what Santa would bring us and she was right there with us. She ate her meal, settled just so on her wheelchair tray, commenting about how you never got a bad meal at Sybil’s house. We finished dinner. As mom and I were clearing the table, the phone rang.
Dad answered. It was his sister, grandma’s daughter. I hollered at her (she has thrown away her hearing aid) that Gloria was on the phone. She sat there, unmoved, staring into space. I thought maybe she hadn’t heard me. “Granma!” I shouted. “Gloria’s on the phone!” She slowly turned her opaque blue eyes to me. “Gloria’s on the phone!” She grunted. “Well, good for her.”
Oh no. Bitter grandma had arrived.
“Don’t you want to talk to her?”
Another huff. “‘pends on what she got to say.”
I glanced at my mom. “Here granma, we’ll take you to the bedroom so you can talk to her.”
We heard her on the phone, complaining about how much she hated where she lives, how no one comes to visit her (dad visits her every day), how we kidnapped her away from her family, how she’s just miserable.
She finished her conversation and we wheeled her back to the living room.
She huffed again. She stared at me. “Cain’t believe you took me way from my family. You ain’t got no idea what’s it like to be so far from family.”
I laughed. “Granma, I live in California. Remember? I know what it feels like to live far away. It just makes the times we’re all together so much more special.”
Grunt. “I jus’ hate it. I hate all of it.”
I hold her hand, massaging the ropey blue veins that poke forth. “It’s okay, granma.”
After a few minutes of silence, without any warning, good grandma is back, commenting on how she loves to watch my nephew, her great-grandson, run around. “Chil’ens what gives you energy. Just watch him. Makes me feel good, just watchin’ him.” She smiles, staring into the space beyond my nephew.
I smile, cherishing this, knowing it may not last, but enjoying it while it does.