We lost Grandma Bonnie today. Just a few hours ago. I’m not sure why I’m writing this now, adding an extra entry a year and a half after I stopped this blog. It’s a bookend, I suppose. A coping mechanism. A way to find clarity when sadness makes your throat close up and your chest hurt.
It’s been a hard year for her. Falls. Dementia settling into the papery folds of her mind.
“I guess I’m just a bit confused today,” she tells my parents when the fog manages to dissipate for a few moments over the last few months. Telling them the support staff had locked her in her room and wouldn’t let her out. Eating less and less. Not being able to get up. Pops sitting with her on the floor, comforting her. Trying to make her laugh. Because that’s been the barometer.
“I got her to laugh a bit before I left,” he’d tell me on the phone. Laughing was normalcy. Laughing was Grandma. Laughing was her fighting for her goddamn life. A few more jabs at Death before she lost everything.
It wasn’t the cute moments we giggled at anymore. Mistaking the tv remote for her cellphone. Instead, the frantic phone calls had increased, going from a couple times a month, to everyday. More oxygen. Losing her best friend at Heritage Woods. A blind woman who grandma sat with every day at mealtimes, helping her locate utensils and cups.
“Well, she makes a big ol’ awful mess at the table otherwise,” Grandma Bonnie told me in her matter-of-fact tone a few months back. “Spills her coffee and her fruit all over the place.” She shakes her head like it’s an annoyance, but I know better. It’s real friendship, the best kind, the way she looked out for her dear friend.
The frantic phone calls prompted a meeting with hospice and a move from assisted living to a nursing home. I was surprised to hear that she took the move well. Laughed at the spectacle of most of it, actually. Smiling and nodding most of the time, the way people who don’t speak your language might politely tolerate your incoherent conversation. But when she got to her new digs, a small nursing home close to my childhood residence, where I’d visited as an elementary student to sing Christmas carols to the old folks during the holidays, she seemed content.
“I’m finally home,” she’d said after sitting in an overstuffed, brown armchair for the first time. While one can find humor in that comment, particularly regarding her failing mental state, my father felt a sense of resignation. She’d wanted to go to a nursing home for some months, Pops said, although he could never truly tell, between the spells of her increasing rambling, if she really meant it. Thus, the two of us acknowledged it as a way of welcoming the end of her days. I remember thinking about how brave that was, even if the sadness weighed on me like a rhino on my shoulders.
It happened so fast. She couldn’t name the people in her pictures anymore, although with prompting from my father, she could get there eventually. Her spunk remained up until the end of last week, when she kicked my father for teasing her about being stubborn. But she’d begun to really unravel.
“They’re trying to poison me,” she told Pops last week, as serious as he’s ever seen her. “Here,” she said, “you try it,” extending a cup of some sugarless blob at him.
But it got scary, too. Shouting at the top of her lungs for the police in the middle of the night. Calling for her baby.
“Bring me my baby, Scott!” she’d shout at the nurses. Scott. My father. Her youngest son. She had the right person, just the wrong context. “How’s your mom?” she would ask him on recent visits, even though he expects that she was talking about his wife. She would call him by my name on accident. Her mind was a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that had been thrown into the air, and she was scrambling to catch the pieces. Fitting them incorrectly. All the right pictures. All the wrong places.
Still, there was some light left. A woman who played the guitar would stop by to play and sing with Grandma Bonnie. My children spent some time with her a week and a half ago, playing little drums and percussion instruments while they sang to the guitar. And a few days later, when she stopped talking, Pops managed to play a video of her and Howard playing ‘Peace in the Valley.’ It might be the last smile she ever gave him.
She fell and broke her wrist about a week ago. Stopped eating last Thursday. Didn’t recognize dad on Friday. Hands began to go blue this weekend, and I drove home to see her for the last time on Sunday. I’ve always heard and read about how we exit this world just as we entered it. Something powerful about the fetal position. Safe. Rested. Innocent. They’d made her comfortable at the nursing home, and she snored away as I thought about how near I was to losing her, moments even, saw how frail her appendages had become. Pops’ sense of humor was still sharp, just the way she’d have liked it.
“She pulled her eyebrows for long, the damn things never grew back,” he said, leaning over her for a closer look. I wanted grandma to slug him. Call him a ‘big dummy’ and cackle like she used to. But I could see grandma was pretty well gone. Barely a flicker of light left. And it wasn’t just because she’d failed to paint on her eyebrows or open her eyes. Once or twice I saw her brow furrow in her slumber, they way I remember she did in concern, or leading up to anger. It could have been the broken wrist aching. But those were the only two flashes of her I was able to see.
The weekend my kids played instruments to her singing, they were staying with my folks. It was the first overnight at Nana and Papa’s. I wondered how it would go. Emma would cry at bedtime, I figured, missing her mommy. And she did, asking for Papa to lie next to her. They talked about lots of things, and then my daughter asked him. “Do you ever miss your mommy?” I’m sure it caught him off guard, the way the innocent questions of children can. Grandma Bonnie had just moved to the nursing home at that point, and Emma knew very little about her unraveling.
“Yeah,” he admitted to her, a sixty-five year old grandpa opening his heart to his seven year old granddaughter under the glow of a night light. “I miss her. Because she can’t take care of herself much anymore like she used to. So I miss seeing her like she was before.” I don’t know if that satisfied Emma, but it must have, because she didn’t say much else about it. Sometimes it’s just enough to know that other people miss their mommies too. I know it probably wreaked havoc on his heart, maybe even caused his voice to break a little, a glistening of the eyes. But there’s strength in admitting how we feel. And I was glad he felt strong enough to share it with my little girl.
I’m not a man of God. In fact, most days I don’t know what I believe in, aside from being kind to others, and giving the best you can every day. But, when I received the text from my mother a few hours ago letting me know Grandma Bonnie was gone, my mind went straight to this writing exercise.
I want Howard back.
That’s what started things here. And that’s where things should end. I know you’ve found him, grandma. We miss you both.
And thank you, thank you, thank you, for teaching me how to laugh.