The last time I saw my grandmother she was laying lifeless on a high bed in a special room where they took people to die. I wasn’t sure why the nursing home did that. Were they renting out her room already? My mom and I had come as soon as they called. Granny was past knowing us, but she was talking to someone. I wondered if she was getting a glimpse of the other side, talking to loved ones who had gone on before. I leaned in to hear what she was saying. There were words, but none that made sense. She kept rambling on, whispering, talking, trying desperately to say something.
This was going to be a long day. I decided to get some lunch, but when I came back she was already gone. I regretted that nobody was there when she left. I went to find mom, gave her the news, and we went to Granny’s bedside together. I wondered how my mom would respond. I encouraged her to touch her mother’s hand. She didn’t want to. “She’s not there,” she said.
Months earlier I brought my infant daughter to the nursing home for a visit. Granny sat in her wheelchair, her long salt-and-pepper hair hanging with no style, down to her shoulders. The home had controlled her diet, at least. “Not enough butter on the bread,” she complained, but her usually overweight frame was considerably smaller than how I had known her most of her life.
I placed my daughter in her lap, prepared to snatch her up, then make excuses for her sudden fear and crying, but there was none. Instead, my little girl looked up into Granny’s face, then reached up and stroked her scraggly hair. Tears welled up in my eyes over that fleeting moment of tenderness, given by a toddler, to her aging grandparent. There was no repulsion over Granny’s condition, no thought to the wrinkles on her face, her drooping eyelids, or the clothes that hung on her as if they had fit better a year ago. It was a profound moment of innocence that closed the gap of seventy years between two people, and I was the only one who would remember it, a gift that took seventy years to deliver.
(Dedicated to Granny & Shannon)