"if this didn’t kill me, it won’t kill her," said my mother of taking my grandmother to the funeral of her dead son, the first child she’s ever lost.
she was right. we are all alive, each to our own varying degrees.
i got there late and missed her seeing the body for the first time. i was told that she was very upset, but she was settled when i saw her, sitting in the front pew flanked by my mother and niece, face frozen with confusion inspired by hugs and kisses from family that she doesn’t remember. she gave me the same puzzled look, and it upset me, but i chose to believe she was just overwhelmed. she’s never forgotten me before.
* * *
i wasn’t there when they told her that her son was dead. i heard it was rough. she wailed, she yelled, she cried. she later grabbed the beer that another of her sons was drinking and gulped (without choking, which has not been possible since she had her first stroke).
"ernest gone home?" she kept asking. yes, mama. he’s gone home.
"i wanna go home, too."
(she has wanted to go home for a long, long time.)
she was asked if she wanted to go to the funeral. my niece, who was here next to her when i couldn’t be, promised to stay right next to my grandmother at the funeral. “don’t leave me,” she’d said. and she didn’t.
i sat behind them. my grandmother kept her eyes closed, as she usually does, nodding her head to the gospel music around her. she clutched my mother’s hand and swirled it through the air between them during ‘his eye is on the sparrow.’ tears flowed, but not from her. as the ceremony went on, my mother and niece went from holding my grandmother to keep her together to holding on to her to keep themselves afloat.
i leaned up and told my niece that if she needed a break, she could go and i’d take her seat. she said she was fine. watching the three of them, i felt relief seasoned with a few flakes of jealousy.
they’re okay.they dont need you anymore.
its what i need, but not at all what i want.
* * *
had this happened a year ago, she would have been inconsolable, but she is much less aware of the present now, and that softened the blow. its good because this new space she’s in sheltered her from the full tempest of her grief, but it scares me because i know its a space that will claim more and more of her as time wears on.
much has changed. the biggest change will come next week.
"they’ve decided to grant mama admission," said my mother of the senior living facility she’s been trying to secure. there were tears in her voice. i heard the words but didn’t react to them because i could not sort out what i was feeling.
we had been worried that she wouldn’t be accepted because she has been labeled mobile, though she isn’t — she does not walk on her own at all, must be lifted from her walker into and out of chairs and her bed, arms stretched upward like a toddle being reached for — and now that it is confirmed that she will be leaving her home, we feel … sad. i know it makes sense to be sad, and we always expected that we would be sad, but even so, that sadness is surprising.
my mother walked to the kitchen. i gave her a few moments to wipe dry her eyes before i followed after her and threw my arms around her as she gazed out the kitchen window.
"you’re doing the right thing," i told her. she breathed deep and plead her case to a sympathetic jury, one who had already voted to acquit her of the crimes she feels guilty of — incompetence, selfishness, laziness.
"i feel like such a failure," she said, more to herself than to me. "but i can’t keep her here. she’s not safe. i can’t get her to eat. am i supposed to let her stay here and starve herself?"
she feels that if only she had more help from her siblings, my grandmother would be able to stay here in her home for as long as she wants, but it isn’t true. this moment was inevitable, and i told her so. there are people who go to school for years to take care of old folks. the longer the lives, the worse she will get, and the worse she gets the further out of our untrained, well-intentioned hands she will be.
"i don’t even know what i’ll do with myself," she said. she has forgotten herself, the woman she was before she had to put herself second. she has been caring for my mother for well over 10 years. as her mother leaves this house, her only daughter will be leaving the city, headed for new york.
we’re a lot alike, my mother and i. we share the same temper, sense of humor, lips, body shape, guilt.
* * *
i am at my mother’s house now. i spent much of the day crying and i imagine that my mother is out doing the same.
my grandmother spends most of the time she spends outside her bed in a recliner in the living room, foot rest up so she can’t get out of it and fall and break a hip or two. she was there, me on the couch, when she began to moan and call for my mother, then for me. i’d answer, she’d say nothing. she’d call again. i’d ask what she wants, she’d answer ‘i don’t know.’
'are you hurting? do you need to lay down?'
'do i need to lay down?' she parroted. i gathered her out of the chair, sat her in her walker, pushed her to her bed and sat her on its edge.
'lay down, mama.' she didn't move. 'mama, lay down.' nothing. she sat with her eyes closed, head nodding, chewing on her finger, per usual. i called her again, then again and again. she didn't respond. she was so unresponsive, in fact, i thought she may have been slipping into another seizure.
i tapped her lightly on the side of her face to get her to open her eyes. ‘mama. mama!’ she looked at me. ‘can you hear me? mama, i need you to talk to me.’
'i need you to talk to me,' she repeated.
i spent the next 25 minutes trying to instruct her to lay down. as i commanded, she’d look down, but never lay. i patted her pillow. ‘put your head here. lay your head right here.’ she leaned toward the pillow, propped herself up on her elbow, but never laid down.
i didn’t want to let it go. i didn’t want to believe that she’s incapable of laying herself down. earlier, i brought her a pudding cup and gave her the spoon to hold while i opened it. she began tugging on the spoon, “trying to open it,” she said. we can laugh at things like that. forgetting how to lay down, not being able to get us to talk to us or articulate what it is she’s feeling hurts. its getting worse rapidly.
we are losing her. we’re losing her. soon she will be locked inside herself. this will happen whether she is in her home or in a facility. we can’t stave it off.
i’m hoping that she will deal with this as well she did the funeral.