September 24, 2008

So, I’m 34 years old and have two living grandmothers, which makes me lucky, I know. My dad’s mother has been in a home (there’s probably a better name for it – ‘home’ in this context seems to mock the meanings of ‘home’ I hold dear) for about three years now. I love my grandmother and it’s difficult to describe how she is now. The first phrase that springs to mind is “not all there,” which seems flippant and cruel somehow, but old age is flippant and cruel, too, targeting people rich in experience and robbing them of memory and voice. In this case, old age has taken away many of her memories, her recognition of family members, her ability to walk and care for herself, and a good deal of her vocabulary.

I suspect that she hasn’t known who I am when I’ve seen her for the past three years at least. This needs clarifying, too, because while she hasn’t known who I am in the sense of knowing that I am her son’s daughter and her oldest grandchild, she has always been glad to see me. Her face lights up when she looks at me, and it’s clear that, even though she may not know my name or who my parents are, she knows I am someone she loves.

When Teddy died, Mom discussed things with the nurses and they suggested not telling Grandma, with the underlying assumption that she wouldn’t remember I’d been pregnant (or possibly even who I was) and that talking to her about a baby’s death might upset and confuse her. So no one told her that she had a great grandson, that he died. The nurses made sure not to talk about it around her, and Mom called my aunts so that they wouldn’t mention it to Grandma when they called or visited.

But a couple of weeks ago, Mom received a call from the home, and one of the nurses explained that Grandma had been crying, crying every day, and that no one knew why, and one of Mom’s first thoughts was, “Maybe she knows about the baby.” So Mom talked to the social worker, who said that she should absolutely talk to Grandma about Teddy, and Mom did. She went into Grandma’s room and told her the story of the birth and death of Grandma’s first great grandchild, and Mom cried but Grandma didn’t. Grandma raised her arm (no small feat for her) to pat Mom’s hand, and Mom looked at her and asked if she had already known all of this, and Grandma said, “Yes, I knew.”

We don’t know how she knew; Mom thinks that it may have been some sort of extrasensory perception or some sort of connection with whatever is on the other side of death, and while part of me would like to believe this as well, I tend to think that Grandma had picked up some of the sadness around Mom, even though she didn’t hear directly about Teddy’s death.

There’s no point to this little story except that my grandmother grieves with me. I’m not sure whether it is comforting or not that this loss – to me so monumental – has ripples that have reached even beyond what old age has done to touch her. I’m sorry she hurts.  I’m glad she knows.


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