On January 6th, barring any new horrors my body decides to bestow upon me, I will be flying up to Idaho to visit my Grandma. She will most likely not know who I am. I'm hoping that she may have a few moments of clarity and remember me, but I'm trying to keep my expectations low.
Alzhiemers and dementia have ravaged her mind and it's been a long time since she's been the beloved Grandmother I was blessed with growing up. But I am holding out hope that the special bond we shared may triumph, even just a bit, and she will know me and let me curl up next to her and hold my hand.
My cousin lost her beloved Abuela this week and my heart hurts for her. She was a beautiful woman, a cuban matriarch that I remember as exotic and always so warm. Elena had the same relationship with her Abuela that I have with my grandma and I am deeply saddened to hear of her passing.
My Grandma Margie was from Missouri and moved to California with her family as a teen. She was intelligent, loving, fiercely independent and will always be one of my favorite people in the whole world. She loved and married a man who was not worthy of her, who cheated, lied and abandoned her. She was the single mother of 5 children whom she raised to be exemplary humans. She never spoke of my grandfather with hate, even though there was a lot of pain there. She simply said it was his loss, that she had her children and it was sad that he missed out on them. She never remarried. I wish that she had found someone to love her as much as she deserved, but she had a happy life, full of grandchildren, the fellowship of her church and a long career. I am her oldest granddaughter and some of my earliest memories are of playing dress up with her, singing along with her to her favorite hymns and old country western records. My brothers and I spent a lot of time with her. Our sleepovers were a staple of my childhood and teen years... we would put special conditioner on our hair, put on face masks & play at being beauticians. She was a fanciful dresser and her favorite color was a shocking fuschia, we would watch the Grand Ole Opry, The Golden Girls and her favorite westerns and I would paint her finger & toenails carefully for church in the morning. She loved to dance and we often pushed the couches to the walls in her living room and did aerobics and line dancing together. She secretly loved Melrose Place & if it wasn't too racey an episode, she would let me watch it with her. Her fridge was full of drawings from all her grandkids and as the years passed, great grandchildren. She loved music and played a variety of instruments. She would patiently listen to Ozzie play as he learned and heaped praise on him and ivy. She loved Jason as one of her own... he painted her bedroom a shocking lilac shade that she adored as a surprise one weekend and she never forgot to tell him how much she loved it. It was feminine and beautiful and matched her personality to a t. I lived with her for a few years, I think all of brothers and I did at some point, a safe nest to begin our journeys into adulthood.
She loved me, always. Even when I was a naughty child, a difficult teen, an exhausted new mother... she always loved me. She always told me how special I was, smart and beautiful and encouraged me in whatever new passion I took up. I could do no wrong in her eyes, even if she didn't always approve of my choices.
She began to behave strangley a few years ago and it became apparent that she was suffering the cruelty of alzhiemers and dementia, slowly at first and then frighteningly fast. She was independent and sometimes proud to a fault and every new loss of independence was very, very hard on her and our family as a whole. She finally got to the point of needing round the clock care and as we were unable to find a suitable facility here to care for her, she moved to a very nice place in Idaho, near her oldest daughter. I've not seen her since she moved. I've tried to talk on the phone with her a few times, but it is very difficult, as she doesn't really know who I am. Once, in the middle of a conversation she exclaimed "Oh Valerie! " and it was so good to know she knew me again, even just a little.
But I've been a coward. Watching her slip away from herself, especially after Jason's death... it is just too painful. I want my Grandma back, I want to curl into her soft arms and have her rock me as she did for so many years, always there when I needed her. I didn't know how to reconcile my memories with this illness that was taking her away from herself. She was frightened, all the time. She was anxious and could quickly lash out physically when she felt threatened. One day I stopped by to visit and she was on the phone, talking with someone. I waved and waited in her living room but when I realized she wasn't talking anymore I went into the kitchen and put a hand on her back to say hello. She had forgotten I was there, screamed and punched me in the face. It took several minutes before she realized it was me and then she cried and cried. I cried too, but I was able to make her laugh and calm her down a little.
I miss her so much. I am really looking forward to seeing her, she is in better spirits these days. (She's apparently been telling everyone that she is a famous country singer and I will gladly play out that dream with her. She deserves it.) I hope for a good visit without too much confusion.
Even though she is no longer here, near me, I dread the day she moves on. I will no doubt hate myself for not calling, not writing, not being there for her. All I can hope for is that in the release of her spirit she will know how much I love her, how much I always will.