I spent a lot of time with my Grandma. My parents worked, as did many parents in the 80s. We were lucky, though, all living on The Farm together, my front door no more than a stone’s throw from my grandparents’ home in those early days before my parents built the new house up on the hill.
Once I started school, I would race off the bus at the end of my day, tearing up the gravel driveway just to get to Grandma’s house. She’d make us a snack. White bread and salami, sometimes with banana peppers and brown mustard. Sometimes cookies.
It was just us then, and a dog or two depending on the year.
Grandpa wouldn’t be home until after work. The eldest of all the grandchildren by eight years, I held her attention in the palm of my hand for almost a whole decade. It was just the two of us watching movies and Murder, She Wrote, making dinner and sneaking tastes.
Just the two of us.
When she went into hospice, I resolved to visit twice per week. I didn’t care that I lived two hours away; family cares for family, I said. I would read to her from her favorite books. I’d take her dog to visit. I’d sleep overnight on the nights my husband didn’t work at the fire department just so she wouldn’t be alone. I was going to be there for her like she was there for me.
My grandmother died just over 24 hours after entering hospice. She went to sleep on the first night there and never regained consciousness.
I never got to do those things for her. I held her hand and said goodbye, yes, but she was already gone. I didn’t get to care for her the way I wanted to care for her, the way she cared for me all those years.
I’ve been going to my husband’s grandparents’ home three times per week for two months now. I wash a lot of dishes. I strip the bed, do the laundry and remake the hospital bed that now sits in her bedroom so she’ll have a safe, clean place to sleep. I run the vacuum which terrorizes the cat she so adores, but it also makes her giggle a little and, well, we need some laughter right now. I take out the trash and take out the trash and take out the trash—in the freezing cold. I clean the bathroom with rubber gloves.
And I sit with her in between loads of laundry or while greasy pans that cooked pork side soak in well water that never quite gets hot enough. Sometimes she has a good day. Sometimes it’s not so good. Often, she’s somewhere in between. She couldn’t work the remote very well today; sometimes she confuses the remote and the cordless phone. So I helped her find Dr. Phil after a bunch of “no, not that” answers. She seemed pleased, which pleased me.
She’s not my grandmother, but she is. Fourteen years ago, she met me after I was already engaged to her only grandson; a grandson she spent just as much time with as I spent with my grandmother. She invited me into her home and into the family, no questions asked. If he loved me, I was good enough.
So I drive 40 minutes, one way, three times per week to clean, to sit, to make sure she has enough to eat. I run errands, sometimes twice to the same store in one day. And when I walk in, the stock boy says, “I have deja vous.” And I simply reply, “Me too, kid.” I try to do little things, like put up the Christmas tree even though she doesn’t remember who did it three days later. I did it knowing she wouldn’t remember but that it would make her smile.
She forgot me once. I cried. She also forgot our youngest once. I cried about that too.
I cry a lot lately.
I show up to care for and love on Mamaw because I love her. I also do it because I didn’t get to do that for my own beloved Grandma. I drive down to the river and love on both she and Gramps with the physical manifestation of my time and my elbow grease because I believe the gifts of our time and our energy matter so very much. Maybe even the most.
Every day when I pull on my puffy coat and prepare to head back out into the single-digit cold temperatures, prepare to drive back across the rolling hills and bendy roads through tear-blurred eyes, I bend down to her chair and kiss the top of her head.
“I love you, Mamaw.”
“I love you, too.”