When Grandmabear moved into a nursing home I mourned her almost as if she had died. I guess somehow I always knew that Grandmabear would never be the same. I knew that we would never curl up with an old movie again, knew that we’d never have a “real” conversation, or that I’d make her laugh with my sass.
Sadly, I was mostly right. Dementia is a funny thing. You have good days and bad days. I know Grandmabear had good days – Mom would tell me about them. But for some reason, in the years that followed, whenever I visited, Grandmabear would be having a bad day. If she could hear me now, I’d describe our visits as trips to Crazytown and she’d laugh.
Frankly, it sucked. It was hard not be mad. Hard not to be mad at her, sometimes. Grandmabear and I had a special bond. I was ‘her Shana’. That’s how she’d describe me: “my Shana”. So where was the special bond in Crazytown?? Why, whenever I’d visit, did she only see me through glassy, uncomprehending eyes? It breaks my heart still.
But she wasn’t gone. Not completely. We had one conversation, over the phone, just a few months before she died. I had called, she came to the phone, and was only a little bit crazy. I hung in there best I could, and told her we were moving to Pennsylvania. She was getting confused about something, I can’t quite remember. Anyway, I ended up pissing her off somehow. Which actually felt good – Grandmabear was never the suger-sweet, accomodating woman that she became in the nursing home. The Grandmabear I knew was fiestier than that. Anyway, I made her mad, and so she spelled out “DENVER! I said DENVER! D-E-N-V-E-R!” Without thinking, I sniped back, “Well, Grandma, at least we know you can still spell.” There was a pause. And then she laughed. She laughed hard. She laughed like she got exactly why it was so funny. She laughed like she knew Crazytown was up ahead, but that she wasn’t quite there yet. It was a laugh I knew as well as my own. It was her old laugh. A laugh I miss. “I guess I deserved that one” she said when she caught her breath.
That was the last time we talked. The next time I saw her, she was dying. And fighting for breath. She told me she loved me, but mom had to translate because I couldn’t understand. And then when Mom left the room, I cried. I put my head down on Grandmabear’s chest and sobbed. I cried because it was all over. I cried because I had missed her these last few years. I cried an apology. I cried for mentally distancing myself. For being angry when she didn’t recognize me. I cried because at this moment, I knew that she saw me. Her Shana. And that she loved me. And that she always had. And that crazytown or not, I still had had her, in some small way. And now I wouldn’t. I cried for a long time.
Grandmabear, and what she went through, has been on my mind for quite some time. And as I was digging through our crap in the basement, looking for my social security card (so annoying), I found a cheesy-looking birthday card that said, “JOY On This Special Day”. Inside the card, was Grandmabear’s hand, wishing Mike a happy birthday. Underneath her signature she wrote, “I already made a mistake, so this is going down very carefully. HA!”
I had forgotten about this card. She sent it to Mike in June, right after her 90th birthday party in May. Mom had surprised her by having everyone we know send a card. Mom’s goal was 90 cards. And I had especially forgotten that Grandmabear included the following letter in Mike’s card:
This is for Shana.
Thank you for your card and goodies. So far yours was the best one. This is unbelievable. On my birthday we had 140 cards, after, 6 more came in. Yours was the best one. At least I hope [she meant think] so.
I was so upset with your mother when she first told me what she was doing but now I can’t believe the results. When I was by myself, I took the time to read every one who took the time to send birthday greetings to a perfect stranger. Some I knew, but not many. It turned out to be a wonderful birthday.
I’m doing well.
I miss her.