When I was little child after communion they would always sing the same song. The song was called “This may be my last time.” The lyrics were simple:
This may be my last time
This may be my last time
It may be my last time i don’t know
I never really understood how real those words were until I got older. Thinking about times I said goodbye to someone not knowing it would be the last time. Then there are the times you say goodbye knowing it is a good possibility that you will never see that person again. While in Central America my father told me that my grandmother, his mother was not doing well. The last time I saw my grandmother was last August before moving to Arizona. She lives in a nursing home about an hour and a half away from my parent’s house. Since she moved there three years ago I have visited three times, the third time being last Tuesday (July 21st). My parents always go on Sundays after church and I have other plans. The drive takes too long. I don’t want to drive alone. My parents never tell me until they are just about to leave. I can come up with a million excuses why I have not seen my grandmother more. But the real reason I don’t go is the woman that I knew as my grandmother is no longer there. The woman who yelled at my brother for pissin’ in the bed or yelled at my grandfather for telling us stories of all his secret white girlfriends. The small but feisty and strong woman, who knew my name has been gone. In her place is this fragile often confused woman who does not know who I am. The last time I saw her, my nana was my college graduation in 2004, but even then she was slipping away from me.
When I went to my parents hotel room after graduation with my friend David, who has since passed away she asked me was he my boyfriend. I just giggled and said “no Nana.” The main reason why she came was to give my grandfather a break, her Alzheimer’s was getting worse.
The following Christmas she came and stayed with us for about a week, to again give my grandfather a break from the constant care she needed. I tell this story a lot- about how my grandmother began complimenting me on my beautiful legs then later ask me did I have a girlfriend. I thought she was asking me if I was gay, I told her no, she smiled and whispered “It’s okay. You can tell me.” It would not be until later I realize she asked me that because she thought I was a boy. My mother will try to explain to her that I was a girl, but she wasn’t believing it. I told my mom it was cool, let her think whatever she wanted.
The whole people thinking I am a boy thing has become way too common on this blog, I need to change something. She clearly no longer had the same mind as she did before. She would wake up in the middle of the night asking where “Mr. Charles” (my grandfather) was. I would have to find my dad to calm her down to go to back to bed. Shortly after this visit my grandmother went to live in a nursing home, it was too taxing on my grandfather’s health to care for her anymore. When I became a boy to my nana, I knew I lost her to this disease. The first time I visited her in the nursing home was Memorial Day weekend 2008. Summer 2008 was filled with so many growing pains that it deserves its own volume in the forthcoming autobiography (you know the one I will write when I am rich and successful). But back to my grandmother, my mother and I visited her because my father was gone to Uganda. I had a little bit more hair, but she still thought I was a boy. This time when my mother explained to her I was a girl, she believed it a bit more. She shrugged and said “I guess”.
For whatever reason the next time I went to visit her was August 2010. This time I went with both of my parents one Sunday after church. I would be leaving the area to move to Arizona the following week. I saw a bit of the grandmother I remembered from my childhood. Her feistiness- trying to stop my mother from touching her. “Who is this lady, tell her to leave me alone.” It had been a while since I had seen my grandmother and my father together. They looked so similar. When you can see the mortality of your grandparents the realization of the mortality of your own parents becomes so clear and undeniable. Due to my father’s profession I spent countless Sunday’s visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes. The thing that is the hardest is the look on their face when they realize you are leaving them. My grandmother really did not know who my mother or I was and was pretty annoyed with my mother. I don’t blame her, who would want some strange lady touching her. I do not know if she knew who my father was specifically but she understood he was one of her children or someone close to her and needed to be “distracted” so that he could leave. Nursing homes are hard not just because you have to leave your loved one behind but also because the other people you have to see while you are there. The ones who families never visit, the eyes of the ones barely holding on and the faces of those who seem not sick “enough” to be there. I always feel guilty that she is there and for never coming to see her.
And for proof that mother was annoying my poor grandmother the whole time…
This is actually not what I was planning to tell write, the set up took a bit longer than I anticipated. So think of this as the prequel. Part II will be coming soon. Writing this helps me remember how much things have changed. I completely forgot that I only knew my grandmother as “nana” growing up. As this disease has progress the way I refer to her has become less personal and more distant, just like we have become to each other. I been struggling with how I felt about my grandmother sickness for a while now, this is just my way of sorting it out.