Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Grandma, I'm comin' home

It's only about a four-hour drive, but I have a feeling the next time I make it it's going to seem a whole lot longer.

This weekend I will probably be driving to my parent's house to say goodbye to my grandmother, a woman so important to my early life and who now I don't know nearly as well as I should. Worse yet, she usually doesn't know me at all when I do see her. At 93, her memory and her body are failing her. On one of my last visits my mom asked my grandmother if she had said hello to me and grandma said, "Oh, no one introduced us."

When I spend time with my grandmother, I will talk with her about whatever she wants to talk about. Her memories now aren't her own. The stories she tells are vivid and filled with drama, but they are no more based in fact than an elaborate work of fiction. The repetition of her tales gives the illusion they must be true, but the wiring of her brain has shorted out, connecting disparate facts in a mad jumble. She doesn't know where she is and often doesn't know who the people are she lives with, specifically her daughter -- my mother.

It's been very difficult on my mom to see her mother deteriorating and to be a stranger to her own mom.

In addition to the memory problems, there is pain that makes for sleepless nights for everyone in the house, particularly mom and grandma. The doctor recommended that my mom and her siblings consider putting their mother in a nursing home to provide a level of care they can no longer provide in the home. Grandma was in a nursing home several years ago but hated it, so my uncle moved her from Nebraska to his home in Nevada. She didn't like it there either. So my parents took her in. She isn't happy there either.

Her world has gotten very small. My old bedroom is now hers. With the aid of a walker, she would make the short trip from her bed to a glider rocker in the living room where she would spend her waking hours and take her meals. Then back to her room. Her view of the outside world is limited to a large picture window in the living room and a television stationed across a wide expanse of carpet. Since my last visit just two months ago, the walker is no longer enough to manage even that short trip and she needs the help of a wheelchair to make it.

But in spite of her limited mobility she's getting ready to make an extended trip. My parents are planning to take my grandmother back to Nebraska, perhaps as early as next week. So, I am going to make a little road trip myself of about 250 miles to see her while she is still close by.

I know that it's likely to be the last time I see her in this life. She may not know me, but I want to see her and spend a little time with her. I want to look for a few signs of the vital, robust larger-than-life figure I knew in my youth peaking out of the tiny, frail frame my grandmother now inhabits.

As a small child, a visit to grandma and grandpa's house was a Sunday ritual broken when my parents moved my brothers and me to Oregon shortly before my 8th birthday. Our family was divided, living on opposite ends of the Oregon Trail. Return trips to the Cornhusker State have been very few and far between. My last three visits to Nebraska were for funerals -- my mother's father, then her sister and most recently for one of my father's brothers.

I'm not looking forward to my next trip back there. I can't say I'm really looking forward to the trip to my parents' home either. But I would rather see my grandmother now, with what life she has left, than have our next meeting involve an even longer trip and her in a fancy box.

A couple of summer's ago I took my daughter to her first, and probably only, meeting with her great-grandmother. Much of my time with my daughter is spent with her mother's side of the family. But I wanted her to see a little more of my family. I wanted her to have an opportunity for some sort of memory with my grandmother and a bit more exposure to the other part of her heritage. I wish she would have got to know my grandparents, my grandmother and my late grandfather. But maybe that's because I wish I got to know them more and spend more time with them and with my father's parents, who both died when I was young.

So, my attempt to blog every day this month may come to a screeching halt this weekend. I may be on the road and not have an opportunity to post to the Fishwrap. I've enjoyed trying to get back into the writing groove again. But this weekend I will have something more pressing and important to do that will take priority.

Hang in there grandma, I'm coming home. I'll get there just as quick as I can. We'll both be home real soon.

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