Monday, April 24, 2006


I am knitting with cotton. It is soft between my fingers. As I knit, my work becomes heavier, less like yarn and more like something to wear, a weighty circle of knitted rows. Soft colors--pink, coral, white and green. Not colors that I would have chosen, but pleasing enough.

An e-mail says that she's not doing well, disoriented, roaming a place that is not her own, falling. She said that she would never leave that house--and she meant it. She's not eating or drinking or sleeping. The note says that they're sorry that she can't recognize us now, that John went to see her last week and that she recognized him. And that is something—for my grandmother and for John.

Grandparents grow old. Grandparents die. We wish for it to happen quickly, without the suffering, but how often is that? Most unlike my 90+-year-old great-grandfather with wooden leg pressed firmly to the floor announcing to Stella that he would be dying in a day or two. Two nights later he died in his sleep, entertaining his great grandchildren with stories and guitar at home one day, not alive the next. There wasn't the waiting, the wondering, the wishing that somehow it could be different. He went. And that was that.

We attended a burial on Saturday. Oak Grove Cemetery in Gloucester. Catholic burial. Short and probably what she would have wanted, but void of the essence of her, learning details from family later. Never knew that she cut and curled her own hair, explaining the length and the straightness at the end. Never knew that she accumulated--over how many years?-- $1400 in cash at the bottom of her dresser drawer. Bridge money? Or Cape Ann Savings Bank money? Or splurge money? Never knew that she had a fur coat that she didn't wear, that she strongly disliked the name McElligott, her maiden name, a name that we had been considering as a middle for our next born.

I talk to my children about death. Aidan, age four, says, "When a person dies they can't do things anymore and we can't see them." She makes it simple and is satisfied. Cole, age two, wants to know if he'll die when he gets sick. "I was dying last week," he says. I talk about how people get older, how their bodies stop working as well as they used to--and then the inevitable questions, "Do only old, sick people die? Will you die? Will I die?"

I am thinking about how to say goodbye. From here. 2300 miles away. I'm thinking about the time my brother and I visited their house in California, the one that she didn't want to leave. Went to four amusement parks in four days--Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain--I realize now, a labor of love on their part. My grandfather was alive then. He couldn't go on all of the rides because he'd had a heart attack at 40. But it didn't matter because he was there with us, laughing, panning for gold, eating the famous fried chicken and raspberry jam wearing that white cap of his, the one that he always wore to cover his disappearing or disappeared hair, my grandmother's hair perfect, same chocolaty brown color for as long as I have known her.

I want to see her. I think. I want to look into her eyes for recognition--of my memories. I want to hold her hand. I want to sit next to her and knit, tell her about the cotton yarn, the coldness of spring in Massachusetts, about the pansies that I will buy and plant in a bright, blue pot and place on our stone steps. I want to tell her about my babies, about the one who isn't born yet. I want to thank her for all of the cards and the dollar bills that she has sent and to tell her that I agree that "you can still buy something for a dollar." I want to say goodbye. And it's not about regret. It's not about wishing that I had said or had done--it's about being there, with her, before there is nothing left. It's about growing old, about death, about the realness of both. But mostly it's about love. I want to be there with her because she's my grandmother and I love her.

No comments: