My last post gave promise of potential fire to spill forth. Unfortunately, all of the air needed for my intention to burn was sucked right out by a hole punched into my ticking heart. My Grammy, as that is who she has always been to me, passed away on March 26th. She was 91. It was always somewhat expected, and yet we never thought Death would swoop by so quickly. The weekend prior, she began exhibiting certain symptoms and behaviors indicating that she was ready to go and join my late Pappy.
By the following Thursday/Friday, her symptoms worsened. She sunk into herself deeper, and comfort care with Hospice support would be put into place. I finally worked up the courage to visit with her that last Saturday, the 25th, for two glorious hours. We thought she would at least have a few more days. She had only that night. But it was her time to go and finally be with her Bob again, after five years of missing him by her side. My beloved Grammy and Pappy, rest in peace, together at last.
The writing below was created the weekend prior to her passing. It was a way to process my fear of losing her completely, even though a part of her had become lost for some time now.
Breath hooking upon the edge of wakefulness, Rose pulled herself up and out of the shimmering pool of slumber. Eyes cracked open against the soft lamp light, a surge of ticking in her chest as her body returned to the waking world to find that she had fallen asleep on the couch again. The TV screen showed images of a bogeyman chasing down screeching children, biting at them, until blood and gore revealed that the children were no more. Rose pulled herself up to sit properly on the couch and groaned. The last thing she needed to sleep through was a horror movie to gnaw at her dreams and wake up a bogeyman of her very own.
As Rose reached for the clicker, snatches of her dream world tugged at her. That’ll show her to ever fall asleep again with the horror TV channel left on to haunt her all night long. Dreams are designed to be confusing and revealing, but since she had started the antidepressant, her dream world had found a way to absorb her more fully into its skin. An eerie land of themes repeating night after night – going from one place to the other, with shadows of her past making the buildings appear far too solid to her touch. She traveled from room to room, seeking out the unknown purpose of this illusory life, hoping to uncover a brilliant treasure buried deep within herself, while always remaining oblivious to her delusion.
She leaned back into the velvet soft couch, pulling the fuzzy blanket up to cover her chilled legs and feet, smothering the nagging discomfort in her mind and aching bones. At 3 AM, the shadows of yesterday were still in a tug of war over surrendering tomorrow to become today. Black night still painted the windows, without any promise of the brilliant strokes of sunrise yet to be rise. The side of the world remained asleep, with the faith that a brand new day would greet them, whether they wanted it to or not.
Rose was not ready for tomorrow, let alone today. She wished the night could linger forever. If the sun did not rise, slumber could cover her like a blanket and protect her from a world that she was not certain that she wanted to live within. She was over it. Over having to get up, get dressed, and get going. Over pushing herself despite her exhausted mind and fatigued body, trying to live a life like any able bodied person, pretending to be free of disease. Her past depression had captured her once more, spinning her thoughts until she landed back where she had started all those years ago. She wished only to fade out from the universe, like a dying star that ultimately sucked itself out of existence. No light, no shadow. No air to breathe. No more thoughts to choke her. Only free to be, simply nothing. But the universe thought otherwise, waking her up each day whether she enjoyed it or not. And here she was, again, awake. Alive. Stuck.
The house was quiet save for the constant ticking of her heart. Both her husband and dog were already asleep in the master bedroom, oblivious. Tommy had learned to leave Rose alone and asleep on the couch, dead to the world, depositing her pill box on the table nearby for when she finally stirred back to life. It was easier that way; let sleeping dogs lie. She would wake up eventually, at 2, 3, or maybe 4 AM, taking the pills designed to keep her alive or convince her that it was all generally worthwhile. Though now after the news she received from her Mother last evening, she was not certain just how much more she could take.
Her Grammy’s health began approaching an end of life situation. Her dementia now progressed to the point of where she did not care about eating or drinking anymore, spending much of her time asleep or in a fugue state. Ever since Pappy passed away several
years ago, Grammy faded in and out of time. She called out his name “Bob!” repeatedly, as if its utterance could command a door in time and space to slide open, returning him back to our world as before. She missed him terribly. They were each a sun, shining unto the other, after over 70 years of marriage. But after a stroke, diabetes, and dementia ravaged her health, Pappy became her Moon, always circling around her, reflecting a constant love, ensuring she was well cared for, whether by his own efforts, that of health aides and nurses, or with the support of their first born daughter Casey – Rose’s own Mother.
Rose slipped back into the memories of happier days of her family during her childhood, where everyone felt together and the future for all still held the cheer of possibility in its grasp. So much had disintegrated since then: her grandparents’ declining health, with Pappy’s heart failing to the point of no return and Grammy’s mind fading out into the ether while still rooted in her body, waiting for her life-long Love to return for her one day. Only now, it appeared that this fateful day would be rising over the horizon soon, a waning Moon of memories.
Rose’s throat squeezed tight while a thick bulb sprouted in its center, making it difficult to swallow. She tried to keep herself in check, there would be time for tears later, lest she become a weeping willow drooping from the weight of it all. She wished it could go back to how it used to be, during those flighty days of childhood. Her Grammy would sing along to Opera music while zipping all over in her white Merkur, running errands with the grandchildren. Pappy, strong and tall, would always lift Rose up in a big hug and spin her around, at least while everyone was still young. But even as he aged, he still gave the best hugs to make up for all the times that Rose and her brother lived too far away to visit. One summer between family moves, Rose stayed up late at night with her Grammy, watching various Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald and other opera movies, as her Grammy reminisced in the TV glare of the movie stars of her youth. During the day, Pappy took Rose and her brother down to the harbor, to see the shops and ride the carousel or to the park and playground across from the Park Pantry restaurant. The whole family would often dine at the Park Pantry together for breakfast after Mass, enjoying El Gringo omelets, savoring the fresh guacamole with the spice of chiles blended with shredded cheddar cheese. Rose’s most favorite item was their hot chocolate, made fancy with whipped cream, in the Pantry’s brown ceramic mug. Cream would always end up on her nose, as she couldn’t wait to sip a bit of the hot chocolate first. It didn’t seem right to devour all of the whipped cream, which was something meant to be savored too.
Savoring the memories, it was far too late now. Too late in the midst of the night. Too late, even if she traveled back to Long Beach. A visit would never match how it felt all those years ago. The “big blue box”, as her brother used to refer to the apartment building, was still there, but Grammy and Pappy were no longer a part of it. If she walked inside, the apartment door would not open to reveal her towering Pappy standing there, arms outstretched, calling out “Honeyheart!” as she sprinted straight for him, pulled up into the heavens to be spun around into joy. Her Grammy would no longer fill the apartment with her theatric song, as she puttered around in the kitchen or applied her creams and powders while sitting at her vanity. The magical Christmases crumbled away into the past, the elaborate tree long gone, with the frilly decorations handed down or given away. No more of the memorable family stories told by Pappy, of the childhood visits from the doorway with his Father at the tuberculosis home, or of the eccentric women in his family and how the San Francisco fire allowed them to remain young far longer than the truth, nor about how he recalled how war-damaged the Queen Mary was on arrival into port as a city tourist attraction; reminding one that what is used up and old can be resurrected and made whole again. At least it can, as long as the foundation, its core structure, is still strong enough to support it and raise its sails up high again, to be filled in by the winds of change.
Rose was stuck in her head in the living room again. Funny how it was her favorite room in the house. With how life had changed her and the newest storm threatening to rain down on her family, she did not desire much for living. Her Grammy’s health was failing now. Her foundation, the core of Grammy’s body, had grown weak. She can’t hold her head up, not to look in our eyes when we tell her how much we love her, nor to look out her room’s window and enjoy the light as the sun filters in through the trees. She cannot stand at all anymore, requiring a machine to transfer her from place to place. What is a life worth living if you cannot carry yourself forward? Her fugue state is such that she seems to fade away back in time to a place where she can live and dance with Pappy, carrying her through the days. Her body is still here, but her heart and her soul are deep in the sea of the past, waiting to surface high above our time and space someday, free of this life that anchored her to the Earth. Rose knew it was time to say goodbye, just in case, at least, before it was too late. One more hug and smile from her Grammy. But Rose was not certain that she could find the courage to go, walking through the front door of the nursing home, smelling the hidden decay of age as she walked down the hall to her Grammy’s room, hearing the beeps from machines and seeing the sad souls pitched forward in their wheelchairs, heads bowed down as if waiting for God to set them free with a final blessing. Rose knew she had to go visit with her Grammy one last time. But she was petrified of what she might, or might not, find. If Rose faced her fear and showed up, sitting alongside Grammy, calling her name, and holding her soft wrinkled and sun-spotted hand, did enough of her beloved Grammy survive inside to squeeze back, a heart with one final beat remaining? Or would she encounter an abandoned house haunted by her Grammy’s fading ghost?