I remember you being a strong woman when I was little. You had a job, and a really cool little sports car that we drove around in when my brother and I would come for visits while mom and dad went on their annual Vegas anniversary trip.
When we would stay I remember that my brother would sleep with Grandpa and I would sleep with you. You were of the generation that had your hair done once a week, so you’d sleep with a hair net that was supposed to somehow keep the hairdo in place. I never could figure that one out.
The house in Los Alamitos is the one I will always associate with you. Holidays with a paper dreidel hung over the fireplace with presents wrapped in blue and white. Your wrapping was always easy to tell from any of the rest – loose-fitting and never even close to exact. The wrapping wasn’t ever as important to you as the looks on our faces when we saw what was inside. Winston the dog barking in the backyard. I don’t even have to close my eyes to walk through that house in my head.
You couldn’t cook. Clearly that’s genetic, because you passed that inability down to your daughter who passed it to me. A huge kitchen in the house in Los Alamitos and I can’t remember you ever in the kitchen cooking.
Smart. Funny. Loving. Quick to hug or kiss us every chance you got. Mom used to say that you and Grandpa were totally different grandparents than you were parents. I don’t know if that’s true or not, all I knew is that you were the Grandma that I preferred to hang out with because you clearly loved us so much and weren’t afraid to show it. You showed us off – to friends, strangers in the grocery store. That was sort of the running joke – that you’d talk to anyone who would listen.
In hindsight we can all see that the dementia immediately was worsened by the car accident. But it was early enough in the disease that we were all so confused by your behavior we couldn’t see it then. And by then I had moved away. The next time I saw you, you would laugh at anything and everything I said, I think to hide the fact that you were struggling to keep up with the conversation. I’m ashamed to admit it, but on the next visit out, I actually convinced you that you had stopped smoking to prevent you having a meltdown about cigarettes not being in your purse. You believed me and the rest of the outing went off without a hitch. I hope you forgive me.
I wasn’t there, but at one point you looked at my cousin and told her she was such a pretty girl. Someone told you that she was your granddaughter and you said, “No…” Part of me is thankful I was the oldest and around a lot, because I never had to have you look at me and not know who I was.
He took care of you longer than most people could have. Longer than an old man should have. In the end you were combative. Angry. Scared, I think, mostly. Every day waking up not knowing who you are, who the people are around you, why you can’t remember to do basic tasks. It must have been terrifying.
When they finally found you a place where you weren’t combative and that wasn’t a hellhole for you to live in, you settled in nicely. Even developing a crush on the care home’s husband – inviting him to sit with you while watching tv. It was sweet, when it wasn’t heartbreaking.
The day before my birthday, 2005, dad called. Your systems were just giving up, and they didn’t think you had long. Three days later, the morning of our IVF egg retrieval, he called again, early. When I hung up the phone, H and I looked at each other and wondered what you and Grandpa would have wanted us to do. We went to the retrieval, and I cried when I asked the Dr. if a car trip for the funeral was acceptable during post transfer bedrest. She assured me it was, and one of the nurses that day told me I had an angel watching over our cycle.
Your great-granddaughter is named for you. The first great-grandchild. I see a lot of you in her. Stubborn. Loving. Beautiful. She crawled for the first time on your birthday. I only wish you could have met them both. You would have adored them.
Sometimes I still see you on the bleachers at football games, or waiting for me with flowers after one of the many horrible plays of mine you sat through or cheering my brother on at baseball. But the biggest thing I remember is that you were always there. And I wear the heart necklace of yours that Grandpa gave me, and I think you’re watching over us now.