this house


{image is a photo of Brooke and Katie kissing my Grandma last Thanksgiving}

Katie and I went on a trip with my Grandma last night.

As we sat with her in her room, her eyes closed, a grin lighting her face, we traveled with her as she meandered through the woods of memory and out into the meadows of a present no longer restrained by time or place.

We went wherever it was that she wanted us to go. To Philadelphia, to New York, to the farm in Ohio where she’d spent her childhood. We helped her planned an elaborate meal for her guests. At her insistence, we told her how much money we’d need to buy the garlic bread that she said that we had to have. We spent ten minutes deciding how many pieces each of us would be able to eat and then promised to go into her purse to get the change. When Katie said she was full, Grandma said, “You’re lying. I can see it in your eyes. You have hungry eyes.”

“Grandma,” I said, “your eyes are closed. You can’t see her eyes. You’re full of it.”

She laughed. “I just want you to be warm and fed,” she said.

It became a refrain. Warm and fed. I promised her we’d always be warm and fed.

We answered to “Mother” and promised to take the rancid peanut butter from the pantry before we left. We served the cake that she said she’d made and I took over brewing the tea because her hands weren’t able to manage the phantom kettle.

We boarded an airplane and took off on a vacation with her that she swore that she’d taken when she was eleven. We asked about the conversation that she was having with my maternal grandmother, who died long before I was born. “Give me a minute,” she said, “I’m talking to her now.” She always said that when I laughed, Lillian was in the room. Last night, it took on a whole new meaning.

When she told me that he was sorry that he didn’t listen, I asked who was sorry. “Your grandmother,” she said. “He’s sorry that he didn’t listen to her.”

When I told her that my dad missed her and I knew he wished he could be there with her, she said, “Eh, what would it do? In what way would him coming all the way here add or detract from the current situation?”

I told her that it would simply add his love to the room, but that I was sure it was already there anyway. “Ah,” she said, “I see now.” She was silent for a while and then grinned. “I’m going to go visit him then. He knows the area so well, it will be easy to make the arrangements.” I knew what she meant. It both broke my heart and filled it.

“Where am I going?” she asked. “I like to know where I’m going.”

I told her that we could go anywhere she liked, though Iowa might be a longer trip than she’d really enjoy. She smiled. “You’re being wise,” she said.

She told us about the lady with the fried chicken. “A waitress,” she said. “She knew better than to mess with me.”

Katie and I laughed and she said, “Everybody knows better than to mess with you, Oomah.”

“Oh, I’ll show her,” she said, “I’ll outlive her. That’s what I’ll do.”

“I’ll bet you already have, Grandma,” I said.

The sly grin came back. “I have,” she said. “I’ve outlived them all.”

We wandered with her in and out of the present. A story about a nurse who squeezes her hand (“not such a good communicator,” she said) and another about an attendant – her “dresser,” she called him. How they comment on how many people love her so much. “A man noticed that,” she said. “That’s something for a male to take note of, wouldn’t you say?”

A question about her new great-grandson. We tried to show her a picture of him on my phone and she opened her eyes to try to see. “I can’t associate it,” she said, so we described him instead. How much he looks like his daddy – beautiful, hearty, strong.

She smiled.

Oh, that smile.

And then she said, “You know what I love best about this house?”

I looked around the hospital-like room in the extended care facility in which she now lives and knew it was not the house to which she was referring.

“What, Grandma?” I asked.

“That we can have as many people here to visit as we like and you never feel the tumult of a full house.”

And there it was. The joy of an untethered mind. The freedom to wander in and out of the spaces of memory and to open her heart and her home to everyone she’s ever loved and all who have always and always will love her.

When we visited her last Saturday, it broke my heart to leave. She had fallen asleep and I didn’t want her to be alone when she woke. I was terrified that she’d be lonely. When I found out that my aunt was on her way to visit, relief washed over me.

But last night was different. Last night, as we left her on the precipice of sleep, the shadow of a grin still on her beautiful face, I knew she wasn’t alone, nor ever really would be again. I knew she’d wake to a house full of people.

And best of all, she wouldn’t feel the tumult.




10 thoughts on “this house

  1. Jess, you are as beautiful and wondrous as both of your grandmothers. I’m delighted that you and Katie had that special adventurous visit last night with Grandma (and apparently with Grandma Lillian, too).

    Love you,

    • And it’s SO amazing you have a Grand mother still! What a gift. My mother died 21 years ago. I never knew my grandmothers and my last Grsndfather died 20 years ago! I’m so envious of the time and conversations and of course the love

  2. Thank you. It is a wonderful realization that we are never truly alone and we are always surrounded by love. Let’s remember that, you and I, when our light begins to dim…

  3. the last post was a beautiful tribute to the lessons she taught you about life. This one is a beautiful tribute to a life well travelled with the people she loves.

    I love you.

  4. Oh, sigh. What beauty. What a blessing to be able to travel alongside your grandma…for you and for Katie and for all of us.

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