There is no one solid story here. No coherent thoughts that flow one into the other. Just scraps of images that lie like bits of material waiting to be stitched together into one large quilt-like story. There is no quilt here. Not today anyway. Just the scraps.
- Standing with my hand on my Grandmother’s bare back, supporting her as she works her way through the ordeal of going to the bathroom. My young-ish, strong brown hand on her fragile, bird-like back. Skin pale and thin as onion skin. Soft as velvet. Warm. Spine emerging through the flesh. No longer any fat to cushion the bones. I could see the struggle of her quick, shallow breath through the backside of her body. Heard her panting with fear and effort. I wanted to place my lips on that warm skin, to feel its softness on my own face. This woman who has been a second mother to me. Now I help her to have a pee.
- Resting with my Grandmother in the alcove halfway down the corridor of her residence. We’ve gone for a walk but her weakened heart and her tiny legs won’t take her any farther. This woman, once a tank who flew up the street on strong legs so quickly that I, as a child, could not keep up. Now she sinks into an armchair as we wait for her strangled heart to slow, for her breath to catch up. I feel my own breath moving with ease through my lungs. In….Out…In…Out… This has become my mantra, the one I use to keep the nightmare of this current reality at bay. I hear her say, voice choking midway through her thought, “I don’t want to die, Tabby. I just want to be with you girls for the rest of my natural life.” Something about that last bit struck me as funny and got me chuckling. That’s the way it is anyways, isn’t it, Nan? For the rest of our natural lives. I don’t want you to die either but even I know you don’t want to live this way. Where do you go from here?
- Telling my mother of the dream I had about my Grandfather who passed away many years ago. Mum telling me of my Grandmother’s recurring dreams with him in them, but she never sees his face. And I know the day she sees his face is the day he takes her hand and helps her cross over to where he is. Not yet, Gramps. Please. Not yet.
- Walking into the hospital room. My Grandmother all hunched over into herself, asleep, but looking dead. I can feel the panic rising in my mother as she quickly moves to the side of the bed to see if she can rouse her mother. My Nan lifts her face and I see it – Death is on her flesh. The face that looks at me is not hers, not the face I’ve known for 43 years. The eyes are sunken. Cheeks hollow. Skin a sickly grey. There is no mistaking the kiss of Death when it arrives and there it was, for a minute or two, and then it was gone. We are granted the precious gift of my Grandmother for another day. Thank you.
- Sitting in Emergency beside the tiny frame of a woman who is the matriarch of my family. I find I cannot look at her. I cannot interact with her. I cannot touch her. Cannot speak with her. I am disgusted with myself, humiliated by the tremendous feelings of anger that are raging up from the core of my being. How could you do this to us? So….fucking….selfish. I am not impressed with myself. I am thoroughly ashamed. I vow to do better. So far so good.
There is a changing of the guard in my family. That woman I have railed against my whole life is stepping down from her position of power. The responsibilities are clearly too much for her to bear. And so the woman who sat terrified night after night when I was sick, the woman who fed me and cleaned my backside when I pooped myself, the woman who helped me get dressed, the woman who put me to bed at night, is now the woman who needs the same from me.
And my heart breaks.
I hear the words of my friend who struggles to care for her Alzheimer’s-suffering mother: This is the new normal. And so it is.
I hear the words of another dear friend of mine who has buried so many of her own already: I don’t know why people are so afraid of death. It can be so beautiful. Indeed. For sure there have been exchanges during this time of disoriented new vulnerability that have never happened before, and they are as beautiful as I imagine the face of god to be. This beauty seems only to come at this point, during these times, as one soul prepares to shed its skin, leaving the rest of us behind.
Scraps, all of it, waiting to be woven into a beautifully whole tapestry. For now, only scraps, and this:
Peace, my heart, let the time for
the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
– “The Gardener LXI: Peace, my Heart” by Rabindranath Tagore
Until that parting, I vow to step into the fold with you, Nan, as you have done with me so many times, so that you will not walk alone along this path. Please, forgive me the mistakes I shall make.
Let there be ease.
May there be grace.
May there be peace.
May it be so.