Saturday, April 14, 2012, 6:45 p.m.
I’ve arrived again with my father. I head to the chair beside my grandmother’s temporary bed, as my father speaks to my mother behind me. I cease focusing on the conversation behind me, as my grandmother’s big blue eyes open.
“Hi Grandma!” I say, in a sweet, somewhat hushed voice. I take up her hand, and hold it tight in my left hand. “It’s Heather Belle.” I’ve said these two lines almost each time she’s opened those pretty eyes of hers, and I’ve never really been sure she knows who I am. She can’t really say much anymore. But right now, she does.
Though quiet, it pierces through me, “I’m afraid,” she says. My parents still talk behind me, but I rub my thumb against the worn skin of her hand.
“It’s okay, Grandma, we’re here with you.” I’m not quite sure what to say in this moment; her comment has grabbed my very heart and made it throb.
“I’m afraid,” she says again. I notice a tear coming out of her left eye. Just a glimmer, but it’s there.
There is a new presence in her eyes, not like the absentness of before, as she’d stare right through me, clear through the wall behind me. I sense terror. I sense fear of the unknown. I squeeze her hand tighter with both of my hands now and gaze into her pretty blue eyes with my own, hoping that she can feel me there and that she will be alright.
“It’s okay. I’m here,” I assure her again, “Grandma? I love you. Very much.” Her lips quiver a bit, and then stop. We look into each others’ eyes. The tear is still there, as I stroke her hand, her arm, and then back to her hand, to thumb over each knuckle.
My mother walks in front of me, and seeing her mother is awake, brushes the limp, gray hair back, saying, “Hi there Mama. Hi pretty.” My mother will never know what her mother has just said to me, what hers has just experienced with me. She is afraid. We are afraid. But we will come out of this together yet.
Saturday, April 14, 2012, 7:35 p.m.
My grandmother has been in and out of sleep, in and out of pain. My father walks into the room now from visiting my grandfather, who is also at the elderly care home and just down the hall. He announces that my grandfather wants to come visit my mother’s mother.
“I told him what’s going on…” My father’s voice trailing off suggests that his father now knows the severity of my grandmother’s sickness. “He’s just outside.”
My father walks further into the room, then stops and takes a breath.
Then he says something unexpected…He hesitates at first, then, speaking about my grandfather: “He said his father’s here.” I get chills. My great-grandfather is long dead.
My grandfather appears in the doorway in his wheelchair, and my father helps to wheel him into the room and around the bed. I clear a couple chairs out of the way, leaving one chair for myself. I take a seat. My grandfather sits beside me, content in his wheelchair.
“It’s Rich. Say, ‘Hi Rich,’” my mother prompts my grandmother. She manages a wave to my grandfather. It’s more of a slight lift of the hand after she finally recognizes him. This is the first time my grandfather has seen my grandmother with such a glazed gaze.
My grandfather reaches for my hand, and once I give my hand to him, he holds it tight. I look at him, and I realize I’d been thinking about how gray and how lifeless my grandmother is beginning to look. He must have read my thoughts and wanted to protect me.
Twenty-four hours ago, my father had called me. “Your grandmother’s not doing well, Heather…her kidneys started failing yesterday.” Yesterday. He couldn’t tell me yesterday? He had to wait? My father always waits to tell me things, after the fact.“I’m sorry…I want to protect you from bad things.” And here is my grandfather, also wanting to protect me from bad things.
He lets go of my hand. Enough support, apparently. We all look at my grandmother, her eyes are slowly opening and closing. Her body is trying to decide between sleeping or staying awake, ignoring the pain or realizing it.
“You remember Janet, don’t you? Grandma Mike?” my father asks. My grandfather nods his head, not taking his eyes off of my grandmother. My father and I both watch my grandfather carefully, as he observes my grandmother. It looks like he wants to say something, but he changes his mind, his mouth closing.
“Do you want to shake her hand?” my father asks him. My grandfather shakes his head no, pulling his hand closer to himself. That’s when I see it in his eyes too: a slight terror, a fear of the unknown.
And that’s when I realize, all at once: he did not hold my hand to protect me. He reached for my hand as a scared child would, to protect himself. Though he is 77-years-old, he saw a 92-year-old woman in pain and out of it, and he became afraid. He does not want that to be him someday, just as we all want to evade death. I feel a new fondness for my grandfather after I realize how much he’d said to me without really saying anything at all.
“I think we’ll say goodbye now, okay?” my father says to his father. My grandfather waves to my grandmother once more, though her eyes are now heavy with slumber.
“I’ll come for a walk, I think,” I say. My father agrees, and I look at my grandfather’s face. Taking his hand again, I say, “I’ll come for a walk with you, okay?”
Just like that we head out of my grandmother’s room to bring my grandfather back to his. My mother will never know her mother was afraid for her life, just as my father will never know his father was afraid for his own. I hope my grandfather feels close to me, as I do to him now. We walk down the hallway, my father and I, pushing my grandfather’s wheelchair in front. We set my grandfather up near his bed, kiss him goodbye, and begin to walk back toward my grandmother’s room.
My father will not know why my grandfather grabbed my hand, but my father also won’t know I didn’t just go on this walk for my grandfather. I went on it just as much for him. I did not want my father to have to walk back alone. This, I consider my way of protecting him. I may only be 22-years-old, but I can just as easily protect a 56-year-old, a 77-year-old, and a 92-year-old all in one night, just by being here. For this I am thankful, and for this I know: I am not afraid.
*Journaling from 2012.*