I’m talking about the moment when you realize you won’t always have your loved ones surrounding you as you did in childhood.
More than 10 years ago, when my great-grandmother on my father’s side passed away at 92, as I stood at the gravesite beside my grandmother, I was struck with the realization that someday I would be standing there for my grandmother. The realization caused tears to spring to my eyes and sucked the air from my lungs. I wasn’t ready to even think about my grandmother not being around and I told her as much that day. She simply smiled in that wise and indulgent fashion she always did when I said something outlandish and although I knew it was impossible to hold her to that request, I felt marginally better for having voiced it.
In spite of the many winters that have passed since that sad day the echo of that request has become louder in my head as I realize the day I’ve been dreading will come without my invitation and likely well before I’m ready.
I’m incredibly close to both my grandmothers, though they are so different from one another.
My maternal grandmother still dyes her short curls dark brown; in all my life I’ve never seen her with one thread of gray sprouting from her head and while she just had a hip replaced and she suffers from a host of ailments she’s still feisty and, at times, quite hilarious. While I worry about her, her mind is still — mostly — sharp (Ha! If she reads this I’ll likely get an earful for that one!) and she still manages to tool around and do what she pleases so the fear that she might be checking out soon doesn’t even enter my mind.
Unfortunately, that’s the not the case with the paternal grandmother.
But let me clarify. My grandma is hale and hearty. She was blessed with the immunity of a woman who laughs in the face of germs and disease and truthfully, I cannot remember a time when my grandmother has suffered a cold or flu. I asked her once how she stayed so healthy and she answered, “I just tell myself ‘I’m not sick’ and then I’m not.” That’s my grandmother in a nutshell.
But even as she seems fit as a fiddle, a steam engine of life and vitality, I’m slowly losing her.
You see, as much as I wanted to deny it, my grandmother’s mind is quietly slipping away.
It’s hard to fathom. My grandmother was always sharp as a tack with a knack for numbers. She ran multiple businesses with my grandfather, including the first newspaper I ever worked for, and yet still managed to bake cookies and pickle cucumbers. She handled stress with grace and even when everyone around her was falling apart she was the cool head amongst the chaos. She always had a jarful of cookies and a fresh batch of pickles in the refrigerator when my sister and I would visit as children and my memories with her are varied and delightful. In short, I adore my grandmother.
So the first time I was faced with the harsh reality that someday soon she might not be the woman I grew up with, I broke down and wept. I didn’t know how I would function without her in my life. I couldn’t reconcile the possibility that there might come a day when she might not know me any longer. The thought twisted a knife in my heart. It hurt so much I was paralyzed with it. Eventually, the tears stopped, for there was little I could do about the situation aside from accept it. And I have. Sort of. Each time I talk with my grandmother on the phone I hold my breath — afraid of that black moment — but so far, she still remembers me.
She has good days and if I’m lucky to catch her on one of those days, she chatters amiably about the various projects around the house and when we say goodbye I feel a glimmer of hope that perhaps I was wrong about her mental decline. During those times, it’s easy to wave away concern for she is as she ever was…
But then there are bad days and my tears aren’t far behind the end of the phone conversation.
Eventually, I know the bad days will overtake the good and while the shell of my grandmother might remain, I don’t know how I will manage not to cry each time I see that vague, halting smile come my way as I know I have become a stranger in her eyes.
It’s almost too much to bear.
But for now, I can only cling to the good days and bank them against the storm building on the horizon, reflected in the cool, pale depths of my grandmother’s beautiful blue eyes gazing at me from a face that has always looked upon me with kindness, pride, and most of all … love.
Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.