Thursday, January 09, 2014


Wednesday I watched the forgotten carrot under Gram's bed rather than stare at her while she slept. The slice of carrot. It wasn't whole. Probably a stray piece from a soup, or maybe they serve them soft like that at the care facility. On one side it flattened into the beige flecked tile where the hospital bed tray had rolled over it.

She was sleeping. Maybe. There's a lot I don't know. Most information I have is filtered through texts and conversations that work down generational lines until it gets to the grandchildren. As with her diagnosis, sleep seemed complicated. Nebulous. She talked. Moved. Grabbed at her sheets, slid her legs around, lifted her eyebrows.

Every once in a while, she'd startle herself awake and talk to me, but I don't think she knew who I was.


"See that camellia bush outside?"

I saw a plant. I wasn't sure it was a camellia. "I do, Gram."

"It's not blooming now, but when it did it was so beautiful."

"Tell me what color it was."

"It was so pretty. That's the official flower of Sacramento, you know."

"It is? I never knew that." It's funny what sticks in the mind.

"The kids had to learn all those. I never did."

Back to sleep. Back to moving. My eyes went to the carrot, not wanting to intrude. Sleep is so intimate. But I didn't want to leave. At this point I don't know how long she has. How much time I have left in the room with her. Again, my eyes traced the streak of squished orange across the tile. She brought her hands to the buttons on her blue muumuu. Her mouth. Mumbled. I felt like an eavesdropper on her unfiltered words. Every once in a while, I'd catch the name of her niece, her brother in law, her dog.

They don't call it the convalescent home anymore. Just care.

*    *    *

Henry spent Tuesday night in my bed. Or rather, on my pillow, stomach, side, and face. I got up to pee for two minutes and he rearranged himself exactly into the top third of my warm spot, and I had to roll his weight back so I could slide back under the covers. A rough day of fourth grade math and anxiety about his tonsillectomy had him so worked up that I brought him to bed with me to stop his worrying at about 10:00. Henry and I spent the night wrapped together like we did from birth to age four, when sleep eluded his little body and came only in fidgety, wild and emotional bouts of movement.

Eric took the couch, admitting to me and himself that our bed won't hold two 34 year olds and an 8 year old.

When he'd let me, I held Henry tight. I was worried about Gram.

Tuesday night I'd gotten got a call from my mom. Another trip from the care facility to the hospital meant another diagnosis that didn't look good for Gram, who wasn't conscious Tuesday night. By 10:00 I was breathing into Henry's hair, trying to ground myself with tangible family.

*    *    *

Before Gram's latest trip to the hospital, her room in the care facility looked more like it was her room. By Wednesday it was bare again. There wasn't much to look at besides the carrot. The din of nurses and patients in the hallway carried in. I stared out the door and tried to picture the mauve and gray-blue decor in their heyday. I couldn't.

What do you say to somebody who is going to die?

Truthfully, I never really knew what to say to someone who was going to be born. I didn't talk to my belly when I was pregnant, other than to joke around. My inexperience with death means I haven't had to do this a lot yet. I have as much guilt about that as sadness. Wednesday I sat in the chair and considered the carrot and thought about whether or not there was something I should say to someone if today might be the last time.

When Gram was talking, I went with it. I talked about her green balloon, the nurses, anything that would catch her fancy. But then she was asleep again, kicking through her memories. I couldn't talk at her.

I tried praying, then staring. Neither felt right.

I just kept being.

*    *    *

Tuesday night, Henry's anxious body relaxed in a manner of minutes. I could feel him soften next to me as I finished watching TV. Eventually he was breathing rhythmically and clutching Green and Puppy under the flannel sheets, our cocoon allowing him to finally give in to sleep.

*    *    *

Wednesday, Gram eventually woke up. When the nurse came to bring her medicine, I got about a half hour of good conversation with her, and by then my sister had joined us. We talked about work, the kids, the staff at the facility. She called me by name, and by the time I left I knew that when I said "I love you," she knew it was me and she understood it.

Gram's gift to me was in something she mumbled as she started herself awake for just a moment in the afternoon, though. After the camellia. Somewhere in that hour that I sat and looked at the carrot smudge, wondering what to do with myself. 

One of my favorite memories with her is of my whole family gathered for a dinner or some holiday, recounting how when they were young, they were all jumping to touch the ceiling, and they dared Grandma to do it. My memory is of them all reenacting Gram's swinging arm jump, and of Gram herself laughing and retelling the story as everyone mimicked the back and forth of her arms.

When she startled awake, she looked across the room at the closet.

"They should paint that whole ceiling that color."


"There's no way in the world I'd ever be able to touch it, though."

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