Grandma is under hospice care now. Mom and Dad have been to see her in the home every day since the stroke, which left a blood clot in her brain and rendered her virtually helpless. They don’t know how lucid she actually is, because the stroke took away her ability to speak beyond the merest whisper. Mom told me Grandma can’t even summon the energy to drink broth through a straw. Grandma is 84.
We don’t know how much longer she’ll last. It could be hours or days or weeks or months. She has battled Parkinson’s, heart disease, high blood sugar, dementia, and breast cancer. So, it hasn’t been easy in recent years for her or for Mom, who undertook Grandma’s care with the kind of matter-of-fact determination that can be considered nothing short of quiet heroism.
The last time we saw Grandma was Thanksgiving. She knew me, or some shadow person she thinks of as me, but her mind was not sharp. We took the boys to the home and they liked playing with Grandma’s toy cats. If they retain any memory of her, it will be those cats. That’s fine. That’s good, because Grandma loves cats. She’s OK with dogs, too, certainly. I remember one rat terrier she had in the ‘70s, Cookie. She loved that dog. Something bad happened and Cookie died, but that was almost 40 years ago and I still remember the dog’s name so it must have made an impression on me.
More recently, I remember Grandma and her cats. She isn’t a Cat Lady, capital C and L. She just loves them, and now the boys will hopefully associate cats with their great-grandma when they remember her. I believe my love for cats was influenced by her. I definitely love them, and we do share a history with cats, and she lived with us by the time I had my first pet cat. By extension, the love of cats she passed to me has been passed to my sons. I like that. She also “inherited” my first cat, a pretty gray tabby I named Cattae (for some reason), when we moved to Florida and left Grandma in North Carolina in 1982.
When Mom and Dad moved back north, Grandma kept a couple of cats at her duplex, then at the manufactured home where she lived on the family farm. At the room where she lives now in the home, there are stuffed toy cats and photos of cats and cat paintings. There is also a mechanical cat that meows and walks. She keeps it on the bedside table. That’s the one the boys really wanted to play with. They have one like it here at home. They don’t know their great-grandma (Gigi, they’ve been told to call her), but maybe they’ll remember the cats. I hope so.
During that brief visit at Thanksgiving, Grandma seemed delighted to see the boys. She didn’t know who they were, really, but I think she understood for a fleeting moment that they were my sons. She asked, “Cawtah, how old is that young ‘un?” She meant Chris. “He’s three, Grandma.” And then, a minute later, she asked, “Cawtah, how old is that young ‘un?” And so it went. The boys played with the cats, Grandma inquired about the age of the younger one, I told her he was three, we took some pictures, and then we left. Does it matter if that was the last time I saw her? No, it doesn’t. I remember it, I suppose, because we are always conscious that any visit to a nursing home might be the “last” time. But that’s not how I’ll remember Grandma.
I’ll remember that she’s left-handed and prideful of that fact. It sets her apart, as did her bright red hair before it finally went gray very late in her life.
I’ll remember she took us bowling in the summers of our youth. My brother and I are not bowlers, but I remember Grandma was pretty good, with a natural left-handed hook.
I’ll remember that she called me “Cawtah,” and that she and Pa Pa used the word “presently” to mean “soon,” and that they pronounced it “prez-nee.” It was the dialect of the Virginia-North Carolina border, where Northampton County actually is south of Southampton County, and where I caught my first fish on a cane pole.
I’ll remember going to the Outer Banks with Grandma and Pa Pa, visiting Nag’s Head and Kill Devil Hills and the Wright Brothers Memorial. Those giant sand dunes at Kill Devil Hills, so tall people could hang glide off of them, are an enduring image of my childhood.
I’ll remember going with Grandma to see a production of the Lost Colony, the story of Sir Walter Raleigh and the mysterious disappearance of the 17th century Roanoke settlement, and that Lady Bird Johnson was also in the audience.
I’ll remember Grandma came to live with us after Pa Pa died when I was in the fourth grade. I’ll remember she came to me on the night of Pa Pa’s funeral and told me it was OK to cry.
I’ll remember Grandma’s passion for our family history, which she began to research in earnest shortly after she moved in with us. Mom and Dad picked up the genealogical mantle and took it much further back, with much more detailed documentation, but Grandma lit that spark.
I’ll remember playing Scrabble with her – and losing more often than not.
I’ll remember Grandma’s delight when she talked about going dancing with Tadlock, the man who became her friend after we moved to Florida.
I’ll remember how much she loved to go up to “the” WalMart to visit with her friends.
I’ll remember that she paid for my violin lessons when I was in elementary school. I wish now I hadn’t quit that to play baseball. But I still remember how to play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.
And I’ll remember that she always thought the best of me. She always says I have a good heart. I don’t know how she reached that conclusion, but I’d like to think she’s right. I hope she’s right. And when she’s gone, I will always remember that she was someone who saw me as I would like to be seen. We all need that, someone to willfully suspend judgment and look past our glaring faults and see the good inside. Grandma does that for me. I’m going to miss that. I’m going to miss her.