I spent far too much time inside my own head yesterday. Ruminating, fixating, turning the same thoughts over and over like talismans, good luck charms. Smoothing their rough edges and worrying them like stones.
My thoughts ran like a song on repeat, an endless loop, an infinite spiral. Switching back upon themselves, overlapping, repeating. Repeating.
Yesterday morning I learned that my grandmother is in the hospital after waking up and being unable to make sense of her surroundings, unable to discern what to do with her breakfast.
I immediately tried to imagine her in a hospital gown, sharp-tongued and irascible.
Thin white hair crackling like a halo.
She and my grandaddy still live (did live?) on their own in a condo in downtown Toronto. They are a powerhouse; she the words, he the action. My recollections of them stretch right back to some of the earliest I am able to dig up, scrape from that foggy ether known as memory.
At the core of my ruminating, my worrying, lies a deep sense of foreboding.
She’s almost 86. An incredible woman, refined, proper, an unapologetic snob. As a child I would be reduced to tears for using the wrong fork, saying “done” instead of “finished”.
Unwilling pupils at her sometimes cruel pseudo-finishing school, my siblings and I often swore we hated her, crying hot angry tears into pillows. But she was capable too of immense swaths of love and because her standards were so impossibly high it was somehow worth more when you reached them and felt that shower of pleasure and acclaim rain down upon your thin shoulders.
Her hugs were backbreaking, she would engulf you in her arms and pat your back so violently it was borderline painful. When we left each summer she would always call “Good-bye” and that last syllable, “bye” would stretch out over two or three beats, “Good-bye-y-y”, lilting upwards in a sort of keening trill.
We have seen her change within the past few years. Her sharp tongue has softened, it’s been ages since she made anyone cry. When I visited last year she spent a lot of time sitting and staring off into space, we were beginning to feel the loss already.
I sound like I’m eulogizing her. I notice I’m writing in the past tense. Is this because I’m speaking in memories or because I’m already distancing myself? I don’t mean to be writing a eulogy, I’m trying to write the facts in black and white so they become more real to me, so that they gain a sort of permanence in my head. Is it bad luck to be writing like this? To be thinking like this? I’m acting as though she’s already gone. I can’t help myself. The thoughts keep looping, burrowing deeper and deeper.
I will see them in just over a week, my grandparents. And I am trying to gird myself for whatever meets me. I am trying to prepare myself to not know the frail old woman in the hospital bed. I’m trying to come to terms with the idea that she may not know me.
It’s the worst sort of loss, when first you find yourself mourning the absence of a persons mind, then, often much later, their body. Two small deaths, two periods of grieving, of acceptance.
(Is it really possible to ever, ever truly accept this?)
Before my Grampa on my Dad’s side died last year, we went to visit him. I wish it had never happened, I wish I could erase this particular memory. He looked like a carbon copy of himself, his same soft mustached face and tweed jacket. The same familiar smell of pipe tobacco, though it had been years since he smoked. My five siblings and I filed in, and sat down, happy to see him. But it quickly became clear to us that he, my Grampa as we knew him, simply wasn’t there.
He sat like an impostor, a fraud, babbling and speaking gibberish. This indomitable man, once one of Canada’s top lawyers, a man with seemingly inexhaustible amounts of intelligent debate, rolling conversation – dignity– was lost. He existed in some sort of fugue state, an in-between world where sometimes he knew your face, most of the time he didn’t.
That is the last memory I have of him. It was deeply wounding and selfishly, I wish I hadn’t seen him like that. I can’t un-see it. It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve had to wrap my head around, the dual, dueling states of existing but not-existing. The glaring absence of someone you love, despite their physical presence.
Is there anything crueler?
I guess this is what I’m afraid of. Why I keep focusing, fixating. Trying to breathe life into old memories of my divine grandmother. If I remember enough will these shadowy recollections take precedence, centre stage? Can they ever become strong enough to compete with whatever I find when I walk through that hospital doorway?
I don’t want to notice an absence. I don’t want to see my Grandaddy’s face as he stands by the bedside of his wife of over sixty years, trying to find her.
There’s nothing crueler. I’m not sure that all the fixating and preparing and writing in the past tense in the world could ever prepare me for this.
I’m not sure I can do it and what’s worse I’m not sure I want to.