It’s happened dozens of times. Grandma and I will be sitting watching TV and out of nowhere she’ll say something random. Sometimes it’s in relation to a show we’re watching on TV. Sometimes she’s not paying attention to TV at all, but is drifting in that space between being asleep and awake.
The first time I heard her say something nonsequiter was a few years ago, after she moved in with my Mom. I was home visiting and was staying in the loft above the living room. Downstairs, I heard Grandma making a fire in the fireplace. It was early and the house was cold. I started getting up and heard her say it, plain as day.
“I want to go home.”
I sat on the edge of the bed, shocked and saddened. My brother and I had moved her in with Mom a few months previous, so my first thought was she was talking about her old apartment in Utah. There was something about the way she said it, though. “I want to go hoooooome”. More plea than anything. To no one in particular. It sounded so lonely and so…sad.
Now she says both “I want to go home” and “I want to die” more or less interchangeably. It’s like a little snippet of prayer escaping her lips. It used to really shake me, especially the way she says it, drawing out the vowels…These days, though, I just take it as an honest outward expression of what she wants. She’s done. She’s tired. Nearly everyone she’s ever known has preceded her in death.
I get it. She’s had a good, long life. Now she mostly sleeps and sits in silence, one hearing aid in but turned off, the other missing but forgotten until she goes to get ready for bed. Invariably, the other hearing aid is in the other room, where it’s been since she last got up from bed. She has enough self-awareness still to be frustrated by the way her body and mind are abandoning her.
She sometimes says to me “It’s not fair that a young (HA!) man should have to take care of an old creature like me”. I tell her that she’s overlooking the very real possibility that she might be taking care of me. When I think of all the changes in my life the past couple of years I see just how true that is.
Her outward expressions of her inner voice aren’t all about death, however. She’s very judgmental of people she sees on TV. Sometimes it makes perfect sense. She’ll burst out with “NO! I don’t LIKE him/her!” and I’ll look to see that there is a tattooed biker or a woman with a short skirt or revealing outfit. She comes from a different generation.
This is the woman for whom the Olympic gymnasts at last summer’s London games were too risque. Every time the gymnasts (or swimmers…or runners or…athletes of any kind) were competing I’d hear “I think they’d be more comfortable if they put more clothes on”. My brother and I started referring to the Olympic gymnasts as “gymnasties”. Grandma didn’t find the humor in it, but we sure did.
Sometimes her outbursts make no sense at all. She’ll say “I HATE him” and I’ll look at the TV and it will be a CPA on an H&R Block commercial and I’ll wonder what she’s got against CPAs…or maybe it’s just taxes? More likely she’s half-awake and her mind has drifted to some long-ago memory involving someone she didn’t like or a traumatic event. It’s hard to tell.
Last night we were watching the local news and she said it – “…I don’t like him…”
“Who’s that, Grandma?”
She pointed at the TV. At Jeff Renner, the KING-5 weatherman.
“He’s got a smug look about him”….
Don’t take it personally, Jeff. At least she’s not saying you’d be more comfortable with more clothes on.
Though, would it kill ya to bring us some sun?
Bless you, Rob, for not denying her feelings or telling her she shouldn’t want to die because ( list ….). It was so hard to listen to his family when my ex-husband’s grandmother was at that point. She would say, I want to die. And everyone would tell her no you don’t, or we need you here because we love you. It was so appalling to me. So whenever we were alone and she said it to me I would tell her that I was sad to hear it, but if that was how she felt then that was how she felt. She would say that yes, that was how she felt, and stay sitting with me.
It was so sad that no one in her real family would listen to or respect her feelings. She got frailer and frailer and died about a year after I had to leave Seattle.
I had the pleasure of caring for my Grandma until her passing. Once while we were brushing her teeth and getting ready for bed, she said to me, I’m sorry you have to take care of this crazy old lady, or something to that effect. I looked at her in astonishment. No, I declared emphatically, it’s my pleasure to be able to take care of you Grandma. And I meant it. She was my best friend. Norma is teaching you how to age gracefully, how to come to terms with the ending of your life here on earth. Not everyone does it well. I know several who are making their end of life miserable for everyone, much like they did in youth, not much changes as you age. If anything it just becomes amplified, like when you suddenly come into money. Money doesn’t make you a nicer person, it just amplifies your true self. As I raise my children, we talk a lot about when I’m old, what they are to do. I’m far from ready to give up the joie de vie, but I want them to know how I want it to be. I want to be with them, as my Grandma wanted to be with me. I want to share their days and nights, their kids, and grandkids. I want to be part of the family, not put away in a home waiting for them to come and visit. The ending of a life, is a beginning of new journey, going home as Norma says. I know for a fact that my Grandma’s mom was calling her home, I heard her, heard Grandma say, coming Mama! Like when she was a little girl, climbing down from a tree in Mapulehu. Going Home, home where the rest of her family and friends were waiting for her.
I love that….so touching! I only hope that some nice family with younger people adopts me, or I die young since I don’t have kids of my own…
Such beautiful shared moments. My grandmother was very similar from about the time she turned 100 until she died two years later. She’d lie in her bed and say she was just ready to die. She’d already outlived many of her 12 children and was very tired, but the thoughts of death were not her constant companion.
And as far as Mr. Renner goes, I bet he was wearing his black turtleneck the day Norma didn’t like him.