Today, my family and I went on a trek to see the two grandmas,one in a Senior facility who can still play cards and tell jokes and another, my Nana, who is slowly being eaten away by alzheimer's in a nursing home. I saw Nana first and this is about our time together.
A long time ago, I stopped looking for the Nana I remember from childhood, or even from the Nana I remember from ten years ago, when her green-gray eyes still twinkled with mischief and laughter and her high, well-defined cheekbones still held more than a hint of the beauty that she was as a younger wife and mother; when she could follow conversations and make complete sentences. Now, I look for a stooped woman in a wheelchair with a flurry of frail, pure white hair, sunken eyes that are growing hazy with age and skin that seems papery thin. Today, she was in the common room, where the TV is, snoozing in her wheelchair with oxygen pumped in her nose. I touched her arm and called her name. She stirred, glanced at me, and closed her eyes again. I pulled up a chair and started stroking her her arm, calling her name again. Her eyelids remained closed. I walked over to the nurses and asked if she had taken a turn for the worse. Gravely, they all nodded affirmations. However, they also encouraged me to stay by her side and hold her hand and just be satisfied with being with her. So I steeled myself to spend the next 30 minutes or so just holding her hand and seeing if she would respond to my small, gentle acts of love. I sat down stroked her hand and said the magic words: "Nana, I love you!"
Her eyes popped open and she looked at me with renewed interest and almost seemed to recognize me. Her mouth reformed into a big wide grin, not quite the same as twenty years ago, but almost familiar. It started a whole long "conversation" between us, two old friends, two co-conspirators, two travelers of memory lane. She would "talk", which really was more similar to baby sounds than anything else, and I would almost understand her at times. I would tell her my stories and then we would share stories of our trip to California, her camping as a young girl with her parents, the times we would pretend to be police officers (CHiPs with chicks). Every once in a while, she would laugh the laugh that I remembered hearing and couldn't help but laugh with her from the joy of hearing it, even though I had no idea what she had just told me. I told her about my kids and showed her the washcloth I was knitting, though I assured her that it wasn't as beautiful as the things she had knit for me. I told her about saving the dresses she had made for me for my daughters, when they got older. When I showed her pictures of my kids and told her that they were her great-grandchildren, she made a snort and seemed to say "I'm not THAT old!" She never did like the idea of being old enough to be a great-grandmother, though she loved her great grandchildren as much as she loved her grandchildren and her children. I told her that she was a wonderful grandmother and gave her a kiss and a hug. Our time was almost over. My husband and the kids were waiting outside in the parking lot. She didn't seem to mind that I was leaving, or maybe didn't understand. I gave her final kisses and hugs and left.
I feel blessed to still be able to spend time with her and know that there is still small part of the Nana I knew that is awake and alive. And if there comes a time when those three magic words no longer have meaning to her, then I will be content sitting silently with her, holding her hand and showing her a small part of the love she has shown me over the years.