April 16, 2012
Today is my grandmother’s birthday. No one remembers exactly how old she is, or cares. The four of us, my mother, father, brother and I, are going to visit her in the hospital. We bring a cake, although she probably won’t be allowed to eat it.
The drive is long and bleak. The sky is slowly getting grayer, and the air smells of rain. We don’t talk much, and the silence is heavy, yet calm. We mostly take backroads, passing lots of corn and farms. We rarely pass other cars.
When we arrive, the sky is dark and menacing, threatening to release a torrent of rain upon us. We hurry inside, my mother carrying the cake.
The hospital is far too bright. The lights are fluorescent and blinding. The walls are pale aqua, a color far too nice for such a harsh place. Almost everything else is in shades of white or gray.
My father asks the nurse at the desk for the room number. She smiles, all too cheerfully, and says that she’ll take us up herself.
We follow her through the long hallways and to the elevator. Up, up, up. Grandma is on floor 17. My stomach churns as we near her door. We haven’t seen her in a few months. Will she remember us? How sick is she really? It can’t be too bad if she’s still allowed to have visitors, right?
The nurse unlocks the door and tells us to wait outside for a moment. She slips inside, and we can faintly hear her talking to Grandma.
I can’t quite make out what they’re saying, but it sounds okay.
The nurse comes back out after a minute and tells us to go inside.
“There’s a green button next to the bed. Press it if you need me.”
My mother nods, and we enter. The room is small, with just enough room for a bed, a few chairs, and a small table. There is a closet and a mirror on one wall. Everything is white.
Grandma is sitting up on the bed, propped up against several pillows. Her skin is brown and wrinkled, and her long, white hair is neatly braided. She is wearing a plain gray nightgown and fuzzy cat socks. Her eyes are clear, and she smiles at us.
“Well, come in! Set that down on the table, will you Josie?” Her voice is strong, not quiet and wavering like I had expected.
My mother looks surprised, but does as she asks, then sits in the chair next to the bed. My brother goes and sits on the end of the bed, by Grandma’s feet. My father takes the chair on the other side. I stand at the foot of the bed.
“Happy Birthday Mom,” my father murmured, gently taking her hand.
My mother turns to my brother and I, smiling. “Shall we sing?”
My sister nods eagerly. I just smile.
“One, Two, Three...” We sing Happy Birthday, and for a moment we can forget where we are, and pretend everything’s okay. But it’s not.
“That-” Grandma breaks off coughing.
“Should I get a nurse?” My mother asks. Grandma waves her hand dismissively while her body shakes. It takes a minute before she’s recovered enough to speak.
“I’m fine. That was beautiful, thank you.”
My mother hands her a glass of water, which she accepts, though she barely sips it before handing it back. My father frowns a bit, but doesn’t say anything.
“Now then,” she says, smiling broadly. “Did you bring cards? I may be bedridden but my mind’s still sharp!”
My father smiles, though it doesn’t reach his eyes, and pulls a deck of cards from his pocket.
We talk and play games for a few hours. Grandma asks my brother and I about school, which doesn’t last long, but we end up talking about books. We’re having a very in-depth discussion about To Kill A Mockingbird when someone knocks on the door.
A nurse pokes her head in.
“I’m so sorry to interrupt, but your visiting time is up.”
My father looks down at his watch.
“Wow. It’s 5:30 already.” He stands, pulling on his jacket. “I guess we have to go, Mom.”
My mother and brother stand, and I put my sweatshirt back on.
“It was good to see you, Eleanor,” my mother says. “Happy birthday.”
“It was so nice having you here!” Grandma smiles. “Visit again soon, okay?”
“Okay.” My father squeezes her hand. “I love you, Mom.”
She reaches up and pats his cheek. “I love you, son.”
“Love you Grandma.” My brother goes to kiss her cheek.
“Love you Grandma,” I echo.
“I love you too,” she says.
There is no goodbye. We leave.
Out the door, down the hall, into the elevator, through the winding, whitewashed hallways. Past the nice woman at the desk, out the front door. It has started to rain.
September 24, 2012
This time it’s just me and my friend Max going to visit Grandma. My mother and father are busy with work, and my brother has school. We have the day off. Max only has a permit, not a license, but hopefully we look old enough that we won’t be pulled over. We’ll hardly see any people anyway.
Grandma has been released from the hospital, and is now in a nursing home. I haven’t seen her since July.
It is a far shorter drive this time, only about 45 minutes. The outside of the nursing home is plain but cheerful. It looks like a squat little house, with tan walls and dull red shutters. The lawn is green and clearly well maintained. There are flowers decorating the sign proclaiming it as Silver Ridge, and flower baskets hanging from the porch.
“Should we go in?” Max asks.
I nod, exiting the car.
The inside of Silver Ridge is nice. Almost everything is in earthy colors. There are several tables and chairs arranged nicely in the front of the main room. There is kitchen area off to the right. In the back of the room couches and armchairs are arranged around a fireplace with a TV above it. Two long hallways extend out to the left and right. The living quarters are along those.
“My father said that Grandma’s room in the right hallway, down near the end. Room 14.”
We don’t speak as we walk down the hall. Soon we are standing in front of her door. Max knocks.
There is no answer. I push open the door and see Grandma sitting on a dark green couch to our right. She has a pillow on her lap with a newspaper on top of it. There are no lights on in the room, so it is solely illuminated by the large window on the right wall. She has the TV on, but her eyes are glazed and unfocused. She is wearing a loose nightshirt and pajama pants and her hair is tangled and loose around her shoulders.
“Grandma?” I ask quietly. She doesn’t seem to hear me.
We walk all the way into the room and Max gently closes the door behind us. The only light comes from the window at the end of the room. There is a small kitchen to our left which looks mildly unused. Two doors hang ajar ahead of us, leading into the bedroom and bathroom. The whole space looks nice, though it is sparsely furnished, and not very colorful. A few photographs decorate the walls.
I slowly go over to Grandma and kneel beside her.
“Grandma? It’s me, Bryn.” I touch her hand, dry as paper.
She blinks, turning her head to look at me. “Oh, hello dear. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Grandma, this is my friend-”
Her gasp of surprise cuts me off. She has turned and seen Max standing by the door.
“Zachary? Is that you?”
“No, Grandma,” I say. “That’s Max.”
She ignores me, standing to see him better.
“Why haven’t you come to see me before?” She asks, taking a step towards him.
My heart sinks. Zachary was her first child, my father’s older brother. He was killed in a car crash a couple years ago. Grandma didn’t take it well, only a year after Grandpa had his heart attack. Max is about his height, and has dark hair like Zachary did, but that is where the similarities end. Zachary was slender where Max is broad, and had more defined features.
Max looks at me uncertainly. I shake my head.
“I’m really not Zachary,” he says. “My name is Max.”
Grandma smiles. “You always did like to pull pranks. Come, sit down. I’ll make some tea.”
“I can do that,” I offer.
Grandma nods, sitting back down stiffly. “Alright.”
I go to the kitchen and start some water, searching the cupboards for teabags. When I turn back to them to bring the cups into the living room I see that Max is sitting next to Grandma on the couch. She is holding one of his hands in hers as he talks animatedly, gesturing wildly with his other hand. Grandma is laughing. Laughing!
I stand watching for a moment, frozen. I am surprised, but glad. If Grandma believing that her son is back is what it takes to get her to laugh, I will let her believe. I could not tell her now, when she looks so happy. Is it wrong? Is it the same as lying? Maybe. But I push the thought to the back of my mind and smile, bringing them the tea, and soaking up my grandmother’s joy as much as I can.
Too soon we have to leave. Too soon, the smile fades from Grandma’s face as she realizes she will be left alone once again.
We stand, Grandma with a little difficulty.
I bend down and give her a hug, trying to give her joy and warmth through my body.
“You’re getting so tall,” she murmurs.
She turns and hugs Max as well, and though he looks a little unsure, he hugs back.
“I’ll walk you to the door,” she says.
“Okay.” I say, not wanting to leave her alone in her room again.
She clutches Max’s arm the whole walk to the door, maneuvering around tables and chairs. A few of the residents greet her as she walks by, and she smiles at them. A nurse standing in the kitchen sees us by the door and comes towards us, though she stays a little ways away.
I hug Grandma again.
“I love you Grandma.”
“I love you too,” she says. We make eye contact, and though she is smiling, her eyes look sad.
She pats Max’s shoulder. “I’ll see you soon?”
We slowly walk towards the door, not wanting to go. Once we’re outside, I look back and see that the nurse has come over to talk to Grandma and is leading her toward a table with a few other residents.
I smile, and catch up to Max, who is almost at the car.
December 6, 2012
It is a Thursday night, and the four of us are sitting around the table in the dining room playing cards. Outside it is cold and dark, but tucked away inside we are warm and cheery.
The phone rings. My mother sighs and puts down her cards, then stands to answer it.
“Hello?” She listens for a minute, her eyebrows drawing together. “I see. Thank you. Do you want to tell him yourself?” After a moment she hands the phone to my father. “It’s your sister. You may want to go into the study.”
Looking a little confused, he takes the phone and leaves the room.
My brother looks up at my mother, frowning. “What is it, Mom?”
“It’s your grandmother, Saf. She passed away this afternoon.”
I feel like time slows down. I stand, pushing my chair back. My brother’s head drops into his hands.
I run to the door, barely pausing to shove my feet into my shoes before opening the door and bounding down the porch steps. I hear my mother behind me, calling for me to wait, but I ignore her. My feet pound the sidewalk as I run down the street to Max’s house. I am so grateful he lives in the same neighborhood.
I knock loudly, probably rudely. Only now that I am standing still do I realize that it is freezing. My breath comes in huge clouds.
Max pulls the door open just as I am about to knock again.
“Bryn?” He looks surprised.
“Oh thank goodness. Can I come in? I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah of course,” he says, stepping aside.
I come inside and he closes the door. I usually marvel at how clean and organized his house is, but not today. I collapse onto the ground, leaning against the door. He sits down next to me.
“What’s wrong?” His voice is concerned.
“I- Grandma’s dead.” My voice cracks and I bury my face in my arms.
“Wow.” Max sighs softly, and puts his arm around me.
“Let’s go upstairs,” he says. I nod, not ready to speak.
Max leads me up to his room and we sit on his bed.
“She was getting better,” I say, knowing that my voice sounds ridiculous. “They let her out of the hospital. They said she was okay.” I look up at Max. “Why does this have to happen?”
He shakes his head sadly. “I don’t know, Bryn. I don’t know.”
I reach up and wipe at my face, trying to stop the tears that have begun streaming down my face.
“Ugh, I was trying not to cry.” My head drops.
“Hey, it’s okay. Let it out.” Max says, reaching over to hug me.
I can’t take how warm and comforting he is. It all starts to pour out.
“I knew, knew it was only a matter of time. Everyone dies eventually. I didn’t think it would be so soon. And Dad, he’s lost his brother and his father and his mother within four years. How is it ever going to be okay again?” I’m pretty sure my words are almost incomprehensible.
Max just rubs circles on my back, whispering comforting words. I lean on him heavily, sobbing loudly. I can’t bring myself to care.
After a little while, I quiet down and sit up.
“Jeez, I got your shirt all wet.” I try to laugh but it comes out as a cough.
Max hands me a tissue, which I accept gratefully.
“Do you want to talk about her?” He asks.
I shake my head. “Not yet. Can you tell me a joke?”
“Okay. What do you call a sidewalk covered in ice?”
“That’s terrible.” But I’m smiling.
Max eventually gets me to laugh and I go home feeling a little better. I promise to call him later.
When I get back I see my parents are sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace with my brother in between them. My father’s eyes are red and puffy, and my brother is holding a box of tissues. I walk over and sit down next to my father. He puts his arm around me and tries to smile.
“We’ll be alright, yeah?”
I’m not sure how, but I nod. I must doze off sitting there because I wake up in my bed a few hours later. I try to fall back asleep, but Grandma’s words echo in my head. See you soon?
And that’s when I realize, I never said goodbye.