Limbo, that’s what I’m in. I’m afraid what I’m writing will sound like an obituary. It’s not. I don’t know how much longer that will be true. I want to write some things down so that I’ll remember them and so that I’ll remember that I was ready for whatever happens in the next few days. Or at least, I think I’m ready. I guess that’s the way life works. With all the big stuff, Stephen and I decide we’re ready and then we jump in and find out how much it is true. Except this time, there’ll be no jumping, only waiting.
Last Monday my mom called and said that my Grandmother was in the hospital. The doctors thought she’d had a heart attack but she was sitting up and laughing and talking about her upcoming 60th wedding anniversary she was planning. My mom didn’t sound worried so I went about my day. Tuesday rolled on and in the late afternoon, Eli and I began our usual preparations for Tuesday Night Supper/Movie Club. My mom called sometime between 4 and 5 p.m. to say that my Grandmother had had two more heart attacks and now had heavy internal bleeding. The doctors had called two code blues on her and put her on a ventilator. My mom had been crying. I stopped for a moment and contemplated that my Grandmother might not make it. Before I could get too upset, Stephen arrived home from work. Bless my husband for knowing what is important in this life. His first words after I told him the situation were, “Pack your stuff.” We debated leaving that evening but decided it would be better to hit the road fresh the next morning.
When we arrived on Wednesday, we picked my Mom up and went to the hospital for the 2 o’clock visitation. The Critical Care Unit has visiting half-hours — not even whole hours, the people are that sick. My mom had prepared me so I wasn’t shocked by how my Grandmother looked. At first I didn’t know what to do or say. My mom was rubbing my Grandmother’s hair. For some reason that surprised me even though I know that when someone is in the hospital, talking to them and touching them is important for recovery. I handled that first visitation pretty well. No tears. I was sad but all the news was good. Doctors expected her to be off the ventilator by the next day.
At the 5 o’clock visit, she was awake. I held her hand and we chatted, or, rather, the visiting crowd chatted while she looked around and squeezed people’s hands. I don’t remember who was also in the room, but when I started out to change places with someone in the waiting room, I told her I loved her and she looked at me with her eyes that are the same as Eli’s and she squeezed my hand.
I will thank God for the rest of my life that I had that moment with her. I pray she recovers, but if she doesn’t, I can hold onto that moment knowing that I said all I needed to say.
I am a lucky girl. I have four living grandparents. Eli has seven living great-grandparents. Not many people my age can say they have that many living extended family members. Stephen’s maternal grandfather was buried one exact year before Eli was born. Stephen’s mother has said several times that Eli’s birth on that day was a Godsend. I understood that with my head but only this week came to understand what that can mean to a heart that is broken from the loss of a loved one.
This makes it sound that I was especially close with my Grandmother. We aren’t estranged by any stretch of the imagination, but I think that, because I have lived away from home for so long, I have let a certain sense of neglect for all of my extended family grow. Not because I didn’t care or don’t want to know what is happening with them, but because of distance and time and all of us living our lives. I have fabulous memories of my grandparents and I think those very memories are what has made it so easy to think I have all the time in the world to say what needs to be said or to spend a few more hours with them.
By Saturday, I was discouraged. She had been sedated several different times. All of us who went in held her hands and carried on various conversations across her bed. Mom and I went for retail therapy before lunch and talked about when it was time to let her go. I was starting to wonder about how much truth the doctors were telling us about her recovery prognosis. Stephen gave Mom and me his standard rational pep talk adapted to fit our particular situation, which I wanted to believe with all my heart. We left to spend the night at my dad’s house knowing we were going home on Sunday. I hugged my mom extra tight when I said, “I love you.”
Every bit of our trip to Arkansas was dichotomous. We would spend time with my grandmother in the hospital room and then spend time visiting family in the waiting room. I saw all my cousins and almost all of their kids and spouses. I saw all my aunts and uncles and all their spouses and even some of their exes. I spent some really wonderful time with my grandfather and got to watch him play with Eli. I got to see Eli make friends with my cousin Daniel’s daughter, who is five months Eli’s junior. On Thursday, due to a previously-scheduled meeting, Stephen’s parents drove to Little Rock and we spent a bit of time with them. On Friday, Stephen, Eli, and I had lunch with my best friend at The Purple Cow. Saturday morning, Eli and my mom played in her garden. Saturday night we spent some much-needed time decompressing at my dad’s house. It is truly amazing how much trouble my dad and my son can stir up together. Sunday night found us back home, with nothing having changed with my grandmother.
I’d like to have a particular anecdote to tell about my grandmother so that you would have a sense of her life. I don’t have just one to tell. I can tell you that she loves to tend her vegetable garden. She has a passion for crocheting, embroidering, and quilting. She would let Daniel and me jump on the bed when our parents weren’t home. She came to visit me for my birthday a couple of years ago and she was amazed at the cotton fields around our house and how the picked cotton mounds up on the side of the road during harvest time. She let me try on all of her lipsticks (usually at the same time) when I was a little girl. She washed my clothes every Sunday during my six weeks at Governor’s School. I always take the best naps on her couch. These are the things that make up my memories of her.
So what do I say to conclude? I don’t have any new information. We’re all still waiting. We’re all still in limbo.