Today would have been my grandma’s 90th birthday. She died four and a half years ago. I miss her very much, and I wish I would have learned more from her when I had the chance. This is a Facebook note I wrote just after she died, describing the last time I saw her.
I don’t know why I focused so hard on the thermometer, a big white one that looks like your garden-variety classroom clock. The temperature was sixty degrees, and it seemed to stay that way for an hour and a half. It was probably the most prominent item within my field of vision, since I couldn’t bear to look at my grandma except with fleeting glances, each of which would throw me into a frenzy of concern. Is she still breathing? Her chest was so still as she flirted with death, but each new breath eventually came, rhythmic as any metronome.
My mom had called me yesterday to tell me that she expects my grandmother will be dead by the end of the week. I hadn’t answered that phone call, but instead heard the steady, self-medicated voice break way into sobs in the form of a voice mail. She told me that I should visit her as soon as I could, since it would probably be my last chance.
But what do you talk about with someone who barely knows you’re in the room? She was eating breakfast when I arrived, and though I touched her on the hand and she looked up at me, she looked away and forgot I was there. She was feeding herself, spilling sloppy bits of oatmeal onto her blouse as I looked on like I was on novocaine. It is difficult to converse with one afflicted with dementia, and so I decided to try something else. I brought my guitar with me, set up a chair in front of her, and played for her every calm and soothing song I could think of as I stared at the thermometer out the window.
I played every song I could think of: “Naked as We Came,” “Hallelujah,” “If I Stand….” Even if the song dealt with death. When I finished singing my last chorus — I will hang my head, hang my head low… — she looked at me through the grayness in her eyes and told me, “I’m glad I could live long enough to hear you play again.”