I knew this day would be coming, and I knew I would be flooded with guilt. Double. I got a call this morning from my mom, telling me that my grandmother, her mother, was on her way. She has been in assisted living, dementia care and rehabilitation centers for years now, and has somehow managed to hang on for much longer than any of us ever thought. Even 15 years ago she wouldn’t always remember who I was. She knew I was related, but couldn’t quite figure out who I was.
So she’s on her way out. I’m not all that sad, it’s a timely passing. She’s two months shy of 94, and even with good care has little quality of life. Sometimes my mom and I wonder to each other if she’s even in there. The guilt though, is kind of overwhelming. I sat with her today, when she didn’t even know I was there. Pie met her great-grandmother today. Neither will remember it. Even though I’ve lived 20 minutes away for the past year, I’ve never been to visit. She wasn’t well enough to come to my wedding. I think it has been 3 or 4 years since I’ve seen her. Not that she would remember, but she would have had some small comfort while someone sat with her for a few minutes, even if she couldn’t remember it as I walked out the door.
The guilt is compounded though, when I think about the same neglect my Oma saw after my Opa died. When Opa was going, dad called me at work. I left the office and got on a plane. No toothbrush, no underwear. I just went. I got on the plane, and it sat on the tarmac. For two hours. It wouldn’t go. When we finally arrived in San Jose, I turned on my phone and my dad had left me a message that Opa was gone. I cried, sitting on the plane, while everyone else disembarked, and until a flight attendant told me that I had to get off the plane so they could clean around my seat. I hadn’t made it to say goodbye.
After Opa’s funeral I didn’t call my Oma enough. I love my Oma, I named my Pie after her. But it was so hard to talk to her with the huge vacancy left by my Opa. Not getting to talk to him made it so hard for me to talk to her. Two years after my Opa died, my Oma was coming to live with my parents. My dad was flying down to pick her up and bring her back up to Seattle. She died while she was getting ready that morning. I had been planning to spend a lot of time with her when she was here, when I could be with her in person. I told myself that it meant more, that all would be forgiven, that I could make up for lost time. I never got the chance.
And here I am, with my last grandparent passing, and again, I didn’t spend the time with her I wish I had. It was too hard for me, over the past 4 years, to see her in a bed, unaware of what was going on around her, mumbling to herself. Sometimes she was better, sometimes worse. But I wasn’t there. I stayed away so I wouldn’t have to face it. And now she’s going, and I can’t spend all day there. I have a three-month old who needs a nap. People there are sick, I can’t expose her too much.
I hope that I never have to endure the absence of my family. I hope I go before it’s too hard for my family to be with me. And if I do experience the absence, I hope I am able to understand that I’m not forgotten.
And I will do better. I will make sure people know I love them. I will be around.