My grandmother had a stroke last week. Considering everything, she's doing amazingly well. When I visited yesterday, she was sitting in a wheelchair, drinking strawberry Ensure. She said "talk to me," and I found that I was out of words. I finally leaned into her ear and shouted some about teaching. It seems as if she is going to recover, something we wouldn't have imagined last week. I'm so conflicted though. Getting old in America is brutal.
My grandmother was moved from the hospital to a nursing home, as she can't return to her assisted living apartment. The hospital nursing home is temporary--while we look for a better place. There were four ladies in my grandmother's room. The one across from my grandmother asked me what time it was. She was waiting for lunch. "You just can't imagine how hungry a body can get," she told me. I offered to find someone to bring her a meal, but she told me there were 10 aides and over 100 patients and not to bother. The meal did come before I left. While I was in the hall, a nurse walked by with a baby and you could see each person's eyes brighten as the baby passed by--the baby also helpless, also needing constant care, but cute and portable.
Yesterday, we moved my grandmother's things out of her apartment. I took her table--it is lovely and I have been living for many years without one. But I said no to the nick-knacks, to all the elephants my grandmother has collected, with their trunks down, not up--a detail of vital importance to her. I should mention that I'm not entirely without a heart, I have a beautiful quilt my grandmother has made. But I am interested in the items that we cherish but others do not. In Finland, my aunt and I sorted through my grandfather's slides--this was about a year after his death--and we threw most away. They were pictures purchased (lovingly) from museum gift shops. They were also pictures he took of strangers, people he had met on his travels: a smiling tour guide, a church elder. We kept only the pictures that captured our faces or those we recognized. I thought of my photo albums, and how they will be viewed by others. Picture of Salzburg? Throw away. Picture of smiling pig advertisement? Throw away. Picture of cow? Throw away. Picture of graduation? Keep. (or so I hope)