My brother, sister-in-law, niece and I visited my grandparents in Cleveland yesterday. They are 97 and 95 and until this year, they lived in their house where my mom grew up. Now they are in a nursing home but they are still who they are. My grandma is having trouble with her memory, but she knows it, which is comforting and a little sad at the same time. Yesterday she and my granddad met Hannah, my niece, for the first time. My brother and I admitted we were a little reluctant about the visit, because we were sure it would be in no way fun, but it was actually a really amazing day.
We all woke up early on Sunday morning and piled into Owen’s car, made the two-and-a-half hour drive to the east side of town and got there around 10:30. My uncle met us at the nursing home and gave my grandparents printed sheets of paper that said the date, all of our names and our relation to them. He also made us all name tags. These proved to be very helpful and saved my grandma from some embarrassment. Also, my granddad is very deaf so reading was probably a lot easier for him then listening.
Jamie showed off Hannah to them and I went over to sit by my grandma.
“And you are Mary’s daughter?” she asked me. This information had been omitted from the print-out sheet from my uncle and once she asked the question I was afraid she’d ask it repeatedly throughout our visit.
“Yes,” I told her.
“And how long has she been gone now?” she asked me.
“Two years,” I said, holding up two fingers.
“Oh, two years,” she repeated.
And that was the only time my mom, or her absence, was mentioned. My grandma did, however, ask how old Hannah is every few minutes. “Five months,” Owen and Jamie told her patiently. We sat in a visiting room together and enjoyed watching my grandparents interact with Hannah. We got tons of pictures, at my dad’s request. He really wanted to make sure they got to meet the baby and now they have. I wish I had talked to my granddad more, but he is hard to talk with since he is so hard of hearing. But he seemed to enjoy the sugar cookies we brought with us from Cheryl & Co., so the visit was not without its perks for him I hope.
My grandma’s hair is all different now, and my granddad has different glasses. They are in wheelchairs but they can still walk, kind of. They are the oldest people I have ever met and I know there are people younger than them in worse shape. The best part of the day was when uncle asked my grandma if she wanted to play us a song on the piano. He helped her sit on the bench in the sitting room, and she asked what she should play. He suggested “America, the Beautiful,” and she played it. I filmed her playing the piano last Christmas, when they were still living at home. I had no idea she’d still be able to play a year later, since her memory was starting to go even then. After she finished a couple songs, I asked her if she knew any Christmas music. It turns out she knows all Christmas music. She asked for titles of carols, and one by one played them each upon request. She struggled to come up with song titles on her own so we just kept naming them for her. She couldn’t hear me say “Joy to the World” so I used what little piano knowledge my mother made me learn in lessons and played the first few notes of the song in the key of D. It was then that she knew the song I meant, and she played the rest far better than I ever will. My granddad hummed along loudly as she played.
I had never been so happy to see my grandparents. They were ancient even when my brother and I were little, so we never really got to know them the same way we know my dad’s dad, who is in his early 80s. My mom’s dad has always been deaf (although very jovial and witty despite this) and my grandma has never really been terribly warm with us. A lot of my memories of her are her telling me how to wash my face properly and how long to brush my teeth, and since I was a picky eater, I remember not liking much of her cooking. She gave us very random Christmas presents, commonly the free things she had been sent by the many charities she donated to as thank you gifts, things like calendars and paper weights, or strange mail-order gadgets from catalogs we’d never heard of. But, she always made sure she had our favorite kinds of ice cream or cookies for dessert and she never forgot our birthdays.
We are each others’ last biological links to my mother and I feel like I saw her yesterday, in a way. Maybe my mom would have grown old and looked like her eventually, had things ended differently. And maybe my grandma feels like she saw her, too, in me. I like to think that’s true.
Hannah was a hit, not only with my grandparents, but with all the nurses, orderlies and other visitors there yesterday. Jamie held her most of the time, since that’s when Hannah behaves best, but my grandma held her for a little bit too, which was nice.
As we got into the car to leave, I turned to look at Hannah in the car seat behind me.
“You were a hit, kid!” I told her.
“But I think Grandma upstaged you a little bit at the end,” Owen said.