I sat watching her slowly nod off to sleep. The effort of Grandma's first soft-food meal etched her face and aggravated the pneumonia. The nurse had come in and turned her, then on a comforting smile left us to be.
I'd held up during the feeding, trying to joke off the embarrassment she was clearly feeling. Born into the Great Depression, coming of age during World War II, and working her whole life on farms and in heavy manufacturing, she was a woman of pride, strength, and integrity. And here she was, needing help from her granddaughter to take a single bite.
I could tell she'd rather face of the Angel of Death...and she'd probably win.
On the other hand, I didn't feel embarrassed. Instead, I felt honored to help this woman who was an integral part of my life. The reserved love and lessons she bestowed. I refused to have a stranger, nurse or not, feed this woman who was so important to me.
But now she was falling asleep and the fear started creeping in. If not this time, this visit...it would be one visit soon. She'd said so herself in the ICU bed, chuckling at the thought and saying with it, "Just get me out of this damn hospital first."
I was having a harder time with it. My grandmother would be gone and an era of our family would be over. This woman who was a no nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, hardcore woman.
I wanted to cry.
I watched her and slowly my mind drifted back to childhood. There, I found my memories in her converted garage, laying next to my sister on the fold-out bed. The shadows of the large room scared me, and I sat waiting for a ghost.
My grandma came in to check on us, clearly embarrassed at "being caught" in the sentimental moment. My fear prompted her to come sit by me. She rested her hand at my side.
"There's ghosts in here," I whispered.
She shrugged. "Probably."
Like I said, she is a hardcore woman who tells it like it is. I didn't quite appreciate this characteristic of her then, though.
"They scare me. I want to sleep with you." I started to take off my blanket.
"No." she stated with finality and tucked me back in. "If you don't keep quiet you'll scare THEM away."
This struck me as odd and also as a potential strategy of ridding myself of evil ghosts. But the way she'd said it caught my attention. "What?"
She went on, speaking as if it were an afterthought. "They are so lonely and scared. They have to stay in the dark all the time and never get to go outside to play. Then they see these people, still alive, and realize they aren't and it scares them. Don't you think that's sad?"
I'd never thought of that. I found myself looking in all the corners to find a sad, lonely ghost. "Maybe."
She stood and looked down at me, the light from the hall making her white hair glow. With the light behind her, her frame was a dark shadow of strong arms and shoulders. At that moment, I knew she'd tell me straight and that she'd protect me if there were something evil in the room.
I remember that sly way she smiled. It was like a warrior at rest but also like a wise woman parting a long held secret. "Well, let's keep very quiet and lay here to sleep. That way you won't scare them off and they won't be lonely."
I nodded and she leaned down and kissed my cheek.
My mind back in the ICU room I sat and smiled. She was always great at being realistic but also getting you to rise above your fears.
Yup, whether she had to kick your butt to do it, or tell you a slick story.
Man, I love this woman and no matter what happens, when, she won't be scared. Grandma will be kicking down the pearly gates and insisting God and all the angels clean up their rooms. Then she'll have a serious talk about how things are running and how they should run.
If you find me laughing when that time does come, Grandma, don't take it personal. It's not at you, it's with you.