Grandma Rose, We Love You

Posted: September 12th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Mom | No Comments »

Our neighbor’s father died suddenly after a heart attack a few weeks ago, and as someone who has lost a parent myself, I wish I had special powers to offer her some consolation. But it doesn’t really work that way. She’s now a member of a club that no one wants to be part of.

As I’ve been thinking about what she’s going through I keep coming back to this idea that when you lose a parent it’s like one of the anchors in your world goes away. Or, at least that’s what it was like for me. Over time you manage to rebalance the load, so the weight that one anchor used to shoulder gets redistributed between the others. In my case, Mark, who was a fiance when my mother died and a husband soon thereafter, took the lion’s share of the load. Still, you always sense the loss of that anchor.

So the last time I saw Rose was Saturday. We went by to bring her a collage of photos of her and Kate, taken at our various visits with her.

She had her dentures out, and with the oxygen tubes in her nose and her thin frail body curled up in bed, she barely resembled the spunky Rose we’d come to know. She slept mostly but opened her eyes a couple times and seemed to express a spark of excitement at the sight of Kate. She even managed to sputter out something about Kate’s ears, which she’s always cooed over.

I handed her the collage and couldn’t help but wonder what sense she had of what was happening. Her dark eyes stood out so strongly against her pale skin and looked so sad and beseeching. Even though she wasn’t really speaking it was like she was trying to connect with me somehow. And I hoped the collage didn’t come off to her as some sort of inappropriate parting gift. More than anything I just wanted her to be able to look at pictures of Kate when we weren’t there, in case they could bring her any small amount of happiness at this stage. And I wrote, “Grandma Rose, We Love You” on it—something we’d never told her.

Tomorrow we’re going back. I have no idea whether she’ll still be there or not. I’ve felt guilty about not visiting for the past few days, but my heart has been so heavy I didn’t know if I could bear it. Selfish, I know.

Just last week I got an email from the Chaparral House volunteer coordinator about an upcoming event, and I emailed him back to let him know that I was starting a new job soon and I didn’t know how often Kate and I would be able to visit. As someone who tends to over-commit myself, it seemed like the responsible thing to do, much as I hated to do it. When I’m not working, my first commitment needs to be to my family. But after sending the email I felt terrible. Like I was betraying Rose.

And then, with two weeks left until my job starts, we visit Rose on Friday and see that she’ll likely be gone before I even set foot in my new office. It’s wrenching to think of how that timing has worked out. Not that I feel like I had some cosmic hand in Rose’s decline, but it just feels like another loss, another change, in the midst of my struggle over leaving Kate to return to work. Why does so much need to happen at once?

Kate and I met Rose on March 1st of this year. A short time really, though it represents the majority of Kate’s life. And in our weekly visits, it’s been clear that my role has been as the conduit. I’m really just the person who brings Kate to see Rose. I’ve often asked Rose about her life and her family, but she’s never really indulged in those conversations. They represented a tiny amount of the time we spent together. Invariably Rose would give me a quick answer and then change the subject to point out something Kate was doing, or to start singing a song in Polish to her. I was always happy to follow her lead.

When I think about all that I know about Rose, it’s really quite little. And with her sketchy memory and occasional bouts of confusion, I was never certain that what she was saying was ever exactly correct. Despite that I realized that somewhere along the way Rose has become one of my anchors. And it breaks my heart to have to let go of another one.

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