On January 8, I called my grandmother to wish her a happy birthday, but she didn’t remember who I was. Trapped at the intersection dementia, Alzheimer's, and years being improperly prescribed medication to the point needlessly taking antipsychotics, her not recognizing my voice was a long time coming.
Still, everything happened too quickly. I refused to believe she was slowly deteriorating right under my nose. In a matter months, she went from just having terrible hearing and a surly attitude to calling me every five minutes because she forgot we just spoke. And because she’s scared.
My grandmother is ending her life as a once-powerful woman, now being criminally robbed her memories and good sense, but music and writing and love are all immortal. Time is fleeting, tomorrow is not promised, and I’m finding that yesterday may not even be remembered. So while she can still put two sentences together in her mind, here is an ode to the woman that raised my mother and damn near raised me.
When it first became clear that my grandma was entering her final chapter, I saw her less and less. I had to focus on school, on working, on preserving my image her as the woman who stomped down the block to demand one the local boys put air in my basketball. I told myself she was going to forget all the times I didn’t see her, but I would never forget her slumped over on the couch, spitting into a plastic bag, unable to bring a spoon to her lips.
I was as angry as I was selfish. I couldn’t even bring myself to hear her voice, a shrill and scraggly mess. Worse f, I couldn’t bring myself to see the bigger picture. “And my priorities fucked up, I know it,” Earl said on “Burgundy.” Our actions are inexcusable, but I imagine we were both paralyzed with fear—I know I am. No matter the circumstances, my grandma was always in the right mind to love me. I owe the same to her.
As a first-generation American, my family history is predicated on sacrifices. Sacrifice and love, as my grandma showed me, are synonyms. At the spry age 50, she left one the few paying jobs in Soviet Russia to escape anti-Semitism. By way an unexplained system facilitated by Israel, she was forced to give up her property, her citizenship, and almost all her savings for a three-month visa in Austria and the chance to give my mother a better life. After a holding period, they were finally given refugee status in Italy for half a year, and after months waiting, made it to America—America being South Brooklyn, New York.
Yet when I saw her two weeks ago, she was nothing more than loose flesh wrapped around a deformed skeleton. Still, somewhere between the pain and the thick fog holding her mind hostage, she managed to put an arm around me and ask if I’m still writing. Not two minutes later, she forgot our conversation and asked me what I’ve been doing. I tell her I’m writing, she gasps. Me? Writing? Anything can happen in America.
My grandma never explained her sacrifices to me, and for most my childhood, nothing that she did made a lick sense. She’d chase me down with a piece fish skewered on the end a sharp knife, begging me to eat. At nine, I thought she was crazy. I wish I understood sooner that she lived through war and famine, that when she said her heart was seizing up because I wasn’t eating, she meant it. I now know that this was her loving me more than I could ever fathom.
Too ten, a loss makes me selfish and self-pitying, but my grandmother deserves better. Her harsh exterior aside, she worked until her bones were brittle and her hands crooked, and all the while she redefined what love could mean. I can count on my one hand the number times she sat me down to tell me she loved me, but we’d need all New York to come together to count the number times she proved love was a verb.
My grandma’s wisdom was quiet. She taught me and my mother that there was no age limit on dreams, that there was nothing stopping either one us from being as strong as her. By example, she taught me about grit and self-worth, and that anyone trying to cut me down does so out fear. I can only hope that for years to come, her wisdom will continue revealing itself to me when I’m ready, and when I’m least expecting.
The damning mystique the matriarch is that I always imagined that she would live forever; she’s already lived through the unimaginable. I don’t know what will come tomorrow or the next day, but I do know that at the very least, my grandmother will live forever on the page.
This is the formal start her final bouquet.