I’m sure that there are a few of you who are waiting to see how my trip to Cleveland went. I know of at least one or two of you off the top of my head. So, here we go…
I headed out around 9:15am (after gassing up the car) and made the trip in a record one hour, 45 minutes. Mom, of course, was glad to see me, but we had to hurry and get to the hospital, since Mom’s usually pretty punctual and gets there just after 10:00 on a normal day. She was worried that Memaw would think she’d forgotten. I drove us up to Lakewood Hospital, about a 20-minute drive north, by way of KFC. (Memaw had requested fried chicken.)
Got to Lakewood (after much complaining from Mom about my driving) and found a spot in the hospital parking garage. Remembered to turn off the cell phone before entering the hospital. (I’m still not used to having one of those yet.) Headed up the elevator to Memaw’s room.
Mom went in first, and had to rouse Memaw from her almost-nap. "I’m sorry I was late," Mom said loudly, "but I had to go get your chicken." She had to repeat herself to make herself heard, at which point Memaw replied that she’d forgotten about asking for chicken. Then Mom told her she’d brought another surprize, and I came in.
I had to step closer for her to realize who I was, but once she did, her face lit up and she smiled a big, toothless grin. "My baby!" she exclaimed, and held out her arms for a hug. I bent and hugged her in her bed, and she kept repeating over and over, "You were just what I needed. You were just what I needed," and started to cry.
When we finally let go, Mom pulled a chair around for me, and I sat beside the bed and held Memaw’s hand. "Was that a good surprize?" Mom asked, and Memaw nodded and repeated, "A good surprize."
Then she kind of peered funny at Mom and said, "And you’ve got a bad surprize."
Mom took the statement as a question and said, "Nope. No bad surprizes. Only good surprizes."
Memaw looked pretty much like I remembered from the last time I saw her — was it Christmas? That long ago? The only major difference was her hair. This time, instead of being long and wispy and ungodly thin, it was shaved to half an inch and had finally turned completely white. No more auburn or gray strands left.
The other difference was that she couldn’t seem to stay awake. She was so tired. She and Mom and I would just sit in silence for a while and gaze at each other, then Memaw would start to nod off, and Mom and I would grin at each other and watch her head bob to the side. Then she’d realize she was falling asleep and jerk awake again. Once she mentioned that she’d thought she’d spilt something, and asked if we’d ever had that happen. We knew what she meant, and said that we had. Memaw said usually when that would happen to her, that she’d doze off like that, she usually did spill something. 🙂
Anyway, we gave her the chicken, and she almost ate it, too. She’d refused her meal that day, so we figured she’d be up for fried chicken. I opened the little KFC box and handed her a napkin and a drumstick. With weak hands — so weak — she took the leg from me and cradled it in her lap, on the napkin. The chicken slowly got closer to her mouth… slowly… but never quite made it there.
Memaw asked if I was going to eat mine, and we tried to explain that we were going to eat later, that the chicken was for her. Finally, I gave up and got the thigh out of the box, and pulled some skin off of it and ate it. Memaw’s eyes lit up and she asked if that was the butt part. We said no, that’s a thigh. She said, "I’ll take some of that," and proceeded to pick some skin off of my piece and eat it instead. Then she ate some of the drumstick, and was done. We packed the rest back into the box and put it on her bedside table.
(Keep in mind, this is the woman who used to eat not only the chicken and the skin, but would gnaw on the knuckle cartilage and gristle, and would crack open the bones and suck out the marrow.)
After that, we mainly just sat together. It was apparent to me that Memaw was thinking things in her head, but not saying them aloud. This was kind of funny when she would actually say something out loud, because it didn’t make any sense. Some people would assume her mind’s just going — I know too many people whose minds run in overdrive, I guess, so I could tell that these weren’t just random spouts of words coming out of her mouth. For instance, at one point she just said out of the blue, "You can’t get addicted anymore." Mom asked her to repeat, and she repeated perfectly, "You can’t get addicted anymore." Mom looked at me, so I enunicated for her, and explained that she was probably thinking of her morphine.
Watching her continually nod off put me at ease, to an extent. It helped me realize that this is probably how she’s going to go. She’ll just fall asleep, and that’ll be it. Watching her cradle her chicken helped me to realize that she’s ready, too. That was one of the saddest moments for me, because I realized how far she’s slipped. If she can’t even raise her fried chicken to her mouth (toothless though it may be), her quality of life is virtually nil, even if she is still conscious and relatively coherent.
I knew she knew she wouldn’t make it to the wedding, even if she does survive through May (which is unlikely). I wanted to be sure to mention the wedding, though, to try to include her in it. "For the wedding," I asked, "How do you think I should do my hair? I was thinking of a French braid — what do you think?"
She kind of scrunched up her face in a scowl and said, "I knew that was gonna come up." But then she answered me and said that yes, she thought a nice French braid would be pretty, and that I had a book at home to show me how to do it. Which I do indeed have, and I got it back in Junior High.
We stayed a while longer and watched her nod off, and Mom said quietly, "Let her fall asleep, then we’ll go." But she fought to stay awake because we were there, so we finally had to tell her that we were going to head out. We stood up, and Mom put our chairs back, and we each had our Memaw hug. I rubbed Memaw’s fuzzy head, and she smirked and said, "You had to get that in there, didn’t you?"
But then, as we were saying goodbye, Memaw asked me, "Did you have a bad dream last night?" I chalked it up to randomness and answered no, crouching by her bed to get down on eye level again. "I did," she said, and got a look on her face that reminded me of when she used to pretend to be old and senile — you know, that kind of childlike-pouty-guilty-cute thing that looks genuinely funny when kind-of-old people do it, but kind of sad and pathetic when really-old people do it. "I wasn’t going to say anything, but I guess I will," she went on. "It was about Tinky Poo."
Memaw and Granny always thought that the women in our family had ESP, and I’m not willing to completely disbelieve that theory quite yet. Because as she was having her "bad dream about Tinky Poo," I was writing about the lullaby here in my blog. So, I said, "I was thinking about that last night, too," and she got this understanding look in her eyes that told me she thought we’d made some sort of ESP connection that night.
Then Mom, standing at the foot of the bed, piped up and said, "I remember Tinky Poo. Do you remember?" Then she started singing: "Memaw love the Tinky Poo / Tinky Poo love the Memaw too…"
I tried to sing along, but I only made it through the second line. I just welled up and couldn’t sing anymore. I wanted to, and I wanted Memaw to sing along — but she didn’t. I hoped it wasn’t because she’d forgotten the words. I didn’t want to know. I put my head down on her bed and started to cry.
Now, most of you probably have figured out just from the kind of person I am that I don’t like to cry. I feel like I’m no longer strong, like I’m no longer in control of myself. My family knows this keenly, so me breaking down like that was that much more poignant for Mom and Memaw. Memaw just rested her hand on the top of my head, and Mom came over and stroked my hair.
"I wasn’t going to do this," I said into the sheets.
Memaw told me to take a tissue from her drawer, and Mom gave me some toilet paper that was sitting on the portable potty-walker-thingy next to the bed, so I was soon OK. We wrapped things up then, and promised we’d come visit on Sunday (silently hoping she’d still be there to visit). I didn’t want to go, and I was glad when I looked back for one final wave and she was almost asleep again — but she waved anyway.
On our way out, Mom and I apologized at the same time. She asked if I was OK, and apologized for singing, and said that it was good for Memaw to see me cry.
After that, we drove to Lake Erie, to Edgewater Park, and walked around for a while (after I called Aaron). Talked, got some sun, unwound from the hospital. Then we went back to Parma, hit the mall, got lunch at Mr. Hero, and played in the arcade. Then we went home and Mom finished dinner. Beef stroganoff. Mmmm.
Gary came home, and we ate, and we talked about funeral arrangements, and wedding stuff, and the eulogy, and the obituary, and the headstone, and random important stuff. I stayed until 7:30 or so, then headed out in time to make it to the turnpike before it got completely dark outside.
Overall, I think the visit was as much for Mom as it was for Memaw or for me. I’m OK with that, though. I don’t visit home nearly enough, and I get very little quality time with Mom anymore, especially since Gary came on the scene. (Yes, I know that was over seven years ago now. Yes, I’m still bitter. *grin*)
And I’m sure I heard Memaw mumble, "I never liked Gary much anyway…"