Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fading memory

I haven't seen my grandparents on my dad's side in more than a year and a half now, since they left their retirement house and moved to an assisted living community in cold midwestern city, near one of my aunts/uncles.  Growing up, this was the pair of grandparents that I was closest to, because it was only a couple of hours to their house in the country, rather than the plane flight it took to see my maternal grandparents.  From my grandfather, I developed a love of Scrabble - we'd play at least once every day we were together, gardening, stacking wood, and valuing doing good work with my hands...  My grandmother's hobby was quilting/sewing; every grandchild and all the parents have home-made, unique quilts that she made.  From her I learned a fair bit of needlework, piecing/blocking, and some knitting, a healthy dose of Irish blarney, as well as how to win at Canasta by making up your own rules...  From both I have received a great deal of love, wonderful memories and family pride.

As I got older, I got busier, spending summers at science/environmental camps, traveling, and exploring the world.  I moved away from home to start college.  My opportunities to see my grandparents were shorter, and farther between.  They started spending their winters away from their rural country home, and only coming back with help from aunts and uncles during the summer.

Now my grandmother is in her late eighties, and my grandfather his late nineties.  Their health is deteriorating quickly, and over the last few months I've been learning that probably they won't ever make it back to their home.  More upsetting though than physical health, is that their memories are fading.  The last game of Scrabble I played with my grandfather, even a year and a half ago, I could tell how much harder it was for him to play; he used to be a tremendous player.  I hear now that my grandmother now can't even remember the names of her children.  

I've been dealing with this like a well practiced coward by trying to pretend it's not happening, and remembering things as they were in past years, walling off the updates and changes and information I hear via email as intellectual facts and not letting them sink in.  I've hardly called or written, I haven't talked with them in months.  Instead of doing what might be good for them, if they even remember me, I've been protecting myself.  I couldn't even make myself call them to let them know about the good news of the NSF fellowship the other week.  I can't even imagine what this is like for my aunt and uncle in cold midwestern city.  

Right now I'm feeling pretty solidly like a selfish, helpless, cowardly, guilty grandson, and I'm not sure how much longer I can keep running away and hiding from this.  Time marches on.

And I just killed the last of a box of tissues sitting here at work in the middle of the day.  Fruitcake.  I'm going for a walk.

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