My grandma fell last week. She lives with my mom’s older sister, Sharon and that in itself is a very storied history that would exhaust me to try to type out. But I will say that in the years since my pappap’s passing, Sharon has grown increasingly damaged. In a nutshell, I tend to liken the situation to Grey Gardens.
Rather than call 911, Sharon called Henry who proceeded to go to my grandmother’s house at 10:00pm, pick her up from the floor and put her back into bed. When he came home, he told me that my grandma’s legs looked very swollen, like she has no use of them. “I don’t mind going over there and helping out, but I really think Sharon should call the paramedics.”
This happened a year ago. My grandma wound up in the hospital and from there she was placed in a nursing home for two months, where she received physical therapy and had the opportunity to interact with people not named Sharon. (Sharon doesn’t let anyone come over to see her. I saw my grandma more when she was in the nursing home than when she lives at home, because Sharon can’t LOCK ME OUT of a nursing home.) She was happy, more vibrant than I had seen her in years. Then she was released and Sharon went back to her old ways of not taking her anywhere and forcing my grandma to a life that consists of shuffling back and forth between her bed and a chair in the den. My mom has barely even seen her.
Last Thursday, less then 12 hours after Henry picked her up, she fell again. Sharon called me, panicking, asking when Henry got home from work. I lost it; convinced her to call the fucking paramedics. What if she was hurting herself every time she fell? This isn’t something for Henry to detect. So Sharon called 911, the paramedics came and left, saying she was fine.
That night, my grandma started having hallucinations, and seemed convinced she was studying her English. Sharon took her to the hospital, which actually made me feel relieved rather than upset, because I know that if she’s at least in a hospital, she’s going to get proper care. (Well, best case scenario, anyway.)
I went to see her on Sunday, after hearing stories from Sharon about how my grandma had lost her mind. Sharon swore my grandma had suddenly “come down with” Alzheimer’s, but my mom and I weren’t so sure, since it seemed like the onset was essentially an overnight process. She was sitting in a chair, tray of stinky hospital food in front of her, most of it stirred into ecru puddles of ambiguous sludge.
“Mom, do you know who this is?” Sharon wheedled in the most obnoxiously condescending tone.
“Of course I know who that is, it’s Erin,” my grandma snapped.
My mom told me that the night before, Sharon kept speaking for my grandma, who eventually lashed out.
“You have to excuse my mother,” Sharon explained to the nurse. “She has a very quick temper.”
To which my grandma spat, “It’s because you piss me off!” My mom said Sharon called her crying, but really, when the only form of human contact you get each day is that from your eldest daughter who has NEVER MOVED OUT, wouldn’t you be a little temperamental too?
During the visit, my grandma kept bobbing in and out of coherency, weaving between reality and her supposed trip to Hawaii she took on Saturday. “And I never expected the meatloaf to be so good,” she enthused. “In the hospital?” Sharon asked. “No, in Hawaii!” she said.
The nurse came in while I was there and informed us that her MRI came back negative, and that the doctor deduced it was the Vicodin that Sharon had given her Thursday night after she last fell. Typically my grandmother gets half, but Sharon gave her a whole one since she was in so much pain. The nurse said that once it left her system, the weird waking dreams should subside, and then they’d move her into the rehab unit to work on her legs.
Walking down the hall with my mom and Sharon, I said, “It must run in the family. Don’t you remember when I got my wisdom teeth out and I totally went crazy?”
My mom looked at me blankly.
“Don’t you remember? I was so suicidal!”
“Yeah, but you always were suicidal,” my mom laughed. Oh yes, ha-ha, memories.
Henry and Chooch were waiting in the lobby, casually eating candy shat from a vending machine. “Don’t ever give Erin Vicodin!” my mom joked.
“I already knew that,” Henry muttered.
Henry, Chooch and I met my brother Corey at the hospital on Thanksgiving. We thought it would be nice to spend some time with her before going to my mom’s for dinner. She was sitting awkwardly in a chair, slumped over slightly to the side, and seemed to be in a restless sleep; her body was twitching and she just didn’t look very swell at all.
The she woke up, saw Chooch, and promptly started to sob. I mean, she was so distraught that she covered her face and wept into her hand.
Not the reaction I was hoping for. Maybe a little more bells and whistles; praise for being such an outstanding grandchild?
Henry pulled Chooch out of the room; Corey and I, being the awkward species that we are, stood in our best awkward regalia. I kept nervously asking, “Grandma are you OK? Are you alright?” and Corey was in a speechless stupor.
A nurse came in. She had on a set of those god awful wearable studies in abstract art, presented in varying hues of Pepto Bismol and Nyquil. (If I was a nurse, I’d have to find a way to get a customized scrub set. Maybe something black, with random Cure lyrics in red.) In an abrasive, no-nonsense tone, she looked at me through lens-magnified eyes and asked, “What’s wrong?” In my head, I heard, “What the fuck did you do?”
I explained that we had just walked in as she was starting to awaken, and that’s when she began sobbing.
“Jeannie, what’s wrong? These kids came to see you.”
“I can’t. Not tonight. It’s been a really bad year,” my grandma moaned. I’m not sure if she meant to say “day” or if she was being profound. Because yes, it’s been a really bad year.
All this time, Corey had been clutching a card he made her; a Thanksgiving turkey card made the old school way – from his handprint. (“And in true Kelly household fashion, I had to use Scotch tape covered in dog hair,” he explained moments earlier in an elevator.) He slid it into her hands before we left, and she moaned, “Oh Corey, thank you,” and then cried some more.
On a positive note, she at least knew who Corey was.
On a negative note, that was the single most depressing moment of my adult life. And the worst part is that since I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with her, all I could do was stand there with a worried expression and arms crossed protectively (and insecurely) under my chest.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever hugged my grandma. I know that she’s always loved me, I do believe that, but I also know that of anyone in the family, I’ve been the biggest disappointment to her. Chubby as a pre-teen, a yo-girl in high school instead of a billboard for equestrian couture like she’d have preferred, a high school dropout, a black sheep having a baby out of wedlock. I was just never what she wanted me to be, and she proved that by lying to her friends, telling them that instead of not finishing high school, I had graduated and gone on to study journalism at Kent State. She berated me when I got pregnant, yelling that I “wasn’t meant to have children.”
She never asked me if I was happy, though.
This blog? It’s called Oh Honestly, Erin because that’s what she’s always said to me. “Oh honestly, Erin” – every time I let her down. “Oh honestly, Erin” – every time I did something imaginably stupid. “Oh honestly, Erin” – every time I tarnished the family name a little more.
And I’m not sure if I ever told her I loved her before last night, when I said it as we flitted from the room; but it was only because Corey had said it first and I coattailed him.
I do love her. I just don’t know how to say it. When it comes to my family, there is this fucking force field barricading the entrance of emotions, and any sign of weakness or utterance of honest endearments will be zapped dead like a mosquito poking around a bug lamp. So I just stand there stupidly and useless while my grandma is entering an existential crisis in the hospital.
It wasn’t until later tonight, after Chooch and Henry went to sleep and I was left completely alone on the couch, that my emotions had the upperhand advantage. And it hit me, hard.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was taking my Pitt course guide over to her house, poring over it excitedly while she made me a cheese sandwich, finally feeling like she was proud of me. Now, college is just one more thing that I quit, she doesn’t even go in the kitchen anymore, and somewhere along the way I went back to feeling like a fuck up.
In this photo, she’s judging me. But I still love her.