Friday, April 5, 2013
This is my A.P. Well, this is one of my favorite pictures of my A.P. I don't think she knew I was taking it, which makes me love it all the more. She's my mom's sister. Since my dad's an only child, that makes A.P. my only aunt. I'm not gonna lie, she's pretty good at being an aunt. She also bore the brunt of Hurricane Dementia, which slammed into this family with a vengeance. And looking back now, I truly understand how awful that was. I'm glad she was here for them, and I'm glad I could be here for her. Maybe that's the best part about family. The being there for each other, even if there's nothing to do but offer a hug and a pair of open ears. And to hope that helps.
Nannie died in December. Before that we spent five months watching her terrifying decline in a rest home, and before that we had a sad couple of years watching her slowly disappear. During the last year or so I recorded our conversations together when I could, and looking back I can honestly say I hadn't heard her make much sense in months. The very last thing she said to me, when I knew she knew me, was, "Katie, you come here so I can kick you in the butt!" I'm still not sure exactly what I did, or what year I did it in, but at some point in my life I must've irked her something awful. I'm pretty sure she thought she was on the farm that day, so I must've been pretty young. But, one of the last real, coherent conversations we had was in October of 2011. She wanted an iPhone, but she said Grandpa John told her she'd never figure out how to use it. She says her response was, "Well, by golly, I'll just get one for myself!" We laughed a lot that day. I don't remember it, but I listened to it and there we are. Laughing away. I'm not even entirely sure what we were laughing about half the time, but there it is. Recorded for posterity. We also talked about her going to Vegas, which she was very keen to do again. I said she should try to go for her birthday. Now I think we'll try to go anyway. I think she would have wanted that.
I don't know how we're doing now, four months after Nannie left us. I think about those last few horrible days a lot. I took the midnight-to-eight shift for several nights in a row, hoping Mom and A.P. and Grandpa could get some sleep. I read aloud to her, even though she was unconscious and I don't know if any words got in, I read anyway. She read to me when I couldn't understand anything, and I like to think I was paying back the favor. Every day each of us told her she could leave if she was ready. We kissed her and said goodbye when it was our turn to go home and try to sleep. The doctors told us she could stay like that for a week, or longer. But she waited until it was just her and my mom. And she left as quietly and gently as she did when we used to nap together in their big, sunny South bedroom. One minute she was there, and the next she was gone.
I don't think my Grandpa is doing particularly well. She missed their 67th wedding anniversary by a few short months. He's putting on as brave a face as he can publicly. He's still doing his errands, making sure J-City runs smoothly, and dominating the local domino game. Privately, though. How could he not miss her? How could he possibly spend the long hours of the night alone, without missing her every second that passes? How can any of us make that better? We can't. We just can't, and it kills me. He says, "I just don't think I'm ever going to get over it." They married when he was 19, and he's 86 now. He won't ever get over it. He will carry the pain of losing her until the day he goes to meet her.
A.P. seems to be suffering the loss next most. Nannie was her bulwark. And, after pouring so much effort and attention into Nannie's last years, weathering Hurricane Dementia with no seawall, I fear A.P. is a bit lost at sea. She's still trying to take care of Grandpa, and Husband and I help as and when we can, but it seems like a losing battle when I'm not sure he wants to be here without Nannie. I am thankful that A.P., at least, has good friends that she can and will talk to. I hope I count as one of them.
My mom is doing what my mom always does. She works. She says her main feeling at her mother's passing is relief. Relief that Nannie no longer has to suffer. I believe her, because this has been tied for my top feeling as well. But, if Mom occasionally feels that she's drowning in sadness, she can always use her job to cover it. Funny, that. Psychologists hiding their pain down underneath the pain of everyone else. Who do they have to talk to? Is there a Psychologist for Psychologists?
I'm not sure how I'm doing, honestly. I felt fine until my birthday last month. I listened to some recordings of us talking together, and I missed her so acutely--so sharply it felt like a blade between my ribs. And now it comes and goes like the tide. Nannie and Grandpa John were the two most solid things from my childhood. More than my parents, more than anything. Now she's gone, and he's so sad without her. I haven't baked a loaf of bread since she died. I'm almost afraid to, but I know I need it. I need to cover myself in flour like mourners in the bible did with ashes. It needs to be my real goodbye. I'll make three loaves. One for my A.P., who has tried so hard to be our new family seawall. One for my mom, who most embodies Nannie's Stoic spirit. The last loaf I will make for one of the most important women of my life, my Nannie. And maybe I'll eat it, and maybe I won't. But I know I must make it. And it should probably be soon. Hurricane Dementia may be gone, but we're all left picking up the pieces and trying to put things together again. And the way Nannie taught me to put things together was with words and bread. I've done one now, as best as I can. It's time to do the other.