Family Phantasms

After some fighting and anticipation, it's become time for my grandmother to make the transition to assisted living. This was cemented by a cardiac event over the holidays, during which she was so resistant to be treated that my uncle had to drag her to the car over her objections.

My grandma and grandpa on their wedding day. I always wonder what they were like when they were this young.
There have been stories involving motor cycle gangs and prior lovers and all kinds of speculation
of the typical family gossiping sort. 

Before we go much further, I'll bluntly admit that I have an utter dearth of personal sentiment - positive or negative - towards my grandmother. I have never been close to her, either physically or emotionally, and this was through my design. From my amateur armchair I could doubtlessly ascribe any handful of pathologies to her.  At a more basic level, I felt inner alarm bells that she presented a potential psychic vortex to my delicately guarded reserves. Defense mechanism instituted themselves without my conscious attention. This happened when I was quite young and by the time I was about ten, I'd set her essentially "on mute" in my consciousness. Ironically this caused her to think far more generously of me than the other grandchildren, who have been perpetually subject to guilt-trips, recrimination, and demands that never touched me. Although we have gone multiple years between shallow interactions, she still carries a photo of my in her wallet and gushes about how proud she is of me. I don't think this is because she loves me, particularly, but she loves the idea of me as "grandchild" and "family" and I don't threaten the ideal with too much reality.

That's not to say that I am utterly detached from recent events. While I feel no personal connection with her, I sense her humanity and that she going through a scary and lonely time we all go through. I also understand that I can, in this, help. I am skeptical she knows me well enough to have feelings for me, but again what I represent gives her comfort. I also sense the ripple-effect of her distress through out my family. Watching the children and grandchildren come together, I start to wonder if these health emergencies are really less about the person experiencing the event, so much as the family readjusting to its new reality and new definition in light of this seminal event. We are already collectively planning our new group-psych, our new group stories, our new identities in the face of a change. In a sense the only person unable to participate is the person at the fulcrum. Finally, there is an archivist lurking in me who is curious about this specter of my mother's past. As the person fades, the history emerges. The stories that have been bandied since my youth gain color as fades to sepia. I want to dig through the artifacts of these accounts. I'd love to find the keys to untold stories, obscured faces, and voiceless selves now quashed.

Yesterday, my mom and I went on the large car trek to Oak Harbor to visit her, and to stop by to check out an assisted living facility. The facility is posh. I waited mostly in the "bistro" - a lobby type area strewn with heated cookies and pastries, but saw enough to feel that I was in a classy hotel that just happened to be populated with mostly elderly guests (perhaps an AARP convention was in town?) I'd gladly live there, but I suspect they won't let me. Instead, I just checked my shame at the door and left with a purse full of cookies.

That's my mom on the far right middle shelf

 Before going to my grandmother's rehab facility, we stopped by her house to pick up some legal documents. There, we discovered that my uncle never had taken care of cleaning out the fridge as he'd promised. The woman had at least two full Thanksgiving banquets stuffed into tupperware and lodged between hundreds of tiny butter packets. Most of that was tossed. A few products lingering on the borderline between fresh and gone came home with us instead. It's impossible to ignore that the place serves as a museum of my mom's side of the family. Photos across decades and generation are stuffed together between mementos... and perhaps some food items that predate my birth. It is a fascinating, if eerie, place to wander through.

My grandmother, herself, is doing well in rehabilitation. She apparently comes in and out of cogency but seemed a milder pleasanter version of herself when we were visiting. The conversation was stilted and slightly tedious, but she was certainly happy for the company (and though she would never admit it, I think she was also happy when we left). I'm not sure what comes next, although it appears that the children have already implemented operation Get-Mom-Into-The-Nice-Living-Facility-Pronto. I suspect I may have to wait until the house gets sold and artifacts are gathered to glean any insights into the family history, as she is not the type to tell the sorts of stories I'd like to hear.  I may have to visit her again and bring a larger purse for all those cookies.
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