Posted by Wood | Sunday, October 14, 2007

We have been in my hometown, staying with my mom for several days, answering the phone, eating through pound cakes, greeting visitors at the door, ordering pizza, buying beer and liquor in bulk, and sifting through the ephemera of a man's life. One thing I'd fogotten about grief is how it can be forestalled, temporarily, by all the details. I feel the tears come when I find pictures of him cooking me pancakes or holding 6-day-old Juniper, but they only last for a few minutes, because I have to move on to look for some proof of his military service, or call the funeral home, or do something else that needs to be done.

Every few minutes, it seems, someone new is at the door, someone my mom teaches with or one of the neighbors. I try to smile and recognize that it is good there are so many people, saving some hope that they will still come around when it's just my mom here, alone, without anyone to break the silence in the house they shared for so long. But there are times I grow weary of all these visitors, and the way they talk about their own grandchildren or the lives they'll return to outside my mother's front door. They all say something nice about him. Almost all of them pull me aside to ask in a hushed voice if my mom is okay. I say that she is, that she's strong. That is the answer they want. If I were honest I'd say what they already know, that she just lost the man she thought she'd travel to Italy with when she retired, the man who spent hours cooking for her every night, the man who loved her daughter like she was his own. She is not okay.

The other day I went to visit my grandmother at her assisted living home. She is lost in dementia, and her short term memory lasts only a few minutes. When I find her, I introduce myself, and see some spark of recognition in her eyes. We wander through the memory-loss wing where she lives, looking for her room, because neither of us really knows where it is. I tell her that I'm pregnant, a boy this time. I remind her that I already have a daughter, and take down the framed and labelled pictures of Juniper sitting on her dresser. She tells me how lucky I am, and I agree. We talk a little about how she raised eight children. Then I tell her I'm pregnant when she asks how I'm doing, that it's a boy. She has been told so many times that Doug has died, but she doesn't remember, so I don't bring it up. We do a crossword puzzle together, and she knows that ecru is a word for beige, though I don't. I tell her I'm pregnant, after she asks if we're planning to have any more children, that this time it will be a boy. Normally I find all this so sad and frustrating. But this day, I am grateful for a chance to see my 88-year-old grandmother in her nursing home, to live for a little while in her world, where it is so simple to forget what everyone else keeps forcing me to remember.