When my sisters and I were in Chicago for Thanksgiving, we visited my grandmother a few times at her assisted living facility. She has dementia so her floor of the building should maybe be called the VERY assisted living facility. On this floor, they have to passcode protect the elevators so that a patient doesn't get on one and then get lost on another floor. Sadly, even though this is one of the better nursing homes, there are still fewer staff than what it seems is necessary to give the patients the assistance they need. My father has hired a 24/7 caretaker (her name is Gina) to make sure that my grandmother is cared for in the best way he can afford.
I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but my grandmother liked me the least growing up - and she wasn't afraid to demonstrate that. She's said some very unkind things over the years - including things that reinforced the belief that when you're fat, no one will love you.
When my father asked her if she could remember the names of her grandchildren (she only has us three). She remembered the names of my two sisters but couldn't remember mine. Even when prompted, she said that she didn't know, shrugged her shoulders, and then burped.
Did that hurt? Okay, yeah. A little.
On Thanksgiving Day after a visit with her, my family started to walk to the elevator to leave for the night. My grandmother wanted to walk with us, so naturally, Gina was there too.
On the way to the elevator, we saw a little old lady with a walker looking lost. I smiled and waved (because sometimes people just want a little friendliness, you know? This also meant that I get older people to come up and pet my hair - which I'm not going to lie to you - is CREEPY).
She said, sweetly, "I don't know where I'm supposed to go. I don't know where I am."
I looked around and there were no aides to help her anywhere in sight. So I asked if she wanted to go back to her room. She said yes. I looked to Gina for help - asking if she knew where this lady's room was. Gina said, "Rosemary, your room is at the end of this hall. That's where you go."
She looked at me and I could tell that Gina's instructions didn't make much sense. So I offered to walk her to her room. My family was okay with waiting by the elevators.
Her face lit up, "You would really do that?"
"Well of course!" I said.
On the way to her room (with me checking each room placard for her name) we talked about whether she liked the place (she did, but some people were not very nice according to her) and what she did for fun. Once we got to her door, I asked her if that was her room or not.
"Well, yes it is. Oh. So you're sending us all to our rooms now?" She had such a sad and forlorn expression on her face. I felt bad.
"You don't have to go to your room right now. Would you like to watch TV instead?" I asked.
Her face immediately lit up. "Yes!" Then it got dim again. "I don't know where the TV is."
"That's okay - I'll walk you there." After all, the TV room is basically where she was when I found her - right next to the elevators. (facepalm!)
"Oh - you would do that for me? You are so nice!" And with that, we made the return trip down the long hallway towards the TV room/elevators. We made small talk once more. A few times she thanked me and told me how nice she thought I was. The thing is? She really meant it. Genuine gratitude is easy to spot.
"Are you married?" she asked me.
I'll be honest. I thought about saying yes, since it's just easier to explain than a boyfriend that I live with. But I'm not married. And I didn't want to lie to a little old lady - even though she's never going to remember this conversation. So I told her that I wasn't.
Her face lit up again and she said proudly, "I have two very handsome sons. You should meet one of them the next time you visit and if you hit it off, you could get married with my blessing."
Not knowing what else to say, I relied on a phrase that my family has been saying for ages when we need to stall: "Ah, well....there you go." It was said in the same tone as 'okee-dokee' or something of the like.
She stopped, leaned on her walker, looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and said, "No. There YOU go." As if to say, 'Lady, my sons are fantastic - you'll see.'
We got her situated in the TV room and I said good-bye and wished her a great night, I said goodbye to my grandmother once more, and then we were on our way home.
I've laughed quite a bit when I remember Rosemary and how sweet, trusting, truly thankful, and kind she was. My grandmother isn't quite as lucid as Rosemary was...so it was nice to be able to have a few conversations with someone who could remember the last thing they said.
And I guess during that conversation with Rosemary, I realized that all mothers or grandmothers want what's best for their kids or grandkids. Even mine.
Because the thing is, that unkind, harsh woman that I've known my grandmother to be? She's not that person anymore. Instead, the person that's left LOOKS like my grandmother, but acts like a sweet little kid. She smiles and hugs us. She offers us her secret candy stash, and her face shows every emotion she has just as clearly and unmasked as a two-year old would.
And how can I be mad at or resentful towards a two year old?
That night, I started to realize that to hang on to the bitterness and hurt from my childhood only hurts me. She can't remember it and what's more, she never will.
Somehow spending time with Rosemary helped me see how childlike these people really are. And in the same way that I don't hold Rosemary to the promise that she would marry me off to her sons (who, let's face it, probably are already married with kids of their own), I can't exactly hold my grandmother accountable for decades of hurt. Perhaps there was a time that I could've and should've told her about the hurt that she's caused me. But that time has passed.
I guess what I mean is that I can choose to hang on to the messages that I grew up with or I can release them.
On this past Thanksgiving Day, I was thankful for new chances, fresh starts, and forgiveness. I felt lighter and more at peace after visiting that center than what I had in awhile.
I think it's starting to sink in that if I can forgive my grandmother for all the angst that she put me through, maybe I can forgive myself for all the pain and angst that I've put myself through.