People say good-bye to each other everyday. For some this separation is temporary, a common wave or a hug is sufficient. Other times this common send-off can be more meaningful and final. I feel I will never need to say a final good-bye because I believe memories keep you alive forever.
My great-grandmother is one-hundred years old. It’s nearly impossible for most of us to reach that age, let alone be healthy and active at it. She has raised three generations, my grandfather, my mother and I. She has lived in the same town all her life and has only moved to another house once, the one next door.
Only a couple of months ago she was driving to the grocery store, meeting her much younger friends at card games, selling things on EBay, and faxing articles to her son, all while living on her own. She had always been independent and able to take care of others instead of everyone caring for her.
One day that all changed though when a deadly fall broke her hip. My great-grandma has always seemed indestructible to me. I went to visit her one day, shocked to find blood on her head. I asked her what happen but she replied, “Oh it’s no big deal – I took a tumble and bumped my head.” A one-hundred year old woman doesn’t just “bump her head” but she made everything seem fine. She always did, leaving my mom and me to make a fuss for her.
This time was different though, breaking a hip was different than “taking a tumble”. After hip-replacement surgery, she had to go to a nursing home down the street for rehabilitation. I couldn’t comprehend it at first; my independent great-grandmother who took care of me since I was a baby was now depending on others, even me. It was so hard to hear that she was no longer in her house. Now I have to visit her in something people call a “home”, but it is no home.
After passing ill and lonely people in the hallway, I walk into her small, dull room she shares with another woman, and it makes me cringe. Her pure white curls are now frizzy and her skin is pale, no longer sun-kissed from endless hours in her garden. She looks worn down, but when our eyes meet she looks happier than ever. Her eyes gleam and a large smile takes over her face. It is a wonderful sight to see her happy about anything.
When I sit at the foot of her bed I give her no sympathy, “Get up” I’ll say, “You’re acting like your old or something!”
She will tilt her head back and let out a large laugh, only to challenge me to a race.
“You better get ready Katrin, once your old grandma gets out of this damn wheel chair I’m gonna’ beat you in a race.” She will say this in all seriousness.
“Bring it.” I’ll say accepting her challenge never giggling, even though it’s hard not to.
After the hour or so we spend together laughing, talking and her asking me millions of questions while trying to watch her TV, I will say I have to go. A large lump of guilt will pop up in my throat. I never want to leave her. I wish I could take her out of her dingy room, and take her where she belongs, her white and blue home that she and her husband and her built years ago. I will tell her I love her and give her wrinkled cheek a kiss.
While I walk out of her room, I will turn and see her lay in her bed, wanting to cry. I will walk down the hall thinking about what she will do tomorrow: wake up, eat a meal she can cook a hundred times better herself, sit in her wheel chair and watch the news so she can, as she says, “Keep up with the young folks,” while chuckling. Her physical trainer will then come to get her. She will push her legs to walk again so she can return to her house. Afterwards she will eat again and try to start up a conversation with the women at the table who will stare off into space or smile politely, not comprehending her words. Then she will go in her room and watch the news once again, and wait for my mother or me to call. Maybe her son will call or a friend, hopefully, and if her phone never rings she will wait again tomorrow.
I hate to see her like this and I think about what she does all day now that I am away at school, and my mother has moved. Her son is too far to visit, so her friends stop by at times, but family is what matters. It’s even harder to know that this may be how every day will go on until she tries to say her last good-bye.
But I will never let her, because when she tries to leave me she will be sitting in “her chair,” watching the news, only her curly white hair peeking up over the chair, and I will be standing on the steps peering in the window, excited to surprise her.
She will always yell at me, from downstairs to get up and get ready for school, and I will roll over in bed annoyed and ignoring her.
She will always have the smell of hot oatmeal cooking on the stove, while the radio hums a man’s voice discussing the troubles of the world at dawn.
She will always have cookies in her apple-shaped cookie jar and cakes or rolls waiting for me after school.
She will always be standing above a hot stove cooking meats and mashed potatoes for dinner with curlers in her hair. When she is done we will sit together, maybe with a guest she invited and we will talk about school and current events. She will add in her views and comment on everything, always offering a second helping.
She will always tell my friends to call her grandma and have an extra plate on the table in case they want dinner too.
We will always sit and watch a TV show together after dinner and then switch off all the lights and instead of heading to my room, I will go to hers. I’ll lie in her bed as the radio plays, and watch her chest move up and down as she breathes.
We will always watch Days of Our Lives when I’m too sick to go to school and she will make honey and lemon water for my cough.
We will always bicker and argue about something only to remind each other how much we love one another at the end.
We will always sit together while I cry on her shoulder about anything and everything, always coming to the rescue, no matter the issue.
I will always be swinging on a rusty swing set in her backyard watching her cook for me or playing cards with her friends through the big windows of her special house.
Everyday will be like this because we will never say our good-byes, because I believe memories keep you alive forever.