Over the summer, my Grandma Shirley’s Alzheimer’s got too bad for her to live alone anymore, so my mom had to put her in a nursing home. I remember getting the news and sitting in my car in front of my house, calling Joel and crying and crying and crying.
I have been through a lot of things over the last couple of years, but my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s has hands down been the worst. At some point I realized I did not know nearly enough about her, that I hadn’t asked her the right questions, that I didn’t write down her stories or sit with her and do the video documentary I always wanted to. I realized that even though I heard the stories when I was young, I have forgotten them, like how my grandparents met and fell in love. I wished I knew more ways in which we were alike, even though our lives have been so different.
On the day after Thanksgiving, my family gathered at my grandma’s house to go through her stuff. Everyone was there. My Uncle Eric and his two kids, Joe and Amy. My Uncle Mike and Aunt Ann (though not their son). My mom and step-dad. Joel. I made it about 20 minutes before the sight of a stuffed raccoon puppet – a remnant of my childhood – had me sobbing in her ransacked bedroom. I was keenly aware the whole time that my grandma is still alive, but there we were going through the accumulated things of her life as if she wasn’t.
Mom and Ann had already sorted through things, so most everything was out in the living room, ready for our choosing. Mom had also already sat aside things she knew I wanted, like china painted by my great-grandmother Grace, my grandma’s sewing machine, both her wedding and prom dresses. I honestly had no idea what I would want to take home. I want my grandma, not her things.
My cousin Joe has recently become a Mason, like our grandfather was. Joe never knew my grandpa, but he was named after him, and he laid claim to pretty much anything from the Shriner/Mason days. Amy is 15 years younger than me, so didn’t get to enjoy my grandma in her prime. She and her dad mostly claimed furniture, some photographs, a knickknack or two. I was the only grandchild my Grandpa Joe ever knew, and the only one who knew them together. At times I felt fiercely protective of that knowledge.
And I did come home with things. My grandparents were the same age, and went to the same high school. There were two sets of their yearbooks, and I convinced my mom to take my grandpa’s set, while I took my grandma’s. This way, I said, one day the sets would be reunited. But, really, I wanted the books to get to know them better.
I have since paged through them, searching for my grandparents’ faces. Aside from their class pictures – and the junior one is missing, for both of them – I couldn’t find them in any of the activities pages. There is no index to the books, so it’s possible I just can’t find them. It’s also possible that they weren’t joiners, not like I was, involved in the newspaper and choir and debate and drama and any other club that would have me. I wonder which is true. I wish I would have asked.