We drove to Elkhart today, minutes after first service got out at church. I slept most of the way, a good move that gave me some rest but left my back feeling like an odd sculpture.
We arrived at the nursing home where grandpa is staying – found him in his room slouced in the chair, looking fuller of face than we last saw him at his old home. ‘Grandpa and grandma’s house.’ It’s soon to be sold. Within days, in fact, and the furniture will be given away to a friend-of-a-relative in need. The smells, the textures, the nooks and crannies… gone. Or at the very least, someone else’s. The dim echoes of laughter and card games. The tearing of christmas paper. The shouting at bowl games.
We talked to him for hours, and I had to bite my cheek. His memory is failing, but not in the ways one would think. Events are clear and crisp in his mind, as vivid as yesterday’s news. But they are disconnected, divorced from any linear framework. He may recall events from the 40’s and think they happened yesterday, while referring to last month’s building project as something that he did decades ago.
The memories are there, but the links that pull them together are severed.
On the way out, I ran into a woman, white-haired and stooped, with a slack mouth and wrinkled skin. She clutched at my sleeve as I passed and stared into me with watery green eyes. She babbled quietly in another language, pleading at me with her look. I couldn’t understand her – neither could the staff – and I just took her hand in mine, holding it and meeting her eyes. She clutched my hand, squeezing tighter than her bony wrists should’ve been able to. More incomprehensible words, her eyes darting to mine, then she reached up, brushed my cheek with shaky fingers. I stooped down, meeting her in a careful hug. I cursed myself for not knowing what more to do than smile and squeeze her hand.
One of the staff offered to take her away, and I couldn’t answer. She finally pulled away, releasing my hand as an orderly distracted her.
I ran out the door, silent.