(in honor of Alice Harrison, my Gram)
The doors close behind me and I scan the lobby. I never thought I’d step foot in a nursing home this soon. I stop at room 221A, take a slow and steady breath, and enter the room. Fighting back tears, I put on my best smile.
There she lies, wrapped in a cocoon of green and yellow stripes. I see her little head peeking over the blanket and notice the small patch of snow white hair is curled today. After the stroke, this vibrant woman who always made time for me is now unable to talk. Her hair has mostly fallen out, the skin on her arms is so wrinkled and thin that the slightest touch causes a bruise, and her beautiful smile has been replaced with a perpetual frown. I fold my arms across my chest and grit my teeth. I sit in the stiff wooden chair beside her and reach for her delicate hand. I know this is one of the last times I will see her, so I bend down and kiss her forehead.
“I love you, Gram,” I whisper. Her eyes open slowly and I see an expression, her version of a smile, creep onto her face. That smile of hers brings me back to so many memories. I close my eyes and remember.
The smell of fresh baked apples and cinnamon fill the air, as Gram removes her famous Jewish Apple cake from the oven. Crossword puzzles and word searches are scattered across the kitchen table and piled in boxes in the living room.
“You know you can always stay over and visit me at the library,” I hear from the kitchen.
“I know, Gram. Maybe some day when I’m off from school I can come down.”
I make my way to the small cardboard box diagonal her DuMont Television Receiver, fresh out of a 1930s Bloomingdale’s ad. I fumble through the tattered mess of books that fill the fairly dilapidated box. I think about the twenty or so years Gram spent working at the Wildwood Crest Library. She was presented with the Senior Citizen of the Year award for her years of service at the library and in the community. Gram is known by everyone in town because of her kind heart. Gram is a ray of sunshine, and everyone wants to see the light.
A tear threatens to fall from my eye, but I am quickly awakened to reality and wipe it away before anyone notices. The nurse is checking Gram’s temperature, and is making sure she is comfortable. I can tell Gram doesn’t recognize the nurse. A pool of questions is swimming in her eyes.
A few years ago, Gram started losing her memory of who people were or where she was. It began with a simple mix-up of names, but became more complex and permanent. I recall the first time she forgot who I was, at least my name and my story. She knew that I was family, but couldn’t fit the puzzle pieces together. It was upsetting to have someone so close to me forget who I was, even if just for a few minutes. Gram always greets me with a smile. She greets everyone with a smile, no matter if she knows them or not. Anyone who knows Gram knows that if she flashes her dainty grin, she’s going to start a conversation. Gram loves to listen to stories of people’s lives and their passions. I never recognized how much she cared about others until she lost parts of her memory. She isn’t this woman who only cares for some, or picks out her favorites. She has a genuine heart for every person she meets.
As the nurse finishes tucking Gram in, I collect my thoughts. Through Gram, I have witnessed true happiness, honest joy, and unconditional love. Gram has taught me to love every person I meet because each person has a story to be heard. The person that Gram is, is the person I want to be. With every action done, word spoken, and thought expressed, Gram means only kindness and love.
I kiss Gram on the forehead and hold her hand once more. I think of all the times we had together, all the times she showed me what kind of person I want to be. I rub my thumb along the side of her hand and smile.
“I love you, Gram.”