Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

The last waltz should be forever

on 3 September, 2018

In April, my grandma turned 97. We celebrated with her favourite thing: Chinese food surrounded by her children, grandchildren, great-grandson, in the nursing home dining room. A candle on a cupcake before she asked to go back to her room, but instructed us to stay and enjoy one another.

She’s the longest-standing resident ever of the nursing home. She has lived there for 12 years, since she had the stroke that took away control of her right side. Before the stroke, she filled her days by making stuff: cookies, bread, baby quilts, afghans, watercolours, oil paintings, clothes for all of us. She sewed all of my dance costumes; I have a fully-boned, custom-made white tutu that is a goddamn work of art. If I ever have a wedding, some part of that tutu will be some part of my wedding dress. My cousins and I had the best-dressed Cabbage Patch Kids in town, with hand-sewn, hand-knitted wardrobes finished to couture standards. One afternoon spent at her house, when I tore the seat of my shorts while hopping a chain-link fence, she sewed me up a whole new outfit in what seemed like minutes. Every time I came home from university, she sent me back to the dorm with at least 3 dozen cookies. One Christmas, her three granddaughters each received a fully-jointed, handmade plush teddy bear. Grandma was a maker before making was A Thing.

After the stroke, and some rehab, she somehow started making stuff again. She asked me for the kindergarten printing workbook from my school (my first school had workbooks, but that is a different story) and at 85 years old, re-taught herself to print with her left hand. She mastered left-handed, one-handed large-point needlepoint and it does not seem like an exaggeration to say she has completed at least 100 wall hangings and cushion covers.

As I write this, Grandma is walking the tightrope between this world and the next. She is not sick, nothing is broken, her body is just worn out. She can’t swallow solid food, has refused liquid nutrition. For 4 days, her children and grandchildren have rotated through her room. Her breathing is steadily slower, her lucid moments further apart. The nursing home staff keep the lights dim, stock a cart of juice and water and cookies for us. We hold her hand, kiss her brow, wipe her face with a cool cloth.

Even when she is awake, she is often far away, withdrawn into herself, her eyes unfocused. But when she is clear, her message is the same each time: “I love you. Love you so much. I love you.” Most of her grandchildren are unmarried, and don’t have kids. She has told each of us, firmly and repeatedly:

Find love.
Get married.
Have babies.

I love you.

I can’t promise Grandma that I will get married (it could happen), or have babies (extremely unlikely), so I am choosing to believe that “find love” is the most important part of her instructions. Build a life such that, when you are 97 and one eye is already looking into heaven, and you have to muster all your energy and strength to speak, “I love you” are the most important words.

In the end, “I love you” is really the only thing that matters.
It’s the only thing that ever mattered.


(*Edit September 3rd: When I first drafted this 2 days ago, Grandma was having lucid moments. When I saw her yesterday, she was no longer oriented to where she was or who was with her.  She is still hanging on, but we are all at peace with her letting go whenever she is ready.)


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