ghosts

Cat’s got my tongue. More literally than you even know.

There is a lot I can’t write about right now, things I am choking on but can’t quite dislodge. But in the meantime I can write about this: I can write about my grandfather dying. I am not sleeping well these days. I am haunted by ghosts.

I wrote the following post two months ago and didn’t publish it because I couldn’t for some reason, but then I just went back to it and want to publish it now, a snapshot of where I was then. The beginning of November:

***

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone, gone to young girls every one,
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn. 

I am in my grandfather’s bed right now while he’s in the hospital. He’s got advanced bone cancer and is slowly dying. He also had a heart attack the other night. My uncle and I are taking turns staying with my grandma until something else gets figured out. I put my grandma to bed tonight, tucked her in and turned on the nightlight and she said “where’s Sam?” and I said “he’s in the hospital Grandma, he’ll be home soon” and she said “where are you going to sleep?” and I said “in Grandpa’s bed” and she said “where’s he going to sleep?” and I said “he’s at the hospital” and she said “why’s he at the hospital? is he okay?!” and I said “yes he will be okay, and I am here with you tonight” and she said “are you going to sleep right away?” and I said “no, I’ll be up for a few more hours” and she said “will you sit with me for a little while?” and so I did. And when I heard her quiet snoring I tiptoed out and I’ve spent the past four hours sifting through memories. Photos, so many photos. Books, letters, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, VHS tapes of family summers. Things at my grandparents’ house haven’t changed much in the past fifteen years and the space holds so much.

Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone, gone to soldiers every one,
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn. 

I was reading a letter that my grandma wrote to my grandpa during the War. She wrote to him every morning and every evening even if she didn’t hear from him for days or weeks at a time. She was working for the Navy in San Francisco while he was fighting in France and Italy. Twice a day she wrote to him and the letters were always sweet, intelligent, thoughtful, and deeply worried. She’s losing her grip now, but not on him. I don’t know what she’s going to do when he dies. Today, earlier, after we were back from the hospital, she said “you know he’s always been the only man for me. He’s not going to leave me, is he?” and I said “Grandma, he would never, ever leave you.” And it’s true. Except he is, because he’s dying.

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone, gone to graveyards every one,
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn. 

Before I came in here to write, I was standing in my grandfather’s bathroom in front of the mirror staring at myself. I was trying to see but instead I just cried and cried and cried and I watched myself cry and I didn’t look like a child. I’m not sure why that came out that way. I guess what I’m saying is, I put my grandma to bed. I spent the day talking to doctors and making phone calls to family members and negotiating with nurses to try to make my grandfather more comfortable and making sure my grandma was taking her meds and getting to the bathroom and not falling over and eating her food and getting bathed and going to sleep. I spent the day doing that and then I sobbed and wanted so much to be a child, but I’m not. I’m a fucking grown-up and I don’t want it. Take me back. I was watching myself cry in the mirror though and soon I didn’t understand anymore why I was crying and I noticed a tear trail down my neck and straight through the middle of my chest, over the ridges of my ribcage and I thought, “you look too thin” and “you look beautiful” and “you are a grown-up” all at the same time, and then I stopped crying. What is it about grief that brings out beauty?

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone, gone to flowers every one,
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn.

I was watching the local PBS channel a few weeks ago with my grandparents before they went to bed, before my grandfather landed in the hospital, and it was PBS’s fundraising season and so amidst appeals for money they were broadcasting a tape of a Peter, Paul and Mary reunion concert from 1986. That song came on and my grandmother started singing along, child-like and cheerful. My grandfather leaned forward and buried his head in his hands. He knows he’s dying, and he knows she doesn’t know he’s dying. And I watch and a slow ache takes over my body.

I’m not sure where this is going. He’s almost 95 and I know he has to die, and he knows it, and it’s not shocking and shouldn’t be so sad and it’s just strange and I feel all alone.

***

That was two months ago and my grandfather is still alive, though there have been some scares, and I still feel alone, although somewhat less so. My sister has been up a few times from southern California (and is here right now) and my whole family was here for Thanksgiving and I spent Christmas alone with my grandparents and Christmas Eve night washing my grandfather and putting him to bed and cleaning up after his incontinence and talking him through his night terrors. And he might live a few more weeks or another month or two or he might not and I don’t feel prepared, but so it goes.

5 thoughts on “ghosts

  1. Hi ~ thank you for being there for your grandparents as so many young people turn away from the hardness of it all. Why does no one explain these rites of passage? Love and light to you
    Tonja

  2. Oh, I know that feeling. All my life when I had a problem, I would lay my head in my mother’s lap and she would stroke my hair and tell me that everything would be alright. Then she had a stroke and we had to take her off life support and I found myself lying next to her in a hospital bed, stroking her hair, and saying everything would be alright. At that moment I knew that I was now very much alone.

    Sending you warm hugs and lots of love. For this, and for all the other stuff too.

  3. This sounds so hard. I truly empathize because caring for my mother since she went on hospice has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through in my life. I hope things are now going as well as they possibly can under the circumstances. Wishing you and your family peace and blessings. xoxo

  4. I wondered when you didn’t appear at Midnight Mass and when you disappeared from the internet. I should have emailed. I’m sorry.

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