I haven’t heard my grandma, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, say a coherent word for nearly three years. She said these last words while receiving communion at the assisted living facility. As everyone genuflected to launch into the lord’s prayer, my grandma did too, saying “Father, son…” and then petering out. I figured those were words she could formulate because she had gone to church and said them every weekend of her entire life until the day she moved in here. Those words were seared into the empty rivulets of her brain, so they didn’t seem a miracle to fish out.
I accepted the reality that I’d probably never hear her say another word again.
And then I did.
It happened on my recent visit, a drop-in at the assisted living facility that marked over a year and a half since I’d seen her (pandemic lockdown).
Once my plane landed, I got my rental car and started on the hour-long route north. I called the nursing home to make sure I could walk-in to see her or whether I needed to make an appointment. I didn’t. I asked then, to the surprise of both myself and a Wanda on the other end of the line, if I could bring flowers. Would that be OK?
I don’t know what came over me to ask such a thing. I don’t usually bring flowers when I visit. I don’t usually bring flowers for anything. Maybe I thought there needed to feel like there was more gravitas to this moment. I hadn’t seen her in so long. We’d survived a pandemic. Her husband died during that time. I knew she wouldn’t remember me, but flowers… well, anyone can remember those, right?
I thought about just hopping off the highway to a Kroger or a Whole Foods. They always have little flowers packaged up at the end of the aisles. Instead, I looked up the local Marion flower shop, saw they were open, and entered the address into my phone. It felt good to buy from a local family business after the pandemic. Plus, I knew they’d probably have roses. My grandma’s name is Rosemary. Even if she didn’t remember me, I wanted to show that I remembered her. I got half a dozen multicolored roses for Grandma in a glass vase and another half-dozen in a mournful maroon to take to my grandpa’s grave. He loved his Rose.
When I enter the long-term care wing and ask for Rosie, the nurses look at me grimly, wondering whether I’m prepared for just how far gone she is. I am. They wheel her into her room and shut the door. It’s the two of us.
After some fruitless and awkward talking to her while sitting across from her, I spend most of my time squatting next to her wheelchair, rubbing her back and nervously trying to use my other arm to keep her in her seat. The medication they gave her keeps her nodding in and out of sleep. She doesn’t register my presence when she has to look at me, but she seems to lean into my hugs.
So I position her so that when she wakes up from the brief naps, she’ll see only the flowers, now sitting on a table in her room.
And that’s when it happened. I was squatting by her side, arms around her, when she woke up and, clear as day, said, “Flowers for me.”
Three little words. One moment I’ll remember forever. 🌹
She passed away two weekends later. While writing her obituary, I turned to my notebook of stories written by her and my grandpa. There I found another gift. A recollection of her first memory: “I was about 2 ½ years old then. [Brother] Eugene and I were in the barnyard with Dad. We were standing near a wagon watching the men who were taking the horses. Well, about the time one of the horses was being led to the truck to be taken away. Dad put his hands under my arms and swooped me up into the wagon, as he did with Eugene. I remember the horses coming by the wagon bobbling their head like horses do when they walk. I was about eye-to-eye level with the horses. I think this is the earliest memory of my life.”