“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart.”
― Haruki Murakami
for thanksgiving we convinced my grandmother to leave her nursing home and come with us to her brother’s home. my mom held her hand as we drove through the mountains of eastern kentucky towards “home.” she has Alzheimer’s and has recently had trouble walking, eating and drinking. people can’t live very long once they stop drinking (apparently this can be a way for a person to prepare their organs to shut down, but in her case, it’s also possible her medicine just needed to be changed). she was first diagnosed many years ago so I have to remember how remarkable it is that she’s here at all. the folks who care for her are so patient and loving & she really loves them back. this means the world to those of us who cannot be there with her.
still, it’s hard. she sleeps a lot and doesn’t appreciate anyone feeding her. i hear it takes 4 to help her clean. i try to remember back to the summer my sister and i spent with her; did she bathe once? did we bathe her? or did we fall into our bed on the porch at night just so relieved to have survived?
one evening my mom and i sat on either side of her tempting her to eat. she looked up and pointed to my brother on the other side of the room and casually said, “well, there’s james.” my mom covered her mouth with her hand and her eyes filled with tears. it’s been so many years since i’ve heard my own name.
but she knows me.
i know she knows me.
my mom held her close and they laughed together until she was ready for another bite.
we hold our babies close, and if we’re lucky, someday our babies hold us.
this isn’t the story i want to write. but this is the way the story goes. and it’s sad. and it’s painful. and we don’t understand. and maybe it says somewhere in a holy book why. why, why, why, oh god why. and maybe it doesn’t, but we still tell ourselves it does: god has a plan & everything happens for a reason.
one of my mentors’ always responds, ‘no, everything happens [period].’
the other night i had a dream that one of our dogs had pooped a really big poop that looked like a large sweet potato. when i picked it up to throw it away, the potato split in two and I could see that it wasn’t a sweet potato, but a big fish. one side of the fish was still alive (presumably the part with the heart). i froze, and put the fish on a plate. i didn’t know what else to do. the inside looked like a fruit split in half. i told myself ‘this can’t be real’ & soon i knew i was in a dream. ‘of course,’ i thought, ‘but what do i do now?’ i wondered if i should bring the fish to the ocean, or put it in the toilet. but instead i just watched the fish breathe in and out & i turned the plate around so i could look in its tiny eyes and i waited for whatever came next.
i am destroyed. i am cut in two. & yet, i keep breathing. i do whatever i must and i keep going & often, i enjoy it. oh, the drama!
i look at my grandmother and wonder if she’s happy, if she’s glad to still be here in her current form… & i know, in many ways, she is. her life is full, still somehow so full of joy and gratitude.
i look at her and think: this moment will never come again.
and my heart explodes… again.
my grandmother’s younger brother (Uncle Roland) wrote a book (The Laurel Spur) about their childhood growing up in appalachia. the book stretches from the 1800’s to now. and the memories he shared have become mine: memories of growing up on crooked creek and writing their names and secrets on the walls of great salt petre cave. and with every page i find comfort. i wish i had the book close by to share a story, but that will have to wait.
– – –
i think this is the first time baby cory has made an appearance on here. he is bringing so much light into everyone’s lives. my mom took the photos of me at the end & i’m pretty sure i inherited my grandmother’s complete and utter adoration for babies; right now i’m seriously considering becoming a nurse practitioner specializing in neonatal intensive care or pediatrics. i also kind of just want to run away with my love and have beautiful babies to hold close to me forever. thoughts anyone?
i’ll leave you with this quote from David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas,