By Sandy Gingras
Featured Image: Roses by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington
When my mother was dying, we started calling her “Grammy” as if she’d become someone else. She was eighty-five pounds. She looked like a shrinkydink of herself. She wore a diaper and a hospital gown. The diaper looked enormous on her. It was one of those pull-up ones. If you yanked up her diaper when she was trying to stand, you could lift her right off her feet. “Whoa,” she’d say to you. “Whoa there.” Grammy was a good sport. She was nothing like my mother.
She was on morphine, so a lot of the time, she made no sense. “You know,” she’d tell me earnestly, “I gotta get me a Louie-Louie.”
“Okay,” I’d tell her, but I didn’t have a clue what she meant. “I’ll buy you one.”
“Don’t get it too small,” she’d say. “Oooh,” she’d kind of shiver with excitement, “That will be lovely.” Lovely. As if my mother would ever say a word like that.
One day, Grammy stood up from lunch at the kitchen table, and I pulled her walker over to her.
“What’s that?” she said.
“That’s your walker.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “I don’t know how to walk.”
From then on, she had a wheelchair. We put an afghan across her knees, one that she crocheted years ago, and wheeled her outside in her garden to give her some sun on her face. “This place,” she said, “will be a parking lot after I’m gone.” She was sure that, when she died, the world would disappear with her.
Who was I to argue with that?
Soon, she was barely awake at all, and her breathing was like a slow muffled drum, so I started making arrangements. I went to the funeral director and gave him a deposit. I wrote her obituary. I cleaned out her closets and brought all her clothes to the Old and New Shop. My brother said I was jumping the gun, but it helped me to have something to do. Grammy slept through it all. Grammy was at peace, I thought.
Then, one afternoon, she woke up and said she wanted a pizza and a beer. She said she wanted out of her damn hospital gown and into her jeans.
My mother had returned.
“Let me read to you,” I said, picking up the book We Don’t Die which I’d been reading to Grammy to comfort her.
My mother eyed me.
I put the book down.
Where the hell did Grammy go, I thought desperately. I thought, please don’t get up and look in your closet. Everything is gone in there except a couple plastic hangers and a rubber band on the floor. I even cleared off her top shelf— the footbath massage my brother gave her for Christmas three years ago, and, inexplicably, a straw cowboy hat.
I was scared. I was screwed.
Could she have gone into remission? She’d been dying for six months now of lung cancer. She’d been coughing up Dixie cups of blood.
But, a moment later, she was asleep. When she woke up, she was Grammy again. It was a blessing.
“Grammy,” I sat down next to her. “You gave me my love of books,” I told her. It was so big inside me, it almost choked me to say it. I’d never been able to say it before.
“I know that, dear,” she said and patted my hand.
Dear, she called me.
“And remember when you were the class mother in third grade and you and Dolly made those giant tissue paper flowers for everyone in my class?” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Thank you,” I said.
I sat by Grammy’s bed and put a dropper full of morphine under her tongue. “Thank you,” she said to me.
Then, my son, who was eleven, came into her room carrying a mason jar of flowers from my mother’s garden. Grammy looked at her flowers like they were sticks, and him, the love of her life, like he was someone else.
Sandy Gingras is the author and illustrator of twenty-five gift books. She designs stationery products for several companies and owns two retail stores. She lives with her husband and her golden retriever on an island six miles out to sea off the coast of New Jersey. She won the Crime Writer’s Association’s Debut Dagger Award for a mystery she wrote in 2012.
Originally appeared in NOR 17