Yesterday I went to visit my Nani (grandmother) and Nonno (grandfather). Everything was going well, until this happened:
Me: What’s new with you lately?
Nani: I’ve been thinking of pulling a Robin Williams.
Let me back this depressing train up.
My grandparents are adorable little Italians (they barely clear5″3) who’ve been married for 63 years. They’re sassy as hell but they are the most generous people you’ll ever meet.
On Boxing Day 2013 my Nani fell in the middle of the night, breaking her nose and arm in several places. While she was in the hospital, the home she shared with my grandfather for almost 60 years was sold. My Nonno moved into a retirement home, and after three months in the hospital, my Nani joined him. She never had the chance to see her home again and say goodbye; something she talks about constantly.
It’s been seven months since my grandparents moved into their new digs. My Nonno seems happy- he loves the buffet and chatting up the ladies, but my Nani is a different story. She hasn’t really left her room (except for the buffet) and hasn’t participated in any of events or movie nights. I’ve noticed she’s much more nostalgic, forgets things easily and is sleeping more than usual. Yes, yes, I know she’s 83 years old, but there’s been a noticeable change in her behaviour.
My Nani and I have always been very close. She’s my home girl. My road dog. Part of my ride or die crew. My #1 broad. I used to visit her twice a week, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve been slacking in the favourite grandchild department. Like her, I’ve found the change of venue incredibly difficult. I’ve had nightmares almost nightly about their old house. I can’t even drive past their old street. My Nani and Nonnos’ house was my sanctuary, my refuge. It’s just so hard to believe I’ll never be there again.
I’m incredibly grateful that I have all four of my grandparents still with me. Grateful and terrified. I know there are so many people (many of my friends) who have lost their grandparents or parents and would give anything to have more time with them. My shrink says (yes, I’m one of those people quoting their shrink – how New York of me!) that I have “anticipatory grief” because I get caught up in the thought that one day they won’t be here with me. It’s gotten so bad that during family events and holidays I’m holed up in the bathroom hyperventilating because my mind is racing. Is this the last birthday they’re here for? Is this the last Christmas?
Having an Italian grandmother means I’m used to some level of morbidity and disappointment with the fact that I’m not married with children. She’s been talking about dying for as long as I can remember. The difference is that now the things she’s saying things that are really sinking in. Things like, “Who’s going to take care of you when I’m gone?” , “‘I’ll never know what kind of mother you’ll be. What your kids will look like.” (Sweet Oprah Winfrey, I’m getting misty eyed just thinking about it).
After she made her off colour and let’s face it, too soon comment about Robin Williams, I tried my best to keep it together. “Why would you ever say something like that?” I asked her. “You can’t mean that. Take it back.”
Normally we’d laugh things off and I’d threaten elderly abuse. This time she just looked at me and told me how much pain she was in. She said her whole body hurt from the moment she woke up, to the time she went to sleep. She said I couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to have no friends left, to want to call someone but remember at the last second that they’re gone. She told me that it’s getting harder for her to pretend that she still wants to be here. She said she’s ready to go.
I wanted to be angry, but she was so sad I didn’t know what to do. What was I supposed to say?
I looked around the sitting room of the retirement home. Everyone looked so small and alone. My instinct is to feel like a child, to want to be taken care of by my grandparents. What do you do when the people who used to care for you can’t care for themselves? “You can’t leave me until I’m 40.” I said to my her. “I already made a deal with Satan.”
My Nani looked at me wide eyed. “You sold your soul to the devil? Elizabeth Regina, that’s terrible.”
“I didn’t sell mine. I sold yours. Looks like you’re not going anywhere for a while.”
“You bitch,” she said laughing. “What would I do without you?”
It hit me then that she needs me as much as I need her. I felt close to her again, like we were back at her old house sitting playing cards. It felt so easy, so familiar. We sat for a little while longer until it was time for me to go. We said our goodbyes said our “I love you’s” and I promised to be back later this week. If that was our last visit together, I would be OK with it. I hope it’s not, but at least she would know how much I love her. All the things I’ve wanted to say to her have been said and our time together is just icing on the cake.
And everyone knows the icing is the best part.
*I apologize for my grandmother’s insensitive remarks about Robin Williams and suicide. It is not something to be taken lightly.
If you or anyone you know is expressing suicidal thoughts please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)