Life and death

When Geoff’s grandma calls me, I never answer the phone.

No, wait, it’s not what you think. I love Geoff’s grandma. For simplicity, let’s call her Grandma. Grandma is everything that my Bubbie wasn’t. She’s loving, kind, friendly, funny. She’s delightful. I’ve felt close to her since Geoff and I started dating. Honestly, she inspires me with the way that she loves her kids, grandkids, even her husband. She’s a great role model, and I’ve told her so.

But something about her scares me.

Grandma is pushing ninety. She’s been in good but not perfect health for the last ten years or so. About seven years ago, Grandma and Grandpop were in a car accident that left them each with various ailments. Still, they hang in there, and they are always, without fail, happy to hear from us and ready to welcome us for a visit. They both adore the kids. Grandma still gets down on the floor to play with them.

A couple of years ago I started shutting her out.

We were at her house for a visit, and Grandma started to feel dizzy. She went up to her bedroom to lie down and a little while later she called me upstairs. Me, not Geoff, not Grandpa, not even her own grown daughter. I found her lying on the bed next to her blood pressure machine. Her blood pressure was too high, she told me. She didn’t want to go to the hospital, and she asked me to stay with her. I sat on the edge of her bed, held her hand, and put my other hand on her shoulder. We took deep breaths together.

I was scared.

I told her that she would be alright, and after about half an hour her blood pressure returned to normal. The next day she paid a visit to the doctor. She made a quick recovery and the rest of our visit was just fine. You’d never have known anything had happened.

But I did.

When I was sitting with Grandma up in her room, I had the strangest feeling. With my hands on her and us breathing together, I felt like I was giving her some kind of a transfusion. A life transfusion. I could feel the energy passing between us, even though I didn’t understand it. In the moment, I could only think in dichotomies. If I was giving her life, then she must be giving me death in return. I didn’t want death. I still don’t.

From then on, things were different between us.

When she calls, I don’t answer. I tell Geoff to call her back. I still love her, and we visit. The kids send her artwork. Still, I’ve been stingy with her. I haven’t let her hear my voice, I haven’t given her any more life. I’ve closed myself, as if life were a special gift of mine and death a curse of hers, rather than both being realities that we share.

I’ve been wrong.

I hope that I can find the courage to be open with her again. I hope that I can do the small things that she requests as she gets closer to the end of her life. I hope that she will trust me to help her.

Did you know that I used to live on a mountain?

You might not believe it, considering that I now live in the Midwest, in flat Plains territory, where my kids think that the sledding hill is a mountain. Oh, they have no clue.

Way back when, before the kids were in the picture, Geoff convinced me to move to a log home on top of a mountain. We lived in Virginia back then, where there are a few respectable mountains. We had some friends who lived on top of one of them. The first time we visited them was an initiation. We grew up in suburbia. I, for one, had never seen a switchback. Have you? Well, that first time, armed with our friends’ instructions, Geoff finally got to test out the low-four-wheel drive on our new SUV. He was psyched. I was scared – no, terrified – on the way up, and I threatened to get out of the car. But we made it up the four switchbacks, found our friends’ beautiful house, and spent the afternoon admiring the view of the fields below.

Then it came time to leave. Going down the mountain frightened me even more than driving up. We literally could not see the road in front of the car. I’m pretty sure that I kept my eyes closed the whole way down. By the time we reached the main road I was glad that it was all over.

Less than a year later, we bought the house across the road from our friends. We made the decision to move impetuously, for us. We sold our townhouse and bought a log home, and the whole thing happened in just a few weeks. It’s a blur, but I remember that Geoff wanted it and I wanted it for him. I wanted it for us. It was the beginning of a six-year-long adventure.

That first day, that afternoon when I followed the moving truck from tidy suburbia past the horse farms, past all signs of civilization, to our new home in the woods, I took a deep breath as I reached the bottom of the mountain. I was scared but I did it anyway. I can clearly remember the adrenaline rushing through my body as I steered the car up those switchbacks. I reached the mostly flat gravel road at the top. I drove slowly, the view my prize for risking my life. Then, just like that, I was home.

We lived in that home until our daughter turned one. I drove up and down the mountain hundreds of times. Yet I never got used to it. For years, as I drove the winding road leading to those switchbacks, my heart would race. Every single time those switchbacks made me nervous. Every day the mountain was new to me.

The view from our deck
The flat part of the road
The flat part of the road

Thanks, Samantha, for inspiring me last week with your post about adjusting to change.

If she could do it, so can you

My mom used to be afraid to go out. When I was a kid, until I was eight, she mostly stayed in the house. We lived in a small, suburban apartment, a short walk to a shopping center. We didn’t have a car. When I was really little, the farthest that my mom would go was a fire hydrant that was maybe 100 yards from our door. We used to call it the yellow thing.

“Want to walk to the yellow thing?” my mom would call.

“Yeah,” I’d say and jump up to get my shoes on. I remember being really excited about it.

That went on for years. My mom would need another adult to accompany her to the grocery store, drugstore, doctor’s office, or wherever she needed to go. We didn’t go out much.

Until I was about eight, my mom knew that she had a panic disorder, but I don’t think that she saw a therapist or took any medication for it. I do remember her keeping a jug of wine in the hall closet and having a glass whenever she did have to go out, any time of day.

As a kid, I didn’t think any of that was strange. I didn’t have much comparison, so I just accepted it. I even liked walking to the yellow thing.

One day, out of the blue, when I was about eight, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to Rite Aid to get a candy bar. “Really?” I asked. I couldn’t believe her. I skipped along beside her to the drugstore, practicing my whistling.

A few days later, my mom began seeing a doctor and got a prescription for Xanax. Now I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it was a wonder drug. It wasn’t. She traded her fear of going out for a habit of falling asleep anywhere – on the city bus, at a school assembly, even at the dinner table. I hated it. But my mom’s decision changed our lives. She was suddenly able to take me places – to the mall, to the library, on trips downtown. All of a sudden, my world expanded from the limits of our small apartment.

If my mom were around now, I’d ask her why she decided to change. Did she do it for me? What was it exactly that made her want to be different? What gave her the strength? As a kid, I was thrilled when my mom started venturing out. But now, as an adult and a parent, I can appreciate her choice so much more. It was hard, but she did it anyway. Thanks, Mom, for the great lesson.

I Don't Like Mondays Blog Hop