What Was Once, Was, And Is No More

I am wiped out, utterly exhausted and the veggie sloppy-Joe I had for lunch yesterday kept repeating on me, ich. I have no idea what time my body clock is on now. In the last two days I’ve been in Israel, Italy, New Jersey, Ohio, and am now in Aurora, Denver.

John Denver sums up my travels in a way so very well, so I honor him with these very appropriate songs he performed to perfection. First and most obvious is Leaving on a Jet Plane…and even though it’s on auto repeat in my head,  I am thrilled to finally stop moving, at least for 2 days.

Of course as we landed in Denver, I saw them. Just like the postcards, the weather both days helped to make the Colorado Rocky Mountains stand out amongst the fall foliage and I can honestly say they took my breath away. And I heard Jon Denver singing this song in my head…

They are as gorgeous as they seem.

I know this post is going to sound deep and I am in a somber and reflective mood since while I type I listen to the even breathing of my grandmother as she naps next to me. My heart is torn. I have been holding back from really crying though I have teared up more times than I can count. While the Shalom Park Home is a wonderful place filled with caring individuals from the Spalon (I so need one of these) to the PTs and the nurses and the lunch ladies…I am beside myself that this is where my grandmother is.

At 96 years old she is still by far one of the most beautiful women I have ever known. She was always an active woman with an opinion and a Yiddish phrase to fit any situation and send us a lesson to remember. In my two days with her she has still been VERY clear on how she feels on certain issues and has thrown me a phrase which message frightens me especially being surrounded by so many elderly waiting around. It translates into, What was once, was, and is no more. She was referring to life in general, While sharing a table at lunch today with Florence, Sarah, and Katheryn (who is 102 years old btw) I felt suffocated, and sad. Then I looked at everyone else in the dining room and my breath caught in my throat, this is it. The end of the line. Pureed foods, lack of appetite, and foreign workers with accents not being able to understand that all Sara wanted was some tea with her sugar cookie. She was given jarred gefilte fish. That doesn’t even sound like ‘tea’.

While everyone knew my grandmother and said hello to her by name as we strolled through the facility it struck me as funny. When I asked her why she was so popular her response was, ‘you got me’, ‘I don’t know anyone’s name’. When I went back to my hosts, they described the staff there as plastic. That was a perfect description. It was like being surrounded by fake-happy people. I know you need to be really special to work with the elderly and always keep a friendly and perky disposition but it wasn’t feeling genuine. There was a real lack of enthusiasm and I walked away feeling that things need to change. It doesn’t seem fair that this lackluster, boring day-to-day maintenance is the way my grandmother should be spending her days. Bingo was painfully boring as we played game after game, not winning. She turned to me and said, “we’re just here for the ride” even though, give it up, we were the big winners of the day, taking home the jackpot for the blackout board, winning 3 shiny quarters, thank you very much!

At mealtimes, the residents are placed by the dining room all lined up in wheel chairs until the doors open, besides from my grandmother I didn’t see many people standing upright.  During my grandmother’s morning nap I gave myself a walking tour. There were glass boxes with fancy dolls (always so creepy to me) decorating corners, there was a room with a piano, that I was itching to touch and play something upbeat to get some life going on in that place, but I held back. There is a wellness center with an amazing pool and views of the Rockies, that doesn’t get used as much as it should. I get this overwhelming feeling that I need to stay in order to  make a change. But I can’t, my life is thousands of miles away.

We had a visitor, a young woman, her husband and baby. In 2 days I hadn’t seen my grandmother smile as much and sweetly touch the child’s cheeks while laughing and   saying to the mother, ‘what a punim’! (in Yiddish that means ‘face’), and I felt guilty for living so far away. She should be pinching my kid’s cheeks and saying that. One of her own grandchildren should be bringing by all her great grandchildren, she has 10 of which she has only met 5 maybe 6. It was painful to witness, but more painful saying goodbye.

She should live to be 120 years old. While we say this as a means of a blessing, my grandmother very clearly told me it was enough already. She was finished and ready to go. I am utterly gutted as my British friends say, to hear her say this, but I understand her and can’t blame her. I leave knowing that she is being well cared for physically, but I am overwhelmed by regret that I no longer have the opportunity to make a daily difference in her life, how ever long it may last. But she was right and though it’s so depressing she spoke the truth. What was once, was, and is no more. She no longer lives in Brooklyn, which upsets her. She no longer has friends, which upsets her. She is quiet, too quiet and sleeps a lot so I’ve been told. I would too if nothing exciting was going on. And so we said our goodbyes, with lots of hugs and kisses, it will never have been enough. I didn’t want to let go, the unknown hanging over my head if this would be the last time and subconsciously knowing it probably was. So this morning was the first time I really cried, and I am sure I am not done.  But life goes on and tomorrow if all goes as planned I’ll be dancing at my niece’s wedding, a time to celebrate new beginnings and so my heart is uplifted for a while. I keep trying to focus on the positive.

My grandmother’s life was rich and blessed and she has been rewarded with a long life, I hope to follow on her footsteps and know that I was loved and will leave this world when I am old and in comfort.

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7 comments

  1. Sad, poignant, and beautiful. My last days with my grandmother in hospice are some of my sweetest memories now. I hope you are able to remain reflective and make the most of your visit.

  2. Hi Cheri, I know the good bye Must have been very difficult, I understand how you feel. Its a big lump in your throat till you find the right time to let it go. I was very frustrated with my family members when I saw how my grandfather was living, and a grandmother, and there was even a couple times where the discussion of me brining them to Israel to live by me…

  3. I remember your grandparents vividly and your special relationship with them. As I recall, you use do havdalah with them via phone every motzei shabbos. As I read your post, another John Denver song came to mind “Country Roads”. Seems appropriate…

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