There are things we can apologize for, take back, and rebuild. But there are some doors that, once closed, stay closed. From what I hear, the only thing that lasts forever is diamonds, although I think that’s just advertising. But that never stopped my grandmother. Her love of diamonds – and every other kind of jewelry she could acquire – had always appeared boundless. So much so, in fact, that every time I saw her, she had another gift for my wife, something new and beautiful to wear. Jena’s excitement always made my grandma smile, as though she was the one that crafted the jewelry. She crafted the experience, I suppose, and that was enough for her. Reason enough to keep buying jewelry, reason enough to keep giving it away as easily as you would water.
I am one of those people about whom the phrase “it’s like pulling teeth to get him to do anything” was coined, and never more so than when my family tries getting me to be involved. If they had their way, there would be daily check-ins, bi-weekly visits, monthly extended family trips together, and we’d all live in the same Long Island subdivision. But I’m no longer a child with choices limited to the whims of my caretakers. I set my own agenda. And sometimes there are things that I forget to add to the list.
One of the things that I don’t do is call my grandma. As I have previously mentioned, we have a complex relationship (which is not to imply that my family relationships in general are simple and easy. I don’t speak to her much, calling on holidays and visiting only a few times a year. But she’s the same way: my phone is dead silent on my birthday, and I really only hear from her when my mother issues a reminder. It’s not something I hold against her. I’ve never been inclined to, and the alternative hasn’t seemed to work out for the rest of my family anyway. Their relationships with her aren’t as complex as mine, but only because most have stopped talking to her completely. And I don’t hold that against them either; most tried to have a better relationship with her only for her to lash out and push them away. I was never close enough to be pushed, and so our relationship has, oddly, become one of her best.
Grandma lives in Florida, mostly alone now. She’s in a retirement community, where she has a few friends, but aside from my parents, most of our family opts not to visit her anymore. Her dog of many years, Roxie, who she’s had since when my grandfather was still alive almost a decade ago, was the latest and final victim of my grandmother’s pushing. Roxie had a hard time understanding that she now lived across the hall from my grandma, in someone else’s care, staring at her as she left for the last time. As opposed to those that had “slighted” her, Roxie did nothing but love my grandmother, and the results remained the same.
I bring all this up because I got some bad news recently, that my grandmother’s health was failing. My phone number is only one digit off from my mom’s, so I had been getting occasional calls about it, leading to me being the bearer of bad news in some cases. But with the vague notion that things were taking a darker turn, I took the initiative to call…
And I couldn’t.
No longer am I able to reach her. An attempt to call, which was always met with her inimitable “Hiya” before, now goes through the nurse in between periods of her sleeping or just not being well enough to talk. And for something I didn’t do much, it is surprisingly unnerving to try to call and not being able to hear that voice on the other line. That an option that I could always take, but hardly ever did, was finally closed off.
I distinctly remember a moment when I was much younger, and I was at my grandparents’ country club. They were having a picnic, and I took food from the barbecue, when one of the staff, wanting to make sure I hadn’t just wandered in, asked to verify who I was with. I paused, no one to answer for me, stumbling over words because I never knew my grandparents by the names humans possess. I just knew them as Zaidy and Grandma. And now, at 31, I called the hospital for an update, only to be reacquainted with that overwhelming feeling, not sure if they had her under her full name or the nickname I knew her by. I didn’t know. I felt powerless, and though the confusion was eventually cleared up in both cases, I never felt more like a helpless child.
I once asked Grandma about her jewelry, and she said it was her art. It was easy for me to see her in that light: a frustrated artist, born in the wrong time, constantly playing second fiddle to her husband, my Zaidy. A lot of people saw her expenditures on trinkets and jewelry as an addiction, but it was her gallery, something that symbolized those things she always wanted as a part of herself. Something beautiful and capable of standing the test of time. Something that won’t fight or challenge or disappoint, but that simply is. Something you can put away without feeling guilty of picking up again. Something you can share with those you love, as she always has, with all her heart and without hesitation.
I wonder if she has the strength to take those jewels out if she wanted to…
Update: Since writing, my Grandmother has unfortunately passed away. This blog post has been kept as is.