I went to visit my grandmother yesterday.  It was the first time in months.  I know, I’m horrible.  How many other 42 years olds can say they have a 100 year old grandmother living in a nursing home they avoid? 

But come on, everybody knows how miserable it is in those places.  To see what used to be your strong, tidy, meticulous grandmother, turn into one of those dreary old ladies rotting away in a wheelchair is tough.  It’s disturbing and heartbreaking and just plain sad.  It’s also awkward as all hell. 

The last time I visited, I found Grandma sitting up in her bed, happy, cheerful and covered with the beautiful quilt my mother made for her last Christmas.  We chatted for a few minutes and then one of the caretakers came in and said, “OK Hetty! Ready for me to take the bedpan away?”  See? Awkward! 

Sometimes when I go Grandma is sleeping.  A little awkward, and waking her up is even more so.  Although now that I know that a 100 year old lady can be very disoriented when first waking up from a nap I’m always prepared for the visit to be short and predictable, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  After Grandma gets over her usual grogginess and we establish who I am and how we are related the conversation usually goes like this:

“Oh Karen, how nice to see you dear! Do you have the day off work?”

“Yes, I certainly do. It’s Saturday. How are you doing Grandma? Everything going OK in here?”

“Oh sure! How’s Jerry?”

“Jerry’s good.  He’s busy with work as usual.”

“So where are you living now?”

“We live in Castro Valley. We’ve been there for six years now.  We like it.  Do you remember Castro Valley Grandma? Do you remember stopping at De Luca Deli?”

“Oh sure….”

There will be a pause while we both sit there and then we will cycle through the same conversation again.  After three or four goes at this Grandma will start throwing in “Well it was really nice of you to stop by” which is my que to go.  It’s short, sweet and everyone is happy. 

But sometimes the mid-nap visit doesn’t go so well.  Like the time Grandma was really groggy and we never quite got past settling on the correct time of day, (she kept looking out the window and saying “It sure is bright for 5am!”) or establishing who I was.  When I told her I was Karen she said, “You know, I have a really good friend named Karen.  She lives in Castro Valley with her husband Jerry.” Again, awkward. 

My visit this weekend was actually pretty good.  Grandma was neither sleeping nor peeing when I got there.  She was fully dressed, sitting in her wheelchair by the window and knew perfectly well who I was.  I ended up visiting for well over an hour.  After we cycled through our standard conversation I pulled out a copy of “More Home Cooking” by Laurie Colwin and read out loud chapters on Grandma’s favorite foods: coffee, butter and biscuits.  It was a lovely afternoon.  And save for a minor wheelchair incident in the hall with another old lady, there wasn’t a single awkward moment. 

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