“They don’t know that much,” my mom said as we left the senior living home. “The aides,but they’ve seen him the whole time, so they would know how his breathing was,” she said.
When we were there, his breathing was short. Gurgling sounds came from somewhere deep within his chest. He had fallen the day before, and we weren’t sure if he was going to wake up.
As Opa lay in the hospital bed, he moved without waking, grabbing the oxygen tube, his blocky fingers pinching it, his unconscious sapping away the dexterity to fully curl around the rubber. The golden watch on his hand had stopped ticking at some point.
My mom took his hand, unbending his fingers so he would release the tube. She held onto it and then said, “Hi, Dad.”
We looked through a dark green notebook that rested underneath the TV. The staff wrote in it to record how he was during their visits in the memory care unit. It contained many mentions of sleep, but sometimes he was up and about. They wrote when he accepted their help for tasks like changing his clothes or trimming his nails. One post stood out among the rest, for it ended, “When he woke up, he wanted a big hug.”
I’ve hugged Opa every time I’ve seen him; it’s just what you do with your grandparents. Beyond that, though, we were never close. In a way, I was just like the aides: reactionary, not knowing what to do, but just trying to be there for my mom. When she was asking them questions about Opa’s health, their eyes never left hers even as they were trying to think of the answers that no one else could.
The words to “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” filtered through the air. A programming staff was leading a group of elderly people in a sing-along around the dining room table. My mom waited to hear the aides’ opinion.
“Well, he’s strong,” was eventually what the more experienced, authoritative aide said. She was kind, her voice quiet to treat the situation with reverence. Mom had to step into the room to hear her over the singing that was taking place in the common room.
“Bring back. Bring back. Oh bring back my Bonnie to me.”
My mom and I stayed at the senior living place for 15 minutes. We didn’t want to wake Opa up and cause him to feel his broken bones. To leave the memory care unit, she entered in the pin number to open the locked doors, another layer of separation between us and him.
I don’t feel as much as I should, and I know that. If I had been a better granddaughter and visited him more, or if I had gotten over my timidity and spoken in the loud, clear words that he needed to hear me, maybe our relationship would have been better. So now I play the waiting game, trying to read my mom’s needs so that I can help her when whatever happens, happens.