I brought her jellybeans. They’re low in sodium and she liked them, though God knows why. I could never stand them myself.
I had driven there alone. I didn’t want to go, but it was Mother’s Day and I had made a promise. It was hard to find; down winding roads between old colonials, cemeteries, and churches. It was in town, but tucked behind some historic building that was now a law office. The grass was long. It was a wet spring. I guess I knew the grass grew fast, but I felt it as a bad omen. What other care was slipping through the cracks?
I checked in at the volunteer desk and made my way to the elevator. It opened onto a dementia unit. The hallways were lined with old men and women in wheelchairs. They reached out into oblivion, spoke without answers, reminisced with no one, cried out in anguish at nothing, or stared stonefaced into the void.
At the very end of this gauntlet of despair, down the longest hallway I can ever remember seeing outside of The Shining, sat the husk of the woman who had been my grandmother.
I spoke to her but she didn’t hear. I waited. She talked to my late grandfather about a blue car. My grandfather had been dead 12 years. I have no recollection of a blue car, but perhaps there was one before my time. She cried out again and again. I tried answering, and not answering, and changing the subject. Her mouth was agape. She neither saw, nor heard me. There was no purpose to my presence, except my own pain. I searched for a glimmer of her. I asked the nurses why she was parked in the doorway.
I searched her room for hope, but I all I saw was broken drawers and walls of half-peeled tape where patients long since dead had once hung their family pictures.
I left the jellybeans in a drawer.
By the time I hit the lobby I was sobbing. The volunteer at the desk asked if I was okay but I was no longer capable of speaking. I waved at her in a noncommittal way, grabbed a tissue from the desk, and fled through the doors into the unkempt yard and crumbling macadam. In my car it was half an hour before I regained my composure enough to drive.
It would be three more months before she died. By then she had been in and out of the hospital several more times. She had lost her place at that nursing home and had moved to another. I actually saw her once more. That experience was less horrific. I already knew she was gone, so my expectations were low, and I took my little dog with me to have a distraction. She was less contorted and less agitated.
Cleaning out her home a month after she died, I happened to shuffle across a box of belongings my mother had claimed from the nursing home. The unopened jellybeans were in it.
Nichole M. Dulin