Thursday, July 19

to wit

I was warmed by the pulling together of family and friends at my uncle's funeral last week, but I can't help but think of the many years of suffering he endured, many of those days, hours, and minutes spent alone.

With all the wonderful remembrances of his life, it's a shame, I thought, that he couldn't be there to hear. I lamented my inevitable absence from my own funeral and felt very sorry to miss it.

I suppose not everyone finds such ego-stroking so tempting, but without witnesses, how do we know who we are, from whence we've come, and to what it all amounts?

My grandfather has, for the past several years, witnessed my grandmother's identity disappear into a mind that no longer recognizes itself.

"Hi, Grandma! It's so good to see you," I greet her at the door.

"Good to see you," she mimics back, carefully repeating verbatim. But there is a sparkle of recognition in her eyes.

The youngest of nine children, my grandmother was a great story teller, but these days she can hardly tell us who she is. Conversely, I've never heard my grandpa talk more in the entire time that I've known him. Sitting on my parents' living room couch, he asks me about my special friend (read: boyfriend) and tells me how he'd like to write letters to all his grandchildren. This is the man who barely spoke to me on the phone my entire life.

"We watched a Shirley Temple the other day," Grandpa informs us alluding to the collection of movies my parents gave them. "And she was focused till the very end," he noted. When I was a little girl, Grandma, who collected Shirley Temple memorabilia in her play room, liked to put my already curly hair into ringlets.

"Here you go, Baby Doll," Grandpa says, pulling a chair out for her at the table. At dinner, he chatters on about the food and good company while Grandma eats deliberately at the salmon, carefully removing the meat from the skin with her fingers.

"She won't let me take her to McDonald's, but she likes to go have a cappuccino," Grandpa informs us. I look at Grandma, who, religiously warned us of the evils of coffee for as long as I can remember, but she only smiles and giggles awkwardly, as if on cue. Then we all dive into our cheesecake.

With the distraction of dessert, Grandpa leans over to Grandma and gives her a reassuring kiss on the cheek.

Ice cream helps
Back in the living room, I sit close to Grandma and put her hand on my knee, the way she always used to. I try to show her pictures on my iPhone, but she looses interest quickly. Suddenly, she appears stressed.

"Let's go," she says to Grandpa.

"You want to go? But these are the people you love," Grandpa replies.

In the past, anxious to get home, Grandpa almost always had to drag Grandma away from family gatherings. But now home is a place where he must care for her alone.

Helping her into the car, my dad gives her one last hug.

"I love you, Mommy," he says.

"I love you, Mommy," she parrots.

"No, I'm not your mommy, you're my mommy," he says.

"You're my mommy," she repeats.

I repress giggles remembering the game my sisters and I used to play to harass each other.

Digging into old boxes this week, I sift through years of written correspondence. I have notes from good friends and friends whose names I no longer know, all bearing their specific witness to my life.

"Make me a witness," Sarah McLachlan sings in one of my favorite songs: "Take me out/Out of darkness/Out of doubt..."

And when we're done
Soul searching
As we carried the weight
And died for the cause
Is misery
Made beautiful
Right before our eyes...?

I think it is.