Today would have been my grandmother's 101st birthday. Born in 1909 and ultimately checking out in the spring of 2001, her birthday in 2000—a decade ago—was the last one she celebrated. I wasn't there. I still have a feeling of regret for being distant even as I lived under the same roof. My only comfort is that she did have a family that took care of her and they made her life quite a bit better in the end. Just a month and a half after she turned 91, she had a fall and spent the night in the bathroom, crying for help all night and into the morning until her main caretaker, Connie, showed up around 11.
This isn't breaking news to some of my confidantes from the last decade, but on that night, I was completely selfish and lapsed in my responsibility to another human being. I came home late that Sunday night after Thanksgiving, sometime in the wee hours around 2 am or so. I walked in and heard her occasional cries for assistance. I even looked in on her cracked doorway and walked away, maybe soured by the already-overwhelming smell of an old woman who soiled herself in the bathroom. Those days I went to bed at nearly dawn so it was probably hours I was fully conscious of her situation. I did nothing. I just was in my own selfish space. It was a complete moral failure on my part. I don't know for sure, but I do recall that my mind sometimes entertained that her final days could not be far off. Maybe I was under that impression on that night. I just don't know what I was thinking, if I was thinking at all.
To the extent that I was thinking, I can only say it was that I somehow knew that if anyone found her, it would be the beginning of a shift that no other measures could have brought about. She was stubbornly attached to living in that house (and of course so was I), but when her needs escalated to regular meals and other care that I never provided anyway (by arrangement essentially), she would still not want to leave. To have someone else find her in such a sad state would be the only thing that would sort of force the hand of fate, causing her to need to go to where she might be better taken care of. My lame part in it all went unquestioned, so I never really had to defend my actions because no one really knew I knew. After all, who is to say what time she fell versus what time I came home? Everyone knew I was out or otherwise occupied late. And I am not surprised if they also thought of me as selfish and distant.
It took me about three more years until I was finally able to speak of this night while I was in Halcyon House, in an environment that forced me to consider my life at a deep level. It had to finally be addressed while sitting with my pastor who made a few calls out there to see me. Not being from a denomination that emphasizes confession, I had heard him make some semi-ironic comments on "confession is good for the soul." Well, it certainly was in this case. Later, in the desert on my initiation rites, I ran down a huge list of things in my mind, this among them, and presented them to God to deal with. No bolts of lightning or flash floods to deal with me; just a message that it is okay to move on and to act more compassionately when the next moment presents itself.
My grandmother did indeed start a new life after that fall and inglorious night on the bathroom floor. She was at the hospital for a few weeks. She didn't have any real problems except for her age related ones. She didn't break anything. But they kept her for a while to make sure all was well. While visiting her there, she seemed a lot more chipper and chatty than at home. I was relieved in some way to see her getting a lot of care that perhaps would not have been the case otherwise. The last time I remember seeing her and my old man in the same room was in those weeks at the hospital. All was not really well, but some things were getting better.
In a sort of karmic way, my slothful moment that Sunday night was answered by what had to be a misspoken word on her part in the presence of my old man. G-ma was no doubt medicated and feelin' fine when she lapsed in her memory of what details to keep from whom, and those details included the newly revealed fact that I was in a new period of relationship with my mother. This was something I had revealed on the weekend before she fell, to her and my stepmom and stepsister only. I wasn't there to hear it, but this has to be how it played out. From that moment on, with this news in the wrong hands, my distanced participation in events was brought to an end with my old man getting the sensitive information that I had no intention of sharing directly. This led us to blowout arguments, mean spirited letters dropped on my truck window, and much angst in the immediate aftermath, and ultimately to the game playing with the house that fills this journal from 2004-2006.
Tonight my dear wife is agonizing over some stomach and intestinal woes with a dose of a fever to boot. It kept her from work for a day or two, from decent sleep and from eating. I've had to do the little things to take care of her—the trip to the store for the chicken soup and orange juice. It probably isn't anything major and won't be a defining instance in either of our lives, except maybe for me as I look at it as one more chance to settle up for that one night when I failed one of the great women in my life.