My grandmother’s 98th birthday was yesterday. Back when she was 97, she managed to post a hello on her Facebook page (yes, my grandma has a Facebook page) with the help of my aunt. She used to peruse her Facebook feed, looking at photos of her family. That was a few years ago, when she was able to navigate the computer by herself.
97 marked a year of change for her. Her memory started to decline. She had a fall, a few weeks after her birthday. And she moved from the apartment in a senior center that she had lived in for close to 20 years to a memory care unit in another city, closer to my aunt and uncle, so that they could visit and be more involved in her care.
She is my last living grandparent. Up until the middle of her 97th year, she seemed indestructible, like she would live forever. The rapid deterioration of her short-term memory magnified the vulnerabilities of end-of-life. How frightening new situations can be. Confining to be limited to an apartment without a stove, for fear that she could leave it burning. Dependent on other people for her care.
Yet her face lit up when I brought my seven-month-old daughter to visit. My grandma and my baby gazed into each others’ faces with the biggest smiles.
I wanted to write about my grandma yesterday, on her birthday. Years ago, she sent me the most thoughtful email and I recently found it pressed between a few books. I wanted to write about how it made me feel. But was it mine to share? It was something special between grandmother and granddaughter.
I tried to think about how it would make her feel… She likely would be touched by my writing about the moment. But then I considered how I would feel if someone shared a letter that I had written, without checking with me first. I often write about interactions with friends, but either the details do not include any identifying information, or I ask my friend first before sharing the story.
I cannot ask my grandmother, because she will not be able to answer me. Last time I visited her, there were moments when I wasn’t sure that she knew who I was.
Even though written to me, it did not feel like my letter to share, while she is alive and not able to talk about it.
The letter is part of my story, but sharing it makes it part of her story.
So instead, I wrote a different piece about my grandmother. One day, I would still like to share the beautiful letter she wrote to me. Knowing also that in all likelihood, when I do end up sharing, she will be gone.