My last day in New York, I headed out to Forest Hills, Queens to visit my grandfather. I’d tried to see him before I moved to Austin mid-April, but he wasn’t up for visitors. It used to be that he’d get excited, over the phone, from the idea of plans. We’d go to Parkside restaurant, or at least say we would, and he’d look forward to it all week. But when the day arrived for me to visit, he’d phone with "really not up for it." A part of me was relieved I didn’t have to travel, that I could instead tend to my list of "have-to." I feel badly saying that because I, of course, love him and would do anything for him. But I felt relief instead of disappointment. I imagine my grandchildren will one day feel this too. They’ll prefer to spend time with their friends, or at the movies, than sitting with their grandmother in a living room, being offered a bowl of fruit.
I didn’t feel that way this time. I would have been disappointed if he’d turned us away. I was in from Texas and knew we wouldn’t be back until mid-September for our wedding. He lit up when he heard we were coming, my father said. "He’s like a little boy, now. He gets very excited about visitors, about dinner, about news." Before he liked the idea but turned us away. "He’s reverting," my father said. And I understood. When we age we become childlike again, in the care of others. Learning to walk slowly. Someone helping us to the bathroom.
He looked frail and is now barely able to see. Philip brought him a poster from my Borders reading: a huge photo of me with my name. My grandfather pressed it up to his face and smiled when he made out KLEIN. I couldn’t believe how much his sight had deteriorated since last seeing him. He didn’t look good. It made me want to cry. "I’m so proud of you," he said. And a tear slipped down my face. I went to hug him, putting my hand on his shoulder. I felt his bones this time. He did not look good. It scared me, seeing how he couldn’t see me.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose your sight. Though I don’t think he’s afraid; he’s at peace, which is always a comfort. He chose chemo. He wants to do what he can to be here, but I think he’s tired. He has stopped controlling things, handed over his finances, and he now lives in the small pleasure of visits, phone calls, and fresh black plums. "Steph, you’ve got to take some with you." Before I left for the airport, he asked seven times, wanting to be reassured that I had taken some of his fruit, in a plastic baggie. "Jewish grandmother" was all I could think as my Jewish grandfather pushed me out the door with food.
"When you get to my age, Steph, it’s always something." "Something" now consists of chemo, diabetes, tumors, of two nurses, of Vernell (our family housekeeper who has been with us since before I was born). He’s ninety years old. He refused to celebrate his last birthday with us, fearing it was jinxing his life. "I’m just so proud of you. You didn’t pull strings. You made your dreams come true on your own, and very few people can say that. And now you’re getting married to a wonderful man in the Jewish religion. That’s very important." I put my hand on my lower abdomen. "And you’re having babies," he added. I wondered if he’d seen me just then. Life amazes me. I hope he’s able to come to our wedding. I hope he’s around to meet his great-grandchildren. I miss him already. And I feel guilty about that too. He’s not even gone. Because while we’re young, as I am, we have a hard time letting go, of realizing really, what we cannot control. We’re left to follow by example and let things slip, like a silken bow untied, loose to loss.
Share this Post