We have a good guess as to what she’ll be doing when we arrive. The only question is where.
We peer down each hallway. Sure enough, there she is in the far corner, pushing herself in her wheelchair. “Doing laps,” as Young Man would say.
“Hi Grandma,” I call out as we get closer. She seems somewhat startled, somewhat pleased. I introduce myself, introduce the kids. “Can you believe how big they’re getting?” I ask. She can’t place who we are.
Her hands keep busy, pushing the wheelchair forward. “You’re getting good exercise,” I tell her, wanting to be kind, wanting to be true. She gives me a polite smile, her hands never resting from their repeated motion forward. “I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know.”
She turned 95 years old this month. She pushes the wheelchair almost nonstop each day, not for the exercise but because she can’t *not* do it.
I kneel down beside her so we can be at eye level. Every few minutes I do an awkward crawl to catch up with her. At one point I block a wheel with my foot so we can be still. But she keeps pushing forward, so I keep pace with her on my knees instead, trying to match her slow but persistent movement.
I give her updates on family members. I talk about the weather. It is a monologue, but I continue anyways. I reminisce about my own childhood, of staying overnight at her house, of sending random items down her laundry chute, of eating her thick split-pea soup. “I don’t know,” she mumbles, “I don’t know.”
I try to dig even deeper back into time, remembering on her behalf the things I myself never knew. Of her father’s laundry and restaurant businesses in Northeast. Of the first time she met Grandpa and his twin brother, when they were out driving their brand new car. But today not even the Long Ago Memories spark any recognition.
Sometimes the kids have asked me why we visit her, when she doesn’t even know who we are. I wonder how best to explain it to them. I wonder how best to explain it to myself.
“Often Grandma doesn’t remember things,” I’ve told them. “But her heart knows. Her heart knows that we love her. Her heart knows that she loves us. It’s not always easy to tell, is it? But deep inside, even when we can’t see it, her heart knows.”
This isn’t the Grandma I knew, but this is still my Grandma. Grandma, whose body is betraying her in her final years.
Her hands keep their endless motion on the wheel rims, those hands that used to stroke my hair as a child. Oh how I loved when she did that.
"We should get you a pedometer,” I remark. “I bet you put in a lot of miles each week.” She laughs.
When it is time to leave, I ask if I can kiss her, not quite sure how she’ll respond. She nods, and I reach over and put my lips on her forehead. She lifts her hands towards my face. “That’s what I would like,” she says with an almost childlike earnestness.
At first I’m not sure what she means.
“Do you…want to kiss me, Grandma?” I ask, hesitating in my surprise.
I lean towards her face again, and she kisses my cheek. It is an unexpected moment. And then she continues forward, slowly pushing her wheelchair down the hallway for yet another round.
It was a good visit.
Her heart knows.
"May the eyes of your heart be opened
to see the hope to which you've been called..."