“Grandma, I want to bring my kids to see you.” I touch my grandmother’s arm. Grandma smiles. “I have three, already! Can you believe that?” Grandma opens her mouth and audibly takes a breath. It sounds like she’s about to say something. But she doesn’t.
A few days later, as we drive to the nursing home, I try to prepare my children for what they are going to see. “My grandma is very old,” I tell them. “And the part of her brain that helps her talk is sick. So she won’t be able to say anything. But she wants to see you. And she wants to hear what you have to say.”
“Hi Grandma!” I greet her with manufactured enthusiasm, as we enter her room. I kiss her cheek. “These are my kids! This is A. He’s seven. And T., who just turned five. And this is my baby, H. She just turned two, but she talks like a tiny adult.” I laugh awkwardly at my own stupid joke. Grandma smiles.
My mother is there, too. She leans forward to put her face in my grandmother’s line of vision, as Grandma cannot turn her head. “Ma! These are your great-grandkids! They came all the way from Israel to see you!” Grandma smiles.
A. decides to break the awkward silence with a self-choreographed break-dance routine. “Grandma, look at this!” he calls. She can’t see him, but that doesn’t stop him. Grandma’s roommate, Elizabeth, turns her attention from the ever-present nattering of the television to watch A. flail about the room, his various appendages missing furniture and medical equipment by mere centimeters. Elizabeth smiles. Grandma smiles.
H. and T. are getting antsy. My mother instructs me on how to reach the parlor, where there is a fish tank that might keep them entertained. I wend my way through this massive labyrinth of hallways and doors, each turn revealing another broken human—humans who were once twenty-seven years old like me, who were once two years old, like H.! They walked on their own two feet, and fed themselves with their own two hands, and watched their own ailing parents and grandparents get old and frail. I am them. They are me. Nothing but time differentiates us. I smile at them as I pass by, and then quickly avert my gaze.
We arrive at the fish tank, which is located outside the administrative offices. Bright lights, the jangling of telephones, and important-sounding voices emanate from within. When I steal a glance inside as I pass an open office door, I see an ornate wooden desk. Paintings on the walls. Do you know my Grandma? I want to ask. Do you know that cute old lady in room 253? The one who smiles a lot? She can’t speak up for herself, you know. So make sure she gets special attention.
I take the girls back to the room. My mother is nearly done feeding Grandma her lunch. I kiss Grandma, my kids wave, and we leave.
I come back to the nursing home again the day before I am about to fly back to Israel. I greet Grandma with a kiss, and I tell her how happy I am that I was able to come to America and see her. “I came to say goodbye,” I tell her, and then realize that that sounds too final. “I-I mean, I’m leaving tomorrow.” I stammer. “I’m flying back to Israel. I hope I’ll get to see you again soon.” It still sounds too final. There’s no way to make “goodbye” not sound like “goodbye.”
“Bye, Grandma. I love you.” I kiss her cheek and turn to leave. Grandma smiles.