Most visits with my 94 year old grandmother, Beulah, begin with introductions nowadays. As I walk down the long hallway of her care facility to the circle of wheelchairs gathered around the television set, I often find her busy with some small task that she finds quite urgent such as attempting to turn off the lights, close the blinds, or lock the doors. (Her interest in thrift and safety borders on obsessive these days.) Sometimes she’ll look up, see me coming, and a brief, reflexive flash of recognition seems to flutter across her face. Sometimes she remains immersed in her task and I end up surprising her with my presence. In either case, the next step will be to remind her who I am. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way.
As a little girl, I spent many happy hours going through the magical contents of her oversized, seashell encrusted jewelry box; asking her to draw me a few more pictures while I looked on, or consuming cookies and 7Up at her kitchen table. When I spent the night with her, there would be Hee Haw reruns to watch together and a revered tradition of kicking each other under the covers and laughing like crazy for a good ten minutes before drifting off to sleep. She was known to me, and I to her.
She has become increasingly dependent on my mother and those that look after her now, following her move to a care facility. In coming to terms with the reality that we are all taken from each other at some point, occasionally even when our bodies still remain, I began looking at my grandma and her surroundings through an eye that is once removed from my own – the camera lens. In many ways, this has been a welcome relief – a way to look at and appreciate things just how they are, to hold dear what is still here, and be present with who she is now, rather than just pine for who she was… making her moments of clarity all the sweeter.