|Wade and his mom|
The writings of bestselling humorist Wade Rouse – called “wise, witty and wicked” by USA Today and the lovechild of Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris – have been featured multiple times on NBC’s Today Show as well as on Chelsea Lately on E! and People.com. His latest memoir, "It’s All Relative: 2 Families, 3 Dogs, 34 Holidays and 50 Boxes of Wine," just launched in paperback February 1st from Broadway, and he is creator and editor of the humorous dog anthology, "I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tales about Man’s Best from America’s Favorite Humorists" (NAL). The book features a Foreword by Chelsea Handler’s dog, Chunk, essays by such beloved chick lit authors as Jane Green, and 50 percent of the book’s net royalties go to the Humane Society of the United States. For more, visit his website, or friend him on Facebook or Twitter.
The Privileged Few
My grandma Shipman used to install 20-foot inflatable reindeer on her roof, wrap our gifts in velvet bows, and hand decorate hundreds of Santa Claus cookies, whipping and dying the icing so that Santa’s coat looked red and velveteen, his eyes glistening from just that little extra coating of sugar.
But when my grandmother became ill and her health slowly and methodically began to decline, our holidays became more minimalist.
It was too difficult for me to see my grandmother as a ghost of Christmas past, so I began to stay away more and more during the holidays while she lived in a nursing home. What I missed during this absence, I would later discover, was the fact that my mom had taken on my grandma’s role, spending vast amounts of time in my grandma’s nursing home room recreating those cherished holidays for her.
One spring evening, after I had not visited home in a particularly long time, my mother called and said, simply but directly, “I think it’s time you visited your grandmother. I expect to see you on Mother’s Day.”
I cursed my entire five-hour drive home, lamenting a lost weekend. As a young man, I had so many better things to do.
When I returned that Mother’s Day, I walked in to find my mother a changed woman. She seemed tougher, more resilient. She said, very directly, “It’s about time, young man.”
That Sunday, my mom and I went to visit my grandmother on Mother’s Day, bringing her a vase of hand-picked peonies from her garden, a box of chocolates and a stack of gifts, hauling them into a very nice facility and past a few patients, some of whom sat motionless, in the throes of dementia.
I leaned into my mother, and we made our way to my grandma’s room, which was marked simply with only her first name, Viola, drawn in purple.
“I’ll go in first,” my mom said. “I want to prepare her.”
There was something about the word “prepare” – prepare my grandma for what, I thought – that made my teeth begin to chatter.
I waited a moment and then peeked my head around the frame and saw not my grandmother but an unrecognizable version of her: Bloated, pale, a mass of white, brushed-out permed hair, no make-up, no dentures.
My mother was hugging a ghost.
I retreated, standing flat against the blandly cheery wallpaper in the hallway. I shut my eyes to stop the spinning and tried to remember my grandmother as she had been.
My grandma’s sole dream in life had been to be a mother and a grandmother. Happiness pulsed from her body, joy radiated from her soul, when she engaged in the simplest of daily pleasures: Frosting a towering cherry-chip cake; decorating for the holidays; listening to her family tell the tales of their lives.
My grandma was a simple woman, and – as I grew older and moved to the city – I equated her simpleness with naivete. That was a mistake. And when I longed to tell her story of my life, to have her sit and listen around her Formica dining room table like she had did when I was young, it was too late.
“Wade?” I heard my mother say.
I rounded the corner and my grandma looked at me, blankly, like a babysitter might look at a child they once cared for, with vague familiarity.
I approached her bed gingerly, and she looked at me, trying to fit the pieces together somewhere in her head, and when she did, she began to bawl, to caress my face, as if it were the most tender, precious, beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
I finally took a seat in one of those nursing home chairs that looks inviting but isn’t comfortable, that begs you to sit but not stay. I looked out the window and watched the wrens collect at the little feeder my mom had placed just outside the window. My grandma’s world was now this window.
Out of the blue, my grandma began pointing at pictures on her nightstand, photos of her family, and my mom would give one to her and she’d hold it closely, hugging the picture like it was the person, closing her eyes and remembering something from long ago.
Then my grandma would point at a picture and touch her mouth. She was asking my mom to speak for her. We sat for hours that Mother’s Day, my mom telling stories of our family. At the end, my grandma pointed at a picture of me she had beside her bed, one of me when I was little, dressed in a tiny bowtie.
“My baby!” she moaned, managing to find words from deep inside. “My Wade!”
Then it was me who began to cry, to bawl, my false bravado shattering, my gasps causing the wrens at the window to stop eating and take notice of the commotion.
My grandma lifted her fists and dabbed my face, then put her hands to her mouth, asking me to talk.
And I did. For an hour. Telling my grandma about my life, as she smiled, watching my every move, listening intently, just like she had when I was young and we sat at her dining room table.
Later, I asked my mom on the ride home: “How do you do it? How can you do it? Every day? It’s such an obligation.”
|Wade's mom and grandmother|
My mom slowed the car, her hands trembling on the wheel. “And it’s not an obligation, Wade. It’s a privilege.”
There was an awkward moment of silence.
And then my mom, the lifelong nurse who retired and became a hospice nurse, stopped the car, and said: “Your grandmother spent her whole life sacrificing for me so I would have a better life than she did. When people age, families don’t want to deal with it. Sure, they visit in the beginning out of guilt, but it becomes a hassle. People see these as the bad years, but this is simply our time to care for our elders, just like they cared for us. It is my time to care for her, to let her pass on to God with dignity and love, to let her know during every single moment I spend with her these final days that it has been my privilege to be her daughter.”
It would be the last Mother’s Day of my grandmother’s life.
And, as I learned that day, it was my privilege – not obligation – to spend it with her.
Thanks always to Wade and Gary, as we are privileged to know and work with them!