Monday, January 4, 2010

New York City ( and Grandmother) Part 2 Final

“God, I truly love this woman. I am so blessed to have this day with her and my kids,” I thought.

It was nine-thirty in the morning when we made our way through Times Square. My kids and I had been to New York City before and it’s one of the greatest spectacles anyone can experience, no matter how many times they see it.

“So what do you think Grandmother?”

“This is wonderful.”

I could tell she was overwhelmed as she turned her head trying to look out every window.

I pulled in front of the Marriot Marquis and paid the seventy-five dollars to valet park the car in the garage for the day.

“You have to see the inside of the hotel. It is incredible,” I said.

We went inside and stood in the huge expanse of the atrium, surrounded by luxury like she had never seen before.

“Whoa, look at that,” my son said, pointing to the elevators.

We marveled at the massive, circular tower that rose up through the middle of the forty-five floors. The elevator cars were all glass and looked like a bunch of huge test tubes with humans inside, moving up and down at different speeds and intervals.

“Okay, we better get going. The show is at ten-thirty.”

We were going to the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. We took a taxi, and I told the driver to take the long way, so we could see the Empire State building, Statue of Liberty, and Macy’s.

“Grandmother, this is where the Thanksgiving Day parade is,” my son told her.

“I’ll have to make sure I look on TV next year,” she said.

My stomach dropped. I couldn’t bear to think of next year.

We got out at Radio City Music Hall. Just to be standing in front of this place would have been enough. It just kept getting better as we entered the magnificent lobby. We had excellent seats in the Orchestra Section, Row JJ, seven rows back.

She sat between my kids and fortunately, the lighting was dim or dark most of the time, because I had a hard time keeping it together. This show is called a spectacular, and that word does not do it justice. It was beyond comprehension.

We hailed another cab and got out at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Grandmother was a devout Catholic. She was not able to go to mass anymore, but she still watched it on television every Sunday in the nursing home.
I knew out of all the things we would see and places we went, St. Patrick’s would be the thing she would remember most. This place is the Taj Mahal of Catholicism in the United States.

Three years ago I had taken her on a day trip around the entire state of New Hampshire. The highlight of that trip was going to be the majestic Mount Washington Hotel. We would go in, take a tour, have a drink out on the back porch, and admire Mount Washington. We got an unbelievable bonus as we pulled up the large driveway. There was a Roaring Twenties themed party going on that weekend. Everyone was pulling up in antique cars and dressed in full regalia. I figured this type of coincidence could only happen once in a lifetime.

I was wrong. Lighting could strike twice, because when we entered St. Patricks, a choir was practicing. That would have been good enough, but they were just getting into “Ave Maria”. This was the final blow for my composure as my sinuses burned, the eyes welled, and the tears streamed. There was an aura in this church. I felt it, and I believed it.

We jumped into a cab and got out at the Jekyll and Hyde Club for lunch. I had been here with the kids two years ago, and I knew what to expect. The line wasn’t that long and one of the costumed workers was in character handing out complimentary hot cocoa. We had about a thirty minute wait.

I noticed that a man at the front of the line was looking at us. He was with his wife and two children, who had also looked back at us. After a couple of minutes, he walked back to where we were and approached me.

“Listen, we wouldn’t mind trading spots in line with you if you want.”

I was flabbergasted by this act of kindness. Although, I think I might have done the same thing if I had the opportunity.

“Are you sure? We can wait,” I asked.

“Positive, it’s cold out here, and she should be inside. It would be our pleasure.”

I shook his hand. “Thanks alot. We really appreciate it. This is so kind of you.”

I hoped my kids, as well as his, realized what he had just done. They would learn a lot of things in school, but this was something that cannot be taught in a classroom.

We enjoyed the spectacle of the restaurant, the costumed workers shtick, and the shows. We had a decent meal as well.

We had one more stop to make and hopped in yet another cab. We got out at Grand Central Terminal and entered the massive structure. I knew there was no way she was going to make it down and back up the stairs. We just stood at the top and took in the sights and sounds of this beautiful place.

The irony of the situation entered my mind as we looked down at the hustle and bustle.

She had lived in East Boston most of her life and took the subway to get wherever she needed to go. Some of my favorite memories are of her taking me and my brothers all over the city on the train. The four of us always held hands as we traveled and explored. Now, she was too weak to walk up and down a flight of stairs. We were still holding hands, but now she was the child and I was the adult leading the exploration.

It was time to go. A cab took us back toward the hotel. There was a lot more traffic than when we first arrived, but that was a good thing, like a long goodbye. Dusk was setting in as Times Square started its daily transformation. It was a totally different place now, crowded with people from around the world, and swathed in all of its grandiose illumination.

We left the city and within an hour, the three of them had fallen asleep.

This is how I envisioned New York City to be, and I know in my heart it would have been this was way, if I had only followed though with the plan the year before. It was too late now. Grandmother isn’t able to leave the nursing home and she does not know who I or my children are. She has stopped asking when she is going to be able to go home.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New York City (and Grandmother)

After spending New Years Eve watching all things New York, I remembered a story I had in my "completed" stories folder. It is a couple years old and I never did anything with it, but I figured why not post it here. It doesn't appear that I have many followers of this blog, but when I re-read the story, I thought it was decent. So, here is part one. I'll post the the final part in the next couple days.

“Why am I in here? When will I be able to go home?” Grandmother asked me.

“The Doctor says you need to stay in here until you have your strength back. Then we’ll be able to take you out during the day,” I said.

That was the party line and until further notice, that is what we all told her. The truth was she was going to be there for the rest of her life. “There” being the Alzheimer’s unit at the Country View Life Care Center in Massachusetts

Six weeks ago the phone rang. It was my mother calling from the hospital to provide an update on my grandmother, who had experienced a mild heart attack the night before. For the last sixteen or her ninety-four years she had lived in an in-law apartment attached to my parent’s house.

“How’s Grandmother?”

“She’s doing okay. She’ll be in here for a couple more days.”

“How’s Dad doing?”

“He’s alright. He’s down at the cafeteria. It’s been a long day.”

“Let me know when she’s getting out. I’ll come down and visit her with the kids.”

“Well, I need to talk to you about that. They’ve have been doing a lot of tests and they think it would be best if she went to a nursing home. She’s really weak and is going to need rehabilitation to regain some strength.”

“Is she going to be in there forever?”

“At least until she can get her strength back. She’s been slipping a lot more lately. She’s not taking her medication and she really needs full-time care.”

I hated that word “slipping”. It meant she was in that dreadful state of coherency one minute and oblivion the next. Five days later, she was transferred to the nursing home. This is not how she wanted to go out in life and it didn’t help that for the most part she knew what was happening. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She was supposed to pass away peacefully, go to heaven and leave us all with an everlasting pleasant image and fond memories.

Now I was left wondering if she asked me to put a pillow over her face, would I do it.

I could hear Keith Jackson, the famous football announcer in my head.

“Grandmother takes the kickoff in the end zone, breaks a tackle, finds an opening, she’s across midfield, she might go all the way. She’s at the twenty, the ten. Lordey lordey! Unbelievable, she fumbled at the six yard line. The old gal just didn’t have it in her to go the distance. Alzheimer’s grabs the ball and takes over on downs.”

Six weeks had gone by. My parents visited her every day. My two brothers and I visited her when we could, usually with our kids in tow. We pulled together as best we could. Thanksgiving wasn’t the same without her. When I considered that some of the patients there never had visitors, I guess she was fortunate.

We walked into the room and she looked great dressed in a black skirt and pink sweater under a black blazer. A string of faux pearls were hanging around her neck. I gave her a long hug and both the kids gave her a kiss.

“You look spectacular,” I told her.

“So do all of you,” she said.

I was wearing a suit and tie. My daughter had on a black dress and my son had on navy slacks and a sweater. Usually, they would have protested about wearing these clothes, but they knew this was a special day.

“You ready?”

“Where are we going?” she said.

I winced, until I realized she was asking the kids a rhetorical question.

“New York City,” my son said.

“Okay then, let’s go,” I said.

“Don’t forget your walker,” my daughter said.

She glared at it vehemently but pacified us and shuffled over to it.

“Don’t worry its going in the trunk as soon as we pull out of here,” I said, winking at her.

I helped her with her overcoat and she put on a brown, faux fur Cossack hat.

We left her room and made our way down the hall. I thought of Grandfather, who had passed away twenty-five years ago. I knew he was watching over us, proud that we were taking care of her.

We exited the main door as the sun was just starting to come up. It was cold outside, but for December it was above average. As soon as the door closed I grabbed the walker from her.

“Good riddance,” I said. “Guys, take Grandmother’s hand.”

They each grabbed a hand and we made our way across the parking lot. It was going to be a four hour ride and although we could have fit in my Jeep, I rented a fully loaded Chevy Tahoe for the trip. I knew this was going to be the last time we would be able to something like this and we were going in style.

The kids climbed in the back and I opened the passenger door to let her in.

“Your chariot awaits.”

“Will you sit back here with us?” my daughter asked.

“I’d love to sit with my little chickies.”

It was a wonderful ride. We listed to Christmas songs the whole time. We had chocolates and doughnuts to eat, and hot cocoa topped with whipped cream to drink. A few times during the ride, during certain songs, I got choked up. I kept it together for the most part, except during the crescendo of “O Holy Night” when the clandestine tears flowed.