My mother’s illness was difficult for our entire family.
The last year of her life, grandma (or ‘baba’ as everyone called her) had to stay in a nursing home. She was too sick to live with us.
My sister and I (sometimes alone and sometimes with our husbands and children) visited baba almost every day.
We took her for walks in the sunshine, we sat with her, we fed her, we washed her and cleaned her room.
We got to know all the residents of the home and became friends with the nurses.
The children would entertain the patients with piano recitals, various games and cupcakes with afternoon teas.
My daughter Nena remembers her baba’s last year in this poem:
THE SPACE AROUND
For the last year of her life she only walked:
back and forth across the north wing
of the nursing home, so fast she had to wear
a helmet for the times she fell. Her spine
had bent into a curve, a comma or a question
mark, her teeth would clench and sometimes
spit, the skin peeling away from her lips.
My mother wants to know what I remember
about the time before this—New Year’s
parties, pink hair curlers, mink-fur coats.
And my mother and hers and her sister,
down in the laundry, dying their hair
dark colors in turns. My mother would
sing her old songs until she seemed
to sing along, then, scared, my mother
would stop—what I remember
is how she seemed to lose a way to walk
in this world, how her eyes purpled
with the weight of some other.
They said her feet turned blue days before
she died, that she saw faces pale and white
as asphodel in the space around her.
Poem by Natalia Holtzman