By John Lee Pendall
So, my grandma tested positive for COVID-19. She’s at a nursing home a few miles from me. The word on the street is that the staff brought it in.
She’s asymptomatic for the time being, but, well, ya know how time is. Anything can happen, and a good chunk of it’s gonna be fucked up. A close friend said that, since she’s asymptomatic, it was probably a false positive. I’m grateful for his positivity, and it’s entirely possible. However, she’s been moved to the COVID wing of the home, so if she doesn’t have it now, she very well could have it in the near future.
She’s 83, and she has Alzheimer’s, hypothyroidism and she’s prone to UTIs. I’ve seen her one time in the last nine months. I visited her with my mom, my bluetooth speaker nestled in my pocket. I’d heard that she was mostly zonked out, and I hoped that a few of her favorite songs would snap her back to reality. I knew it wouldn’t, and a part of me didn’t even want to try, but I knew I had to.
We filled out a questionnaire, had out temps taken, and then waited outside for her. They wheeled her out after a few minutes. She didn’t need a wheelchair when she was with me; she used a cane, one that she proudly yielded as a weapon on more than one occasion. We sat outside, six to eight feet apart, on the chilly September afternoon. She was nestled in blankets and barely in contact with reality.
I looked her in the eyes, even though I didn’t want to. I might’ve imagined some kind of spark there, some liveliness or recognition. I hope I didn’t, actually. My mind veered off into Imagination Land. Is she trapped in herself? Does she know what’s going on, but she’s unable to speak or even move? It almost makes you want to believe in God, so that you can have someone to beg to and curse at.
After a few minutes of us talking at her, and her barely responding, I decided to play her some Conway Twitty.
I only knew one Conway song before I moved in with my grandma—now I know dozens of them. She used to swoon to the music and say, “Conway! The love of my life,” as we sat at the dining nook playing gin rummy for hours on end. She was happy. She was out of her mind, but she was happy.
I took the speaker from my pocket, set it on the table, and then, “Hello, Darlin’,” came flowing through the air. I sang along and swayed to the music, trying to get her to make contact. She just stared and stared. I expected that, but I had to try. I played the whole song.
Now she has COVID, and I feel like the biggest piece of shit on Earth. She’s there because I couldn’t take it anymore. The stress got to me, it broke me down. Sure, I can rationalize it six ways to Sunday (is that a common expression, or just a Midwest thing?), but reason doesn’t matter to the heart.
I know that sending her there wasn’t just the best for me, but for her too since she has round the clock care there. Also, if she’d stayed with me, I wouldn’t have been able to work and we would’ve lost our caregiver when COVID struck. That would mean that it would’ve just been her and I for a whole year.
I couldn’t do it. I would’ve killed myself. I can’t even express what it’s like living with someone who has dementia. It’s a circle of hell that I wouldn’t wish on Hitler. Almost two years later and I’m still trying to recover from it even though I don’t think of it often. I want to dump the whole thing on someone, someone I love, but there’s no one. I want to be held, I want someone to stroke my hair as I go through the whole thing, but it’s just me.
And now my grandma has COVID, and I’m a link in the causal chain of her getting it. I’m sorry for bumming you out, dear Reader, but sometimes life is just a burning dumpster pile and there’s nothing Buddhism can do about it. I’ve tried everything, every orthodox and unorthodox view and method I could find, and yet here we are, sitting in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe chatting over a glass of whiskey.
I hope you have love in your life. I hope you have someone you can laugh and cry with. I’ve never had that, and my grandma has COVID.
We’re taught that clinging and craving cause suffering, and I can’t dispute that; it follows. But I can ask, “Is nirvana worth it?” To which my whole confused being says, “No.” I’ll take the pain and loss any day because it’s human. It’s genuine. My heart aches—that’s all it does—but it makes this real. No matter how much I might want it to end at times, through death or enlightenment, I know I’ll keep going for as long as I can because I’m still blown away by all this. It’s still magic, it’s still Suchness.
Looking the world straight in its cavernous maw, I can say, “There’s nothing you can do that’ll make me close my heart, that’ll make me stop feeling and loving.”
The story goes on.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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