|January 23, 2013|
My mom called me last night with bad news. My grandfather had been admitted to the hospital again. A frequent victim of nasty infections, half a dozen in as many weeks he weakens and becomes more disorientated each time, making it harder on his body to recover. For a man, at age 87, who has been one of the strongest, and most important people in my life, it is a difficult reality to accept. Lately, he’s had more and more bad days. Days where the man we all know and love is getting lost to the dementia and Parkinson’s disease wreaking havoc on his mind and body.
When I was a little girl, I used to get terrible nightmares. I didn’t dream of bogeymen or monsters in my closet, but of real and scary dangers that never seemed to leave my head. I lived with my grandparents during some of the worst periods of bad dreams. Each night, my grandfather would tell me stories about fishing trips he’d take in Canada. The plane rides into remote places, the clear, cold waters and the giant fish he’d catch. When I told him about my nightmares, he’d hug and kiss me and say, “You’ll always be safe in my house.” And I believed him. My grandfather, the man who makes a perfect Shirley Temple, talks with his hands, and calls me CJ, my favorite nickname – a nickname that literally no one else ever uses for me but him. It’s our thing.
Today, when I walked into his hospital room, he was alone and lay sleeping tucked under a mountain of blankets. I woke him gently and he opened his eyes when he heard my voice. On the TV on the wall flashed scenes from a lake, mountains rising around it, green lush pines lining the banks. I stood next to him and we talked for a moment about how he was doing. He managed a small joke and took my hand as I sat in the chair right next to his bed.
“Can you see the picture on the screen?” I asked pointing at the lake scene flashing in front of us.
“No.” he answered, closing his eyes. “Tell me what it is.”
So I leaned in close to his ear, and in a voice barely above a whisper I told him a story. Like he’d done so many times for me as I lay in bed as a child, I talked to him about the lake. Using memories from my past and words he had given me, I described a lake in Canada I’d only seen in my mind. One that he’d told me about a thousand times. I remarked how clear the water was, noted the smooth pebbles lining the shore, and the mountains rising silently around them. I described the smell of the pines, the size of the fish jumping across the glassy surface, and the mist rising off the water as the sun was just peeking over the horizon. He listened quietly a small smile on his lips and when I finished he said softly, “I’ll tell you what, CJ… That’s our lake.”
“It sure is.” I told him.
Leaning in, I kissed his cheek, hugged him gently, and told him that I loved him. I told him he was safe. And as the tears fell silently, I was so grateful for this rare moment with him. His mind clear and his body, however temporarily, free of pain. So, in a hospital room, in Nebraska, my grandfather and I got to go to our lake that chases away nightmares. A place I’d never been, a place he couldn’t remember that would still somehow always be ours.