Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Last Letter

When I was a little girl my family moved around the country from state to state. The only time we saw our large extended family was at Christmas or in the case of a funeral or baptism. They were too far away for us to see them more often than that. What kept me feeling connected was that my grandmothers were both card senders. Every birthday like clock work I would get a birthday card in the mail. I looked forward to those cards more than anything else. Eventually I grew up, got married and had children of my own. My grandmothers began sending their great grandchildren cards as soon as they heard of the births. Some where along the way I began writing to them and relaying the stories of my family life to them. A practice that I continue to this day. As they have aged they have gotten less prolific about writhing in return but I know that they love my letters because they tell me whenever I see them. My parents tell me that my grandmothers love my letters because my grandmothers tell my parents that whenever they talk. My grandmothers tend to pass my letters around to others to read so I often hear from aunts and cousins about how my grandmothers love my letters. There really is nothing special about them. The letters I write are filled with the wacky, wonderful mundane aspects of our very normal lives.

For the past several years we have been living with the knowledge that one of my grandmothers has Lou Ghericks disease. With every letter I send to her, I wonder if it will be the last one. She is deteriorating rapidly.. Last fall we moved her into an assisted living situation. By early spring we were putting her into a nursing home. In March my son received his birthday card. It was legible and there was a little note to him. My Grandmother's normal handwriting requires a certain amount of interpretation to read but when I read the note she had sent to my son it required more deciphering than normal. In May I received my birthday card from her. Absent was the usual note. I knew it was because the Lou Ghericks disease was affecting her writhing arm more and more.

At the end of May I went to see my grandmother for a day. When we visit we do basic things for her. Water plants, pull cards for her to write on and sign. We had been addressing the front of the envelopes for her for quiet awhile. She chose several birthday cards, one of which was for my oldest daughter and I watched as she struggled to sign her name. I don't know how long she tried to form the letters but it seemed like a very long time to me as I watched her struggle. Finally she gave up and my mother signed my grandmothers name on my daughters card. My mother signed the rest of the cards for grandma as well.

It was all I could do not to cry. My daughter had received the last signed birthday card from her grandmother the year before and we did not even know it at the time. She would know when she received this that Grandma had been unable to sign it and I realize that we were another step closer to saying goodbye to her. As much as my grandmother has enjoyed my letters they have provided an equal amount of joy to me. Not having her to write to will leave a large hole in my heart. Knowing that she is no longer there to share the everyday is going to leave a huge void.