I moved away from New York when I was 18, nearly 15 years ago. When I left, Gram was in assisted living — reduced rent and helpful staff, but she still drove herself around, came by the house for dinner or to babysit my younger brothers. I often lament the fact that I didn’t talk to her about her life as much as I could have, when she had all of her faculties intact. The last few years that I was there, the early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s were already apparent. But they were cute, laughable symptoms. A bit of forgetfulness, an answer to a question that made no sense in context. We’d tease her about it, or mostly just laugh amongst ourselves.
I’m sure for family still living in New York, with her, that the change was somewhat gradual. For me, visiting twice or three times a year, they were like hammer blows. Every 6 months a different person, the grandmother who helped raise me slipping further and further away. Eventually she moved into my old house with my mother. When that became too dangerous, when she simply couldn’t be left alone, a nursing home. My mother and I had long talks about how we wished she would go. She was mostly miserable, yet every so often you’d see a spark, like she was flashing back to earlier times. For a time, she began to see her hated ex-husband, my grandfather, when she looked at me. She’d curse me out in broken Italian.
Not a very talkative woman in the best of times, unless she was talking about God or if you wanted more meatballs, it was then that I wished I could ask her about her life, what she was flashing back to. As it stands, I have only a few key dates of major tragedies in her life — events that I plan on researching through microfiche and microfilm at the NY Public Library soon — that shaped her early years and set our family’s history in motion. Smoking guns, faked deaths and truly mysterious events. And I have old, mostly worn, black & white photos that tell part of the story that I’ll never quite know the whole of.
She died last year on October 22nd. She had been largely gone for sometime.