My grandmother is nearing the end of a very long life. Depending on who you ask in the family, she is somewhere between 99 and 102 years old. She came to the US sometime after WWI from Romania, speaks at least 4 languages, has been widowed since the 1950s, raised 3 kids. A big part of my childhood, she moved from the NYC area to Miami Beach in the 1970s and I proceeded to spend many years worth of school vacations with her in the Roney Plaza. When my husband and I bought our home, she gave me the china set I had admired since childhood. I don't know if it's valuable in and of itself, but to me it is priceless, filled with memories.
She has been the source of inspiration for many poems. The last time I saw her was last June at my niece's bat mitzvah. During the service, the rabbi passed around the torah to 4 generations of my family--my grandmother, my mother and father, my sister, and my niece. I cried for the beauty of her shrunken form in a rental wheelchair, for the continuity that she represents in our life, for the very realization that she will likely not live to see her first grandson's bar mitzvah next October.
So tonight I am sifting through memories of her life, keeping her in my thoughts, knowing that it is time to say goodbye and hoping that she drifts away with little pain.
Practicing for Death
for my grandmother
I lie still. Listen to the wheeze-hiss
of the C-Pap machine convincing
my throat to hold itself open. The sleep
study counted thirty tiny deaths
each hour of my night. In a hospital
two thousand miles away, a respirator
captures the sigh as you exhale exactly
twelve times each minute. I could calculate
how many breaths you have taken
in nearly one hundred and one years,
but the only ones that matter are this one
and the next. I open my mouth to speak
but the pressurized air forces grief down
into the sponge of my lungs. Mist condenses
on the mask, rolls down my cheek like tears.