I remember her laying in bed, being tucked in by several members of her family as if she was a child exhausted from the day. She was just as vulnerable as a young girl but her ninety-year-old body was weathered and experienced, yet she needed to be minded nonetheless. During one of our last trips back east about two summers ago, Hugo’s extended family rented a home in the country, large enough for all of them to sleep and roomy enough for everyone to gather in the evenings. The purpose of the trip was the overdue celebration of life for Hugo’s grandfather Bob, who had passed away a couple months prior. That event was a beautiful release for everyone, providing a loving gathering filled with many moments of happy reflection on the full life Bob lived during his 94 years.
One particular evening at the country rental house during that trip, Hugo and I stopped by to enjoy a couple extra minutes with his parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and Polly, who is Bob’s widow and the subject of our short tale. Exhausted from this day and the thousands of days she had lived through thus far, Polly was ready for bed around 8pm. With love, we all escorted her to her first floor pull-out couch, where she found privacy in the rear den and comfort in the presence of her extended family all under one roof. With one table lamp lit and the aged comforter tucked into the flimsy couch mattress, Polly sat down on her temporary bed as we all funneled into the room. Everyone wanted to enjoy this moment of tucking their mother and grandmother into bed, just as she had done for the majority of them at one point in their lives. I may have been the only one present who hadn’t been mothered by Polly at one point, although the love she had shown me during the time I have known her felt as if I was a member of that group.
A couple of the young kids continued playing in the other room, uninterested in a seemingly mundane task at their age. A couple others, who sounded moderately inebriated, stayed outside on the patio – their loud stories and guttural laughs bellowed inside but it didn’t bother us because all of these sounds made the songs we have all come to know as summer nights. We held her frail, bruised arms as she sat and fully reclined onto her back, relieved that the tasks of the day were done. Her skin was paper thin and translucent, dark purple in certain places due to easy bruising from recent falls at her age. Her eyes were always watery and sometimes she looked lost within her own gaze, as if she was looking off into the distance or right past you. This was probably from battling cataracts and glaucoma over the past two decades – she was a warrior in her own right, going through laser eye surgeries, among other procedures, to right her senses and continue improving, never accepting a declining body or weakening capabilities. She gripped my hand really hard, finding a sense of safety and security in my youthful strength and presence. Polly knew she could rely on all of us to get her into her restful position and off to sleep, something that didn’t come easy to her when she was alone, as she often found herself since Bob’s passing.
For some reason, I really enjoyed this short moment in the rear den with my husband’s grandmother that night. Something about the magic of the summer evening, with the windows open and warm air lofting in. Knowing she was safe in the back room gave me peace and feeling as if I contributed to that safety made it a little bit better. My own eyes teared up as they often do when I am around our elders or any old people for that matter. I never try to think about any of them dying but just watching them maneuver through life in slow motion and with constant struggles always breaks my heart, particularly when I reflect on the magnificent lives some of them have lived as they are now fully engulfed in their final chapters. I get so sad but somewhere inside of that sadness is a real happiness and love for who they are and what they have created. With Polly and Bob came Hugo’s mother and siblings. Later, Hugo and his brother were born. Polly’s life and seven decade long love story with Bob gave me my soulmate so despite only knowing her as an old woman, a true grandmother, I have loved her completely and deeply and I owe her a thank you.
That summer night had an impact on all of us, not just me. I know Hugo enjoyed a special moment like that, something he doesn’t get the chance to do often since we live so far away from them all. I know Hugo’s mom and her sister felt the heavy love of it all too. They had just recently lost their father, the patriarch of the family and Polly’s better half, so they were still moving through their grief as they tried to maintain their strength for their mother. As we said goodnight to Polly and slowly shuffled out of the room as a group, she said goodnight to Bob out loud, as she said she always had since he passed.
Polly is still alive today, as she lives alone in an assisted living community near our hometown in the northeast. Hugo’s mom visit regularly and we should be going more often, but life and distance gets in the way. I pulled out a cute card with giraffes on it tonight, thinking how Polly would enjoy receiving it in the mail with a short note from her west coast grandson and family. We always make an effort to think of her, not just because she is alone but because we truly love her. I personally like sending her a short note from time to time so she has something loving to experience before bed, similar to when she had her Bob, tucking her in and holding her hand tightly as they both fell asleep side by side for all of those years.