I did a casual Ask Me Anything on Reddit when I was asked about my worst childhood memory. I couldn’t help tearing up while writing my response.
I thought I’d share it here.
When my great grandmother died when I was 11. Actually a few days before that. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease and couldn’t remember anyone leading up to the end. She had kidney failure, she couldn’t walk. She was waiting to die, basically. Her body was shutting down. Three days before she passed away I showed up at my aunt’s house to see her, and basically say goodbye.
She was my favorite person in the whole world; I loved her more than I loved my mother. I was told later, (around the time I was 17 or so) that she was really sick right before I was born, and that after she got to hold me she got better. My family kind of impressed on me that I was the reason she was still alive for another 11 years.
Anyway, I wasn’t really warned about how she looked, or how hard it would be to see her sick like that. This wasn’t my first brush with death, but it was clearly the most pivotal brush with it that I’d ever had. So when I walked into the room and she didn’t look anything like herself, I was floored.
I didn’t like to cry at the time. Especially not with my mother, aunts, uncle, and sister staring at me. She’s this wasted away woman that I loved and revered lying there, dying, and seemingly unable to get comfortable. She’d lost a lot of weight, her skin was pale and thin, her hair a wild mess of white tufts sticking out in every direction.
It took everything I had in me to walk over to her and give her a hug. She half-hugged me back, and made a grunting noise. (She hadn’t said anything in over a month, I found out later.) My chest felt hot, my eyes were tearing up, I could barely breath. I said I was sorry, and I tried to walk from the room but instead I ran. I ran right into the garage and tried so hard not to cry that I thought my eyes were going to fall out of my head from focusing so hard.
And everyone else was walking around like it was business as normal.
My aunt walked into the garage to pull her laundry out of the dryer. I remember thinking to myself, “How, how, how could she be doing laundry with my grandmother dying in the other room? How could she be so calm?” Then she said something that allowed me to clear my head a bit. “It hurts, doesn’t it?”
I was trying to be tough, so I nodded, and wiped my eyes and then walked up the stairs to go outside. That’s the last time I ever saw my grandmother. And then, a few minutes later, my sister comes out and says, “James, she was calling for you. She said your name.” and my heart felt like it broke and I couldn’t stop crying. Knowing she cared enough about me that I was the only person she could recognize, even in that state? It was rough. It was bad. I couldn’t help myself. And the worst part was I didn’t even get to hear it, and I couldn’t bring myself to walk back in there and see her. She was calling for me, and I didn’t have the strength, (at 11 years old, so it’s not that big of a surprise now, but I still hate it) to walk back in there and hold her hand to give her a bit of peace before she died.
That was the last thing she ever said, or so I was told. So that’s my worst memory ever, really.