My grandmother has been in the hospital lately after breaking her hip in two places. Over the past three weeks, she’s been on morphine, OxyContin, Tylenol and under anesthesia for surgery.
You know what those drugs (maybe not Tylenol) will do to a person? Make them absolutely hilarious! I’m not talking about knock-knock jokes here, either, I’m talking about the delusions and false-rememberings of a person with the many memories of a life very well-lived.
There’s truly nothing like listening to my normally very composed and sweet grandmother tell drug-induced tales of getting married without any shoes on or about the high jinks she and her sister got up to at Stanford hospital just hours after surgery. It was also highly enjoyable to hear her tell my brother that I “look good as a blonde” when she’s actually referring to my mom. Or to have her respond “they’ll do” when asked how the sweet potatoes are and ask who made the gravy on her Thanksgiving lunch tray in the hospital.
But then I turn away and a second later she’s moaning in pain, calling for her mother. I can’t blame her, I imagine I’d be in tears and calling for someone, anyone to help me, if I had metal scaffolding and pins holding my hip together. Watching someone I love who is so strong, who I’ve never even seen shed a tear, cry out in pain and confusion and being unable to do anything to help her is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had.
Then I look over at my grandfather and he can barely get his words out because he’s silently sobbing, and I realize that I know nothing about the worst feeling in the world. I’ve never known what it’s like to love someone like that, for more than 60 years, and see them in pain. I’ve never watched, helplessly, as my one and only slipped in and out of the real world and a drug-induced haze of partial memories. And I’ve never been so scared of losing someone that it paralyzed me, took away my words and brought me to my knees.
Seeing him (and her) like that got me thinking about love and all the other stuff that comes with it. Everyone knows the saying, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I’ve always agreed and I still do, but seeing the depth of pain radiating from my grandparents over the past three weeks has made me question it all.
Is being alone all that bad in comparison to what I’ve seen? Is it really worth it to find love and stick with it through thick and thin only to watch your love go through the slow and often painful process that is aging? Or to force them to do the same for you? Or is it just my single, selfish mind making me think being alone is a better choice?
Watching my grandparents over the last few weeks has been a challenge to what I imagine love is supposed to be. I’m not so naive that I thought love was always roses and puppies and happiness and smiles, but knowing that I might one day have to sit by helpless and watch that love in pain or even death, scares the hell out of me.
But then I think, it’d all be worth it, right? The memories – no matter how muddled they might become, the family – no matter how dysfunctional they might end up, and the happiness – no matter how much sadness might come along with it. They’d all be the product of a life well-lived and well-loved.
And perhaps, if it all comes down to pain and suffering and aging, knowing that I could be there to distract from the pain, ease the suffering and, well, tell them how young and spritely they still look, it’d be worth it in the end. The love. The loss. And all the stuff in between.
And at the very least, maybe we could get in a few good morphine-saturated anecdotes.