I was supposed to fly out yesterday for a work conference in LA. The day before I left, I got a call: my 88 year-old grandmother had collapsed and was in the hospital in San Diego. Immediately, I shared this information with my boss and she said to me, “go and take care of your family, we will be OK without you until Thursday morning.”

As soon as I landed, I drove down to San Diego to be with her. It felt like a small miracle that I should have a flight already booked, just as she went into the hospital. It was unclear what had happened to her exactly - perhaps dehydration, perhaps complications from her diabetes? The doctors didn’t paint a clear picture.

“Growing old sucks,” she declared to me, on more than one occasion.

She was her usual cantankerous self, except more confused. I had never seen her so foggy. Her mind had always been as sharp and clear, even if her body had been less than cooperative. Now I found her displaying clear signs of dementia: forgetting things that had been told to her a few moments before, repeating the same inaccurate information over and over and being absolutely adamant that her version of her reality was the right one. For example, she was certain that she had been given three glasses of prune juice, when she had only had two - but no one could convince her of that fact.

She is also extremely hard of hearing and no longer hears words spoken in a normal tone of voice. The words also must be articulated just right to bounce off her eardrums. I have been the unofficial interpreter to nurses and doctors, yelling in just the right pitch and tenor so that she could understand what the nurses and doctors were saying to her and also translating her odd requests to them in a way that made sense. I have been her advocate, running down the hall to fetch nurses when there was no response to her numerous call-button queries. I see how hard it must be to be in the hospital with no family nearby and no advocates to make sure that you are responded to in a timely manner.

She told me numerous stories of shitting herself in various institutional settings because people did not come in time to help her to the toilet. She also shared a rather convoluted story of shitting in China into a hole in the floor. I’m not sure she ever traveled to China - this was the first I had heard of it.

“You’re full of shit stories,” I mused and we both laughed at that one.

It breaks my heart that life has had us end up on opposite coasts. While she drives me completely insane most of the time, now that she is in her waning years I wish I could be closer. Theoretically I could do it - my job allows me to work from anywhere, and S could go to school anywhere. Yet I feel that it would be wrong to deprive him of time with his father on the east coast.

Pretty soon, when visiting hours are over tonight, I’ll get back in my car and drive to my work conference. I am thankful for the small miracle that allowed me to stay with her for the past few days while she is in here. She is supposed to be discharged tomorrow, and will go home to her round-the-clock caregivers. I know she is taken care of, and I have no illusions that I could do it and also take care of Sami - I’m not that much of a martyr. But still, I wish I could be there, just to pop in on her here and there.

“I hate to see you leave, Leah…” she said, looking so sad and weak in the hospital bed.

I may consider relocating us temporarily if she does not bounce back from this. She is really no longer capable of talking on the phone - her hearing has gotten so bad and she does not wear her hearing aids. She raised me from the age of five years old, and how I wish I could reciprocally be there for her in her time of need. It just seems so wrong to be on the other side of the country. I must either accept it, or do something to change it.

Growing old sucks.