“Sarah, what did I tell you about coming in so late? It’s after 10! Your mother and I get so worried about you!” he wrung his hands together anxiously, eyes darting around the room. Something wasn’t quite right.
“Grandad, it’s Hannah,” she placed her hand gently on top of his. Sometimes, if you provided a gentle touch before he became too agitated, it would seem to anchor him back in the present time and place. But there was only ever a small window of time to accomplish this that seemed to be getting even smaller the more it progressed.
Tom went to pull back from her touch and squinted his eyes to look at her, confused. He shook his head as if the picture before him wasn’t quite in focus. He could have sworn he was in the sunken living room of their house. The house that he and Charlotte had brought Sarah home to after she was born. And he thought he was sitting on that old, well worn leather couch. The girls always made fun of him for the “Dad Dip” he made on the left side with the recliner. They joked that no one else could sit there without falling right through. He’d roll his eyes and they’d all laugh. And sometimes Sarah would come in late. She’d have changed into something he didn’t approve of after going out and he’d give her the lecture on how she had to be careful and stay safe and that’s all he and her mother were trying to do.
But this wasn’t Sarah. This was Hannah. Sarah’s eyes were green. Hannah’s eyes were the brightest blue. Just like Charlotte’s.
And this wasn’t his wood paneled living room. This was his floral wall-papered room in the assisted living facility that they’d all agreed would be better since he’d gotten lost in the neighborhood and ended up in someone else’s yard, confused and angry, not understanding where his shed had been moved to and unable to get into his back door.
Hannah furrowed her brow and patted his hand, happy that he hadn’t recoiled, but sat with his head down, just shaking. She wondered what he was thinking at that moment. She cocked her head slightly to see if she could catch his gaze so he would look at her.
“Sorry, sorry,” he muttered, eyes still closed and tears pooling at the corners, “Of course, you’re Hannah. I was just lost in my thoughts I guess,” he looked up at her and used his other hand to grab his hankie in his bathrobe pocket to wipe his eyes.
“You know you don’t have to apologize. Mom said she’ll come up next weekend. She got tied up at closing for a house. She sent you these though to make up for it,” Hannah shuffled around in her tote bag to lift out a small tin. She opened the lid to reveal his favorite peanut butter cookies.
He gave a half smile, “Your grandmother won’t be happy about this and I’m not sharing either. I guess they’ll be gone before she comes next week,” he chuckled but stopped when he caught Hannah’s gaze.
She frowned, with a pained expression, “Grandad,” she said softly and her voice trailed off and sounded sad.
Oh that was right, Tom thought to himself. He felt his stomach drop. It had been a few months now since Charlotte had passed. A heart attack, he remembered now. It was getting so much worse and the pain felt anew each time he had to remember that the love of his life was gone. 56 years together, remembering her favorite flowers, how she took her tea, how she slept with one hand under her cheek and never moved from that position during the night, making her favorite pasta dish on her birthday every year, and now he couldn’t even always remember that his wife had died.
He nodded solemnly at Sarah, no, Hannah. Hannah has blue eyes. Hannah is here. Sarah has green eyes. She’s caught up at work.
“I’m so sorry,” Hannah wiped a tear from her eye and squeezed his hand tightly.
“It’s not your fault, string bean,” He called her that since she was little and would help him out in the garden, comparing her tiny stature to the height of every plant. Before you know it you’ll be taller than these bean poles, string bean! They’d giggle and keep on weeding away all the overgrowth. He laughed to himself, shaking his head again as he looked back at Hannah. But she wasn’t small; she had grown up overnight it felt like.
Just as he was about to speak again, there was a knock at the door.
“Room service!” a cheery voice bellowed from the hall and entered through the door holding a lunch tray.
“Hi Sharon!” Hannah got up and hugged the nurse that took such good care of her grandfather.
Sharon deposited the tray on the table and wheeled Tom up to the side, spreading his napkin on his lap, as she unfurled his utensils from it.
“Now, Mr. Sheridan, I made sure they gave you extra peaches today and doubled up on that turkey you like, and if you don’t mind, I’m going to steal Miss Hannah away from you for just a few minutes for some paperwork and you chow down,” she patted his shoulder, smiled, and laughed gleefully. This place cost a pretty penny, but it was well worth it for the care they provided.
Sharon had a more serious expression towards Hannah and nodded her head towards the door, guiding her out to the hallway.
“I don’t think it’s a good day today,” Hannah frowned.
“I have to be honest with you, sweetheart,” Sharon looked at her with sympathy, “He isn’t having many good days lately. We’re taking him to get updated scans next week with Dr. Paulson, and to be honest with you I don’t think we’re going to like what we see.”
Hannah rocked back on her heels and pulled her hands into the sleeves of her sweater. She bit down on her lip to keep from crying.
“Mom’s going to be a mess. She is meeting with the couple that decided to buy my grandparents house today when the closing date got moved, or otherwise she would have been here.”
“I know, ya’ll have been through so much these past few months. And unfortunately, this disease can be like this. And to be honest with you, I think losing your grandmother was a shock to his system that his brain is not willing to bring him back from,” Sharon put her arm around Hannah’s shoulder and sat her down on the bench in the hallway.
“I had to tell him again today. Tell him that she is gone. Sharon, it’s like watching someone’s heart shatter right in front of you all over again. It is the worst news you could deliver in the first place, and then to have to do it more than once?” she couldn’t stop tears from streaming down her cheeks now, “And he thought I was Mom. And he seems so lost in his own thoughts.”
“I know,” Sharon wiped a tear from her own cheek, “I like to think with what we know, that he is losing himself in good memories. Your Grandad lived a good life and is a kind man. And I think you will need to take comfort in the fact that as his memories fade, he’s got nothing but good ones to hold onto while he is still here. So even if he drifts farther away from you and farther away from your Mom, and that breaks your heart, he is still wrapped in the love that you, and she, and your grandmother gave him throughout the years. He is lost, but he is lost in the love you all gave him. And you still show up even though it is so hard, Hannah, and he still knows you’re here. And that is a testament to the love he has had in his life this entire time. It won’t make it any easier to lose what you had, but I hope it brings you comfort that all he knows is love in those moments when he slips away for a time.”
Hannah nodded her head and grabbed tissues from the box Sharon had grabbed off of her computer cart to hand her. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose.
“I’m a mess. I don’t want to go back in his room and make him upset,” Hannah sniffled into another tissue.
“It’s hard when you love someone, to see them in pain, I know. And it causes you pain. I know that too. And now is the time to cherish every good moment you have, and if he thinks you are Sarah, maybe you let him think you are her for a minute. He might remember in a minute or two, or might not remember at all for a visit. We might have to start being a bit more gentle with the reminders if he is progressing as much as I think he is. Just so he stays calm and doesn’t get himself too scared. I know this is hard. You and your mom need to support each other, and I’ve got some phone numbers together for you both to have some outside support too,” Sharon patted a stack of pamphlets and a sticky note with some handwritten numbers on them stuck to the front of the pack and slipped them into Hannah’s tote bag.
“You’re so kind and we’re so grateful for you,” Hannah straightened her posture and took a sip from her water bottle, trying to gain back some of her composure.
“You don’t have to thank me. People like your grandfather are why I love doing this job. He deserves as much dignity and respect now, as he would if this wasn’t happening to him. I’m happy to provide safety and love for him, especially now. You know you don’t need to worry about that,” she smiled at Hannah and rose to get back to her rounds, “I wanted to make sure I saw you today and I’ll catch up with your mother the next time she is here. In the meantime, you go enjoy every second you have with him, okay? I know this is so hard, but you’ll be thankful for this time, I assure you.”
Hannah nodded and tried to feel confident through her sadness. She gave a half smile and went back into the room, feeling more determined.
“Sarah! I’m so happy you’re here!” Tom smiled wide, “This sandwich your mother made with the leftover Turkey from Thanksgiving is the best one yet I think! Did I ever tell you about that time your Uncle Hank thought it would be a good idea to get me and the rest of your uncles together to go hunt for a fresh Thanksgiving turkey? I’ll tell you quietly though, your mother hates this story” he laughed as he took another bite of his sandwich.
Hannah breathed deep and tried to let some calmness wash over her.
“You know, I don’t think you have, but I would love to hear about it.”