'I used to be very busy once. But not anymore. Finished.' Grandma sighs and looks straight ahead. We have more silences between us than we used to, she is wrapped up more and more in her own memories. At one point my mum asks 'What are you thinking?' and she replies, 'Thinking? What am I thinking? Oh, this and that. Thoughts come.' She shrugs and withdraws into herself again.
We spent a lot of time alone this visit while Mum was sorting things out or watching the Olympics in the room next door. She asks me again about my life: 'Do you enjoy your life? Do you have any hobbies? Do you still paint?' When I reply that I do still paint, her eyes gleam. Slowly she says, 'It's always important to have uninterrupted....air. Paintings need air in them. I never liked it when people make it full full full. I like some air.' She catches me looking at the sketch hanging near the television. 'I loved using charcoal, with a little you could say everything you want.' She fades out again, glancing at me from time to time.
I've noticed that she says less. There are less stories, and what feels like less connection between us. Less of a gleam in her eyes every time I see her. The light is fading and every time I see her my heart aches, losing her piece by piece. Some times she forgets who I am for a few seconds. 'Do you know England? Ah, you live there? We lived there for a while. My husband was a Chemist, we lived mostly in Jerusalem, but we lived in London, many places.' She waves a hand impatiently, and then the moment passes.
She reminisces over her past briefly, the stories getting shorter with every visit. 'When I was up and about I was very happy. I always had places to go.' Occasionally she adds some detail, but not too much now. 'When I first came here from Vienna, I was about 10 or 11, I missed it' She nods and cocks her head. 'Ben Yehuda Street was the main street we went to when I was young. Not now, of course.' And then the silence, then followed by the usual exclamations about the weather ('It's all changing so much these days, it never used to be so hot like that.') or my life ('Do you enjoy your life? do you have any hobbies? where do you live?') Sometimes she alludes to a happier past and the sprightly gleam comes back into her eyes, the one I remember from when I was young. 'How old are you? Really? You look lovely! You must have many boyfriends....' She gives me a smile and leans forward, 'I had lots of boyfriends. I liked it.' She leans back into her pillows again.
Mum comes and goes, spends a bit of time with us and then bustles out again. Grandma watches, impenetrable. When she leaves, Grandma and I catch each others eye and shrug. 'Do you get on with your mother?' I nod. 'Good. That's important.' Another long silence ensues, she stares off into the distance thinking her own thoughts and holding my hand. 'It's not easy getting old. I'm tired.' She looks straight at me, 'I'm glad you came. I love you. I really love you.' I tell her I love her too. She gives a sad chuckle. 'Not much left of me to love now.'
A friend comes round and in all the hustle bustle and the talking, Grandma seems to get lost, to go further into her own space inside. We still hold hands as her carer, Mum and her friend chatter. I watch her, trying to memorise the way her hair circles her head, the softness of her cheeks or tilt of her head. Sometimes she pauses to see if she can catch what is being said, but she gives up. The friend, who is a regular visitor, addresses her, 'Aren't you happy to have your grand-daughter here?' She smiles up at her and waves a hand in my direction, 'Yes! She's very fine, wonderful!' We look at each other, and she shifts in her bed, the moment ends and she is lost again.
On the last day we come earlier in the morning, before we go for our flight back. Grandma is in a wheelchair in the other room. She has made an effort to stay up after her morning exercises (which she loathes) and her hair is freshly washed today. She applies some Nivea cream on her face. Her carer hovers about, getting us a coffee. Grandma sees me drinking coffee and gives me a smile. 'I hope all goes well with you. You must take care of yourself.' I hold her hand and she lapses into silence again. As Mum and the carer talk about her health and other matters, she leans over and whispers, 'I love you, I really love you.' Then she smiles shyly and says quietly, 'We don't even need to say it.' She starts to shift around, getting uncomfy in the chair. Her carer moves her back to her bed. 'It doesn't matter if we're together, we're always here' she pats her bony chest. 'I'll think of you.' She pats her heart another couple of times. When it comes to saying goodbye, we look at each other and hold hands for a long time. I tell her that I love her and she replies, 'I love you' and looks intently at me, gives me a little smile '....and how.' She squeezes my hand one last time and blinks affectionately at me. 'And how.'