Fond memories of Grandma Driscoll
... the loving care in the nursing home was special
by Ashley Driscoll, age 15
As the elevator door opened, my family walked out into a corridor leading us to two double doors. I was at the Courtyard Nursing Care Center for the first time visiting my grandma who had been operated on for a brain tumor. This home was up on a hill in a wooded area behind the Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford, Massachusetts. Meant to be a more soothing facility than a hospital, it also served as a convalescent home for the elderly. My grandma was one of the many who would not be leaving, but would stay there under the careful supervision of the nurses and volunteers.
We went through double doors and instantly the heavy odor of sickness and unwashed bodies filled the air. Carts of breakfast trays were strewn about on the sides of the hallways for people like my grandma who ate all meals in bed and were too sick to eat downstairs in the main dining room. As we came closer to the end of this hallway, we passed by a nurses' station where a group of loud, upbeat, and energetic nurses were joking with each other and taking care of patients. From where I was, I recognized my two great aunts, my grandma’s sisters. A pleasant scent came to my nose as I embraced my great aunts, Rere and Polly. My great aunts are about the same height as each other, but Polly has gray hair while Rere’s hair is white. They always have a lot of perfume on, and every time I see them they are adorned with the beaded bracelets that my sister and I made for them when we were younger. I noticed, however, that as healthy as they are, my grandma, in contrast, was their opposite. My heart melted as I looked over to my grandma, lying helpless and lonely in bed. My grandma was so tiny that her figure made the bed look huge around her.
My eye caught something shiny on the white blankets, and I had to laugh to myself as I looked down to my grandma’s silver painted nails. I knew that my Aunt Polly, the fashion model at 84, painted my grandma’s nails for her when she came to visit because my grandma was too weak to do it herself. When my grandma was well, Aunt Polly would come visit her and my grandpa every Sunday, have a cup of coffee, and give herself a manicure. I stepped aside to let my dad say hi. My dad, showing no tension as he spoke to my grandma about the latest news, acting like we were in the kitchen having a talk with no barrier of sickness dividing us.
I reflected back to the many times that we came to my grandparents' house: my grandma was always smiling on the front porch ready to greet us and my grandpa was usually standing just inside the door with a welcoming grin. My grandma was short, like me, and every time I saw her we stood back-to-back trying to see how close to her height I was getting.
My grandma’s home always had a certain, unexplainable aroma. Whenever she would send or give us a package, the same fragrance lingered. Every time I had something to take with me home from their house, it required a “baggie,” and in recent years, I referred to these as “grandma baggies”. I can still hear her saying to me “Would you like a bag for that, dear?” My grandma called my dad “handsome”, she greeted my mom with “lovey”, and she pronounced my sister’s name as “Alysser” when it was supposed to be “Alyssa”. She had a Boston accent, and she dropped her r’s in some words, but added them in others. I was the only one who had a normal name in the family.
We would always gather at my grandparent’s house for Thanksgiving and Easter, and we would get our own food buffet-style, but once in a while my grandma would come around with food on a tray and ask, “Would you like some more?” It was clearly futile to say, “No, thanks,” or “that’s okay” because in seconds she would a fill my plate again. Also, my grandma’s definition of a ‘sliver’ of cake or pie tremendously exceeded a sliver, and I wondered why she barely touched her own plate. “Sit down and eat, Grandma,” my sister and I would constantly say, “we’ll take care of everything, go eat.”
Considering my sister and I (Ashley and Alyssa above) are the oldest of the eleven grandchildren, we were accustomed to babysitting and playing with the cousins as well as helping out in the kitchen. We didn’t mind doing any of this to help out. These happy memories help me deal with what’s happening to this special person in our lives. My mind flashed back to the room we were in as my grandma stared at me with faraway eyes. She seemed to look through me. As her gaze shifted, I noticed a faint smile on her face, and I knew that she recognized me. “So, the girls have been outside on their bikes riding around town a lot,” my dad said to my grandma, “you used to do that with your sisters, right?” My grandma nodded and beamed as my dad retold stories of her childhood, occasionally looking over to her for her approbation.
My aunts had long left by now, and my dad began updates about the family. Based on reports from our relatives prior to this visit, I knew my grandma was having a ‘good day’ because she was smiling and trying to talk. This was a drastic change, however, from the energetic and busy housekeeper I always knew. My grandma said, “Well, it’s been a nice visit,” in her whispery voice. She half-closed her eyes, and I knew that she was exhausted from trying to talk and be alert. “Bye grandma,” I said, bending down to kiss her on the cheek, “see you soon.”
Editor's note: SilverStringer Jim Driscoll and Barbara (Shea) Driscoll were married for 52 years. Barbara age 78, mother of six children and grandmother of eleven children, quietly died on January 5, 2005, shortly after the visit by Ashley, Alyssa, and parents Jack and Marion Driscoll.