China Doll

“Amber, she may not recognize you,” Dad warns me as he pulls into the hospital parking lot, “She’s awake but not very lucid. It’s probably the pain medication.” He watches for a reaction, and I just nod. “Your aunt Lilith and uncle Patrick are here. The others couldn’t make it on such short notice.”

Mom was one of five kids, but the family was not particularly close. One was a lawyer in Kentucky; another was a Realtor in New Mexico. Uncle Patrick was a recovering alcoholic who lived in Boston while Aunt Lilith lived in Miami. Aunt Lilith was the flaky one who was all love and light and sold incense and crystals down by the beach.

When we enter the room, aunt Lilith is seated by the head of mima’s bed. She immediately smiles and stands to great me, her flowing skirt falls down around her sandals and her bare arms outstretch in a greeting. “Snuggle bug!” Her arms wrap around me like a familiar blanket, and she rocks me back and forth. She smells like sandalwood and hyacinthias. When she let’s go, she doesn’t really let go. She takes me by the shoulders and holds me at arms length, “my you’re getting big.” She hugs me again, but this time she does let me go, and she turns to mima. “Mom, look who’s here.”

Mima’s eyes drift over the room, vaguely registering her guests, until they settle on me. Her eyes seem to clear for a moment, “Amber, you came.” A slight smile broadens her lips as she whispers, but in a moment, mimia is gone again, distant and lost.

I stand there watching her, the shell of someone I once knew. It’s a familiar pain, like witnessing the Alzheimer that wiped my grandfather away. I smile back at her and say hi, but I can’t bring myself to approach or retreat. There is nothing I can do here that will change anything, so I just stand, a sign of solidarity for the grandmother I love. Patrick and mom try to chit chat with mima a little and Lilith sits back down and holds her hand, offering her ice chips for her parched throat. Mima’s eyes gently flutter open and closed like tired butterflies looking for a place to land.

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