Grandma Got Run Over by a Laptop
I really wish my grandma would learn how to blog. One of the many reasons it’s sad that people die is that all their knowledge, stories, and life experience go with them. If she could blog, not only could I keep in touch, but I would be able to immortalize her memories, even if everything we both own were to spontaneously combust.
Teaching her to blog would SEEM like a simple task, but there are things you must know about my grandma. First, she’s 96, so of there are certain allowances that come with that age. Second, although we all love her dearly, my grandma is a total pain in the ass. It’s strange because communication with her is something that she and everyone else in the family desperately want, but yet, she seems to not be willing to make it happen. Grandma lives in Michigan and we live in Georgia, so we don’t have many options. Grandma has about a 90% hearing loss, so it’s nearly impossible to talk to her on the phone. We understand it’s not her fault, but we literally have to SCREAM on the phone or in order for her to hear us, and even then she often can’t. She knows she can’t hear unless we scream, but when we do, she tells us, “Don’t yell at me!” This is especially fun when she visits, and I take her somewhere public like the mall and I have to literally shout at her, then everyone around gives me dirty looks for yellin’ at a sweet, little, old lady.
As we know, technology can aide us with such communication problems. My parents bought a special hearing impaired phone that has voice recognition and shows the conversation on a small screen. Several friends and relatives have visited to verify that it works properly and to show her exactly how to use it. So, she talks, you reply, SHE DOESN’T READ THE SCREEN, then she says, “WHAT?! I can’t hear what you’re saying!!”
Of course, I understand it’s completely unnatural when you’ve used a regular telephone for 90 something years; it’s odd to say something and then have to read a response, and it takes some getting used to. We remind her constantly, “Read the screen.” She doesn’t. She is just one of those people that refuses to learn new things making the voice recognition phone just one of the many failed experiments.
Grandma’s had a major hearing loss my entire life and naturally, it’s gotten progressively worse. When I was about seven and learned about sign language in school, I told the family we should ALL learn it so we could talk to grandma. Her reply?
“Oh, honey, I’m to old to learn!” The woman’s been “too old to learn” ANYTHING as long as I’ve been alive!!
Then, before most people had email, and fax machines were the big thing, we tried to get her a fax machine so that we could at least communicate more immediately than we can through the mail. Nope, she was “too old to learn” that too.
We’ve offered to buy her a computer and teach her to use it, but she won’t. Again, “Oh, I’m too old to learn!” WHY?! Somehow, she wants to learn, but yet refuses to. Once in a while she gets curious, which we encourage, hoping she’ll learn. We TRY to show her how to use a computer, but she inhibits the learning process by insisting that you tell her exactly what the internet is, WHERE it is, exactly how it works, exactly how an email gets from us to her, why an email address “looks so weird.” When she asks these things, she doesn’t want what seems like a simple answer.
“How does email work?”
You’d think, “You log in here, write your letter here, then hit ‘SEND,'” would be just the answer she’s looking for.
No, no, she wants you to explain the exact process of electronic data transfer. I mean like, engineer type explanations that most human beings don’t know. So, when we tell her, “We don’t know exactly, but watch, it’s really easy to send an email,” she throws her arms in the air and claims, “Well, if I don’t know how it works, I can’t use it.”
BULLSHIT! YOU DON’T HAVE A FUKKIN CLUE HOW AN ENGINE WORKS BUT YOU DRIVE A CAR!! Somehow, it’s much better to refuse to communicate with the few people on this planet that give a shit about you than to use a device that’s too complicated for said people to explain inner workings of.
Another friend recommended blogging for her by just talking to her and writing or recording down what she says. It IS a great idea, but in her patented, pain-in-the-ass-grandma way, she refuses. She doesn’t directly say no, but she just won’t make it happen. Again, what seems like a simple task becomes complicated! We’ve tried SO many times to get her to tell us about her life so we can write or record them. Whenever we do, all she can think of is some awful story about somebody who died, and NOBODY she’s ever known has ever just died. Oh no, it’s always a slow, strange, painful death.
“You remember Ronnie? He was friends with Sylvia who used to come to church with Ethel and Francine (all the while you’re thinking, “Who the fuck are all these people?”). Well, he got hit by a train. He survived, but it cut his body in half. He was going to drag himself home, but since the entire left half of his body was still on the railroad tracks, he couldn’t drag, so he beat himself to death with his own severed arm. And did you hear about Francine? Well, she got such bad cancer in her asshole, they were going to sew it shut. During the operation, they didn’t give her enough anesthesia and an escaped tiger from the zoo ran in and ate her from the bottom up.”
I long to hear, “You remember Georgie? Well, he passed away in his sleep.”
Sometimes, if we’re lucky, she’ll indulge us with a joyful tale of her youth and how horrible it was because she grew up in the Depression and nobody could afford to be happy for 30 seconds. AND WE KNOW IT’S NOT TRUE! You know how we know? At exactly the wrong time, when you’re in no position to write it down or record it, when you’re driving, eating, or taking a shit, a fascinating story or insight will pop into her head. Of course, you can remember the story vaguely, so you think to yourself, “Well, later I’ll grab a notebook and ask her to tell the story again.”
So, you do just that, “Grandma, tell me about that time grandpa took you dancing at the Grande Ballroom.”
“Oh, we never did that. It was the Depression. Nobody had any money. We never had any fun and then everybody died.”
We’ve tried something similar in written form. My sister started letter notebook. The idea is that you would write her a letter in the notebook and she’d reply in the notebook and we’d mail the whole book back and forth. Think of it as a really slow instant message. Sis thought of it because it seems like no matter what you write to grandma, you get the same letter back. You write to her:
We all miss you very much and we wish you could visit. I got a new job, but it’s hard work, I can’t imagine how you did it! What was it like grandpa went off to the war and you started working?
This is what you will get back:
Well, the weather in Michigan has been bad lately. You remember Gertrude that lives down the hall? She died slowly and horribly. I didn’t play pinocle with my friends this Wednesday. Miss you a bushel and a peck!
Somehow we thought the notebook would help the situation, but grandma always knows the best way NOT to do something that makes sense. Grandma kept sending the notebook back, empty, then a few days later, a separate letter would arrive. Sometimes, she sent a separate letter along with the notebook. A few times she sent random blank notebooks along with the original notebook! She tries your patience so hard, I swear, she could make Jesus jump out the window!
I know, I sound like a terrible person, and we’re all lucky that at 96, she can even hold a pen, remember her own name , and understand what a notebook is, but it’s frustrating beyond belief that you know you CAN communicate with someone you love that you know misses you, that you know is lonely, that you know has decades of fascinating stories, knowledge, and perspective, but yet refuses to improve the situation. So, I try to accept this with the realization that whenever she gets a letter from me, even if she doesn’t answer my questions, tell me anything interesting, or only tells me how shitty the weather was and who croaked this week, getting a letter from me and writing one back puts a smile on her face and gives her the chance to feel a connection with me for a while, and that’s worth all the aforementioned screaming, embarrassment, disbelief, and frustration.