A grandmother’s death reveals complex emotions and a tangled family history.
Growing up in Philadelphia, novelist Cary (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pennsylvania; If Sons, Then Heirs, 2011, etc.), founder of Art Sanctuary and SafeKidsStories.com, was doted upon by her wealthy, elegant grandmother, spending delightful weekends in her spacious New Jersey home. “Yes, yes, yes, I knew that I was being spoiled,” the author admits. Only later did she discover that the woman who indulged her was more complicated and difficult than she had realized. In a candid, sensitive memoir, Cary chronicles her 100-year-old grandmother’s last year, when she lived with the author and her family. It was a stressful period that tested Cary’s patience and love and motivated her search for the “truth and lies, business and money, and communal and racial memory” that made up her grandmother’s long life. Besides accompanying her grandmother to concerts and museums as a child, she also rode along “in Nana’s latest late-model car” to collect rents from her tenants in Philadelphia, who lived in apartments “Nana would not have wanted to live in.” When she asked about the disparity, Nana told her “this was business.” Yet the hard-nosed rent collector (she once told a tenant who complained about mice to get a cat) also administered a scholarship fund for black students and set aside a storage room “to save people’s furniture for them after evictions.” Her treatment of family could be harsh, as well: She feuded with her son—Cary’s father—reconciling only when she was near death; and she treated her husband with condescension. As her health worsened, she became combative. Although she had survived serious illnesses and a car crash, degenerative heart disease finally undermined her apparently indomitable life force. Cary recounts Nana’s increasing weakness as well as the enraged demands—for particular foods and constant attention—that generated Cary’s own debilitating physical responses. She recounts, as well, her negotiations with nurses, kind hospice workers, and Medicare’s frustrating bureaucracy, experiences familiar to many caregivers.
Thoughtful reflections on pain, love, and family.