Relatives gather in Grandma Maudie's hospital room for her 95th birthday.
Grandma Maudie’s Birthday Bash
It was Grandma Maudie’s ninety-fifth birthday; she was spending it in the hospital, as she had her ninety-fourth and ninety-third. There had been close encounters with her demise for three years now, but she was a tough old bird.
I arrived with the birthday cake, a framed picture of my children for her nightstand, and a pasted-on smile. Other relatives were gathered in the claustrophobic room that smelled of decay and pine-scented room spray.
“Happy Birthday, Grand—“
“She can’t hear you, Jackie,” Aunt Geneva blurted.
“We think she’s in a coma,” Uncle Raymond added.
“You think? You don’t know?”
“She is!” the couple said in unison.
“We’ve called for a priest,” Uncle Raymond added.
“She’s not Catholic,” I said.
“He is all they had on hand,” Aunt Geneva said.
The question that was trying desperately not to slip out of my mouth was the obvious one: Why were we here for a birthday celebration if she was in a coma?
I went over to the bed and took hold of Grandma Maudie’s cool, bony hand. I remembered her holding mine when I was a little girl with a high fever. I remembered her putting a cool compress on my forehead.
“So now what?” I said.
“We wait,” my cousin Gareth said.
Gareth was Geneva and Raymond’s only child, and at fifty years old still looked like a roly-poly baby.
The irony in this assemblage was that Grandma Maudie did not like any of these people. In fact, she despised Uncle Raymond for something he did years ago, though she would never say what it was. I, on the other hand, was her favorite granddaughter. We were each other’s favorite people in the world. I hated to be sharing her with these outcasts as she took her final breaths.
Someone tapped on the door and entered.
“I’m here to give your beloved Last Rights,” the priest said, fumbling through his notes. “Maude Swenson. Or is it Maudie?”
“Maudie,” I said. “My grandmother.”
“Or Maude,” Aunt Geneva added. “My mother.”
“My mother-in-law,” Uncle Raymond added.
“And my grandmother, too!” Gareth said, a bit defensively.
The priest entered timidly, possibly reacting to the tension in the sick room. In addition, he was about to give Last Rights to a non-Catholic stranger who had no say in the matter as to what he was about to administer. That had to be uncomfortable.
“Please, come in,” I said, to be polite.
“I’m Father Joseph,” he said as he approached the bed.
I nodded; I didn’t feel introductions were in order.
“Shall we join hands and pray,” he said.
“Must we?” I wanted to say but didn’t out of respect for the occasion.
We joined hands clumsily.
Father Joseph walked over to Grandma Maudie and got out his Catholic paraphernalia. As he began speaking, Grandma Maudie opened one eye.
“Who in the hell are you?” she said in her croaky voice.
“I’m Father Joseph, Maude, Maudie, Mrs. ahh Swenson. I’m here to give you Last Rights, ma’am.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Grandma Maudie was back…yet again.
“And anyway if I was, I’m not Catholic, and you are not my father,” she said as she looked toward the cake. “Let’s party! You know, I don’t think I’m ever gonna die!”
That last remark made me smile from ear to ear.