Kellen didn’t understand all these family events, he did them out of obligation. His wife and he would talk about it the night before any event and then in the morning begrudgingly make the drive a couple of hours south to be part of whatever family shindig was going on. Kellen loved his Mother a ton and so he made the effort for her, but never looked forward to spending a day around her siblings. He just didn’t feel connected to his Aunts and Uncles. It wasn’t all their fault, he knew he could come across as a pretentious ass, but he truly honestly liked a very small group of his relatives and was mostly indifferent to the rest. The Aunt who would kill for him or kill him if he ever was on the other side. She always did everything for her family and he loved and respected her for that. Most of his other Aunts and Uncles were acquaintances. Really people he didn’t know and didn’t share anything with. And one specific uncle was actually just a bully. The little bullying things he had done to Kellen as a child had stuck with him and he hated that Uncle for it. Always would, the only reason he was civil was for his grandparents and now for his mother. All the cousins were cool but they all had their own lives.
So Kellen and his wife loaded up the car and headed out, planning a safe word for when they were ready to go and debating the merits of the required length of stay to satisfy everyone they had tried. And the truth was in the past Kellen had all too often found an excuse for not going. He was trying to do that less, trying to mitigate the guilt he would feel down the road.
He sat in the hot summer sun in the park, thinking about these things looking around at all these people. He watched his relatives come in and say hi to each other and hug Grandma. Grandma sat in a corner in her wheel chair. Her skinny figure and narrow face not what they once were. Most of the time her eyes were closed and her chin bounced as she gnawed at her own gums. She didn’t acknowledge anyone or probably even know they were there. Kellen looked at this frail woman and thought about all the great times of his childhood. A woman who had never done anything but her best for him. Spoiled him every day she got near him and some days she wasn’t. She had always been a quiet woman with a rosy face and a wonderful smile. She loved to make people happy through their stomach’s and she was good at that. Kellen remembered hearing her swear once, just a small “Oh shit” snuck out. It was like the world stopped, Grandma was so polite and mild-mannered. It was a funny moment.
Years ago Alzheimer’s had started to take Kellen’s grandmother. Piece-by-piece she lost little things and the disease stole one of the most amazing people in Kellen’s life. He remembered her slowly losing the ability to recall who he was. Then one day she was visiting his parents and she so clearly had no idea who he was and would never know again. Kellen remembered crying himself to sleep that night, he realized his grandmother would never come back. She would never look at him and smile knowing he was her grandson. It tore him apart. So Kellen dealt with it as best as he knew how. He mourned the loss of the woman who was his grandmother. That woman was now gone and the shell took over. He mourned her for years until there was barely anything recognizable and then he let go. He said his goodbyes and stopped mourning her. Her body nothing but an empty carapace for what was once a wonderful soul.
Kellen sat here looking at the frail shell across the picnic area from him, and thought of his grandmother, not as that shell but as what she had been. The truth is the people at these events he could ignore or be civil to, but that shell sitting with them haunted him. It made him feel bad that it didn’t make him sad anymore. It made him sad to watch the pain in his mothers eyes as she looked at what was left of her mother. Just hoping that through that frail body one more showing of miraculous strength of mind would win and she would recognize her daughter once again.