The crunch of an apple

This week took me back into the Tremblant hills, and frankly my mind is still there despite having returned to Ottawa. In Tremblant the leaves have fallen, leaving the forest a mixture of bare grey and coniferous green. And up one particular dirt road, along which you’ll find slews of frozen water (where Zsolt and I threw rocks to break the ice), past the scattered houses with lights on in the windows, up , up, and up to the top of a forest-covered hill – that’s where my grandmother is staying. It is my aunt’s log cabin in the woods. Smoke pours from the chimney, fire crawls in the hearth and conversations are whispered. This week Zsolt and I kept them company. Together we waited. And we are still waiting, even now as I type this in my parent’s kitchen in Ottawa, now away from the chalet.

My grandmother, Lulu, is ninety two years old, and for all the wonderful things she is, has been, may become – right now she is dying. And that is hard for everyone. Hard to even write about.

But it’s wrapped up in my mind, so what choice do I have? This week I don’t want to blog about cancer or homecoming or Canada or my husband. I’d rather write about Lucienne, or Lulu, as I call her.

The other day I walked into my grandmother’s bedroom and sat down opposite her. She said her ‘Bonjour’ and so did I before flipping open my laptop and beginning to work while she stared across the room. And then I pulled out an apple that was in my pocket (no bananas), polished it off, and took a bite.

Lulu smiled.

I offered her a slice, since suddenly she was watching me, but Lulu declined.

“I can’t eat it.” Her teeth are no good for chewing hard fruit.

“Do you mind if I eat it?”

“No, no.”

And so for a while it was all: type, type, type (I was working on a project for my parents. This week they are hosting this large workshop and I was sussing out some inspirational ideas to write on cards.) and chew, chomp, crunch.

Crunch, crunch, crunch. Apple juice running down my hand, being wiped on my pyjamas, spraying into the room with every juicy bite. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

And she turned to me – which she doesn’t do too often anymore, and she smiled.

“I like that. I like to hear you eat it.”

“Does it feel almost like you’re eating it?”

“Yes. I like the smell. I like the sound.”

And she laid back smiling as I continued to eat that red McIntosh. Eyes closed. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Sour sweet juice.

What she thought about with those eyes shut, I have no idea. My French is not fantastic, and her English isn’t incredible (but it is good). We normally manage fairly well, though lately she’s having trouble so I avoid in-depth questions like, “What is it you’re imagining right now?” or “What is it you remember when I eat this apple?”

But whatever it was, it made her smile. And maybe in that moment, maybe it took her somewhere other than the bedroom in my aunt’s Tremblant chalet. Somewhere she felt more herself. Maybe –and this is me being sentimental – maybe it took her back in time, to when she and Benoit would sit on the veranda of their Montreal home after the girls had been put to bed. And they’d lean back on their lawn chairs, side by side, and laugh as the apple juice dripped down their fingers. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

That’s what I’d like to imagine.

Sometimes we feel so helpless seeing other people suffer. And as things progress, that helplessness builds for everyone. It’s a familiar picture. Last year I was on the other side, the one in bed and beneath the blankets, and even now I need to say: ‘Catherine, you are not sick. This is not you. You are fine and done with that garbage. Done, done, done.’

But nevertheless, whatever side – there is a helplessness. And so I’m thankful for the small moments. The smell of an apple, the gift of a memory, the comfort of company.

If I could do nothing else, as least I could help her smile; it’s one of the most lovely things in the world – and hopefully, for at least that moment, she felt lovely within herself.

And that is all I have to say about that.