My grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She had spent her retirement years bouncing between England, Jamaica, and the United States visiting all of her children, but now that is impossible and she spends her days in Jamaica with several of my aunts. Reliving her childhood memories and prone to random rants, my grandmother is taken care of and made comfortable. Honored as the matriarch of our family, despite her inability to recognize even her own children most days. In a way, it’s good that there are so many miles separating us. If not good then convenient, because it allows me to dwell on the woman she was, the woman I remember, who was such a powerful figure in my life.

In a lot of ways, Jerry Williamson is just an old man in a nursing home. Sure, he’s a horror writing legend, however, I’ve only met him the one time, though I have read some of his work. It’s funny how easy it is to forget about people, to get caught up in the busyness of our own lives. The Indiana Horror Writers wanted to make a point of visiting Jerry during the holidays, but it’s difficult to coordinate schedules during this hectic time. I heard through a mutual friend of ours, Gary Braunbeck:

“I thought you should know that I spoke with Jerry’s sister over the weekend and it’s not looking good; his dementia is worsening, as is his physical condition, and the doctors don’t think it will be long now. They’re keeping him comfortable, and though he does still have periods of lucidity, they are now few and far between.”

I hate it when it takes the tragic realities of life to snap us out of our self-focused revelry. I ended up paying him a visit, though my visit was simply me sitting with him, listening to his labored breathing and intermittent muttering about his pain. I don’t know. It would be easy to rationalize about how I didn’t want to wake or disturb him. The truth is that I’m not good in these sort of situations. It’s not like I’m good with kids/teens or the elderly in the first place, but nursing homes terrify me. On top of that, it breaks my heart to see people in such a state, especially knowing there’s so little we can do for them. Lastly, there comes a point where words fail us, where communication can’t be had. I don’t even know how aware he was of me.

Being with Jerry reminded me of my grandmother and what I would want for her. I’m thankful that someone is there for her, to be with her, to let her know that she was still human. That when her dignity seems lost and her frailty laid bare, she still mattered. So that was my model. I prayed over him (the only other thing I know to do when words fail me) and sat with him. Because in the end, that’s all we can do: pray for one another and be there. I know that our group is planning another, fuller visit in a few weeks.

I don’t know how much longer we’ll have him with us, but writing as J.N. Williamson, we’ll always have his stories. And that’s how we’ll remember him. I know that’s the way I will.