My 95-Year-Old Grandma Saved My Life When No One Else Could. Then She Did It Again — Months After Her Death.

When I visited my family in Montreal after spending two weeks in a psych ward abroad, I quickly understood one thing: I would be living out of my carry-on while my family figured out what to do with me.

The first weeks were excruciating. My mom dragged me on morning walks around the hilly neighborhood, my father was oddly quiet, and mentioning my institutionalization was not permitted in the household. Despite the utter exhaustion, there was one outing I adored: visiting my Grandma Bevy. On the cusp of 95, the most fashionable nonagenarian in town saw past my failures and toward my future accomplishments, despite my itchy feelings of hopelessness.

Whenever I was hospitalized due to a bipolar episode, Grandma Bevy would call me on the spotty landline in the white-on-white-on-frightful hallway. I’d will myself out of bed in my oversized scrubs and bring a “psych ward safe” flexible pen to document her wisdom.

My parents never understood my motives for admitting myself inpatient: most often, a calculated plan involving stockpiled prescriptions. However, from hundreds of miles away, Grandma Bevy repeated over the phone, “I’m proud of you.”

When I overdosed on pills in 2019 and received my diagnosis, she announced, “It will be OK, sweetheart. It isn’t right now, but you’ll get through it.” Her determined voice got me to discharge.

That same voice would get me through this next chapter of my life in Montreal, as I tried to claw my way out of the grave that I had dug for myself in a fast-paced metropolitan city.

As a 30-year-old single woman plagued with mental illness, routine was essential to my executive functioning. Consistency helped me maintain equanimity. My grandmother’s daily phone calls became daily coffee talks, where she’d encouraged me to start physical training. On the days that I didn’t work out, I’d bake biscotti, and visit over lunchtime to show her videos of me deadlifting two Grandma Bevys. She weighed 100 pounds wet.

“Jenny, that’s too much weight,” she’d announce. “But wait. Can I see that video again?”

"I didn’t know what to do with myself to fill the unbearable void. I had no one to visit midday and no reason to bake biscotti," the author writes of her grandmother's death.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself to fill the unbearable void. I had no one to visit midday and no reason to bake biscotti,” the author writes of her grandmother’s death.

Photo Courtesy Of Jennifer Greenberg

Some say to count your blessings, but I lost count of the number of blessings I had in my first year at home with Grandma Bevy — it made up for a decade of being away. She was the first person I wanted to tell about a good first date or laugh about a bad one, discuss the family business and family in general, or the blizzard outside, according to the weather channel (despite the clear skies outside our window).

In December 2022, she treated me to a round-trip train ride to Toronto. When I came home, it was like the fall of Rome; it happened slowly and then all at once.

It was my father’s birthday that Sunday, so we brought cupcakes and candles to Grandma Bevy’s apartment. After a couple of tired weeks, we were amazed by her incredible burst of energy. I witnessed my grandmother devour an entire chocolate cupcake, icing and all. It was quite the rarity for a woman who daren’t eat a french fry.

After opening presents, we switched on the Montreal Canadiens game, high on sugar and cautious optimism. Grandma Bevy faded by the third period. The buzzer sounded as her five-foot frame melted into the king-sized bed. We had been foiled by her terminal lucidity, or surge before the end. She would die within the week.

Suddenly, I didn’t know what to do with myself to fill the unbearable void. I had no one to visit midday and no reason to bake biscotti — pistachio, not almond, as she read on her iPad that they were higher in protein. Instead of the anticipated depression attached to grief, sleep deprivation from sitting by her bedside launched me into a manic panic. At her funeral, I ranted faster than Mrs. Maisel. I insomnibaked four dozen blueberry muffins for the extended family when sleep was no longer an option. I paced around her downtown neighborhood, convinced that everyone I passed was gathering intel to share with that same extended family — who were plotting against me, as were my friends.

The paranoia accumulated with the snowfall until spring hit, and everything came crashing down. Grandma Bevy wasn’t there to help me through the nadir. I went to her desolate condo, unwrapped one of her leftover butterscotch candies on her night table, and vented to her empty armchair in the back bedroom.

“How am I supposed to do this without you, Grandma? There’s no one to insist I buy jeans without rips in the knees or revel at my new pair of homemade earrings. It doesn’t feel real. It can’t be real.”

I felt like a child in the wrong aisle at the grocery store — lost and desperate to be found. In one ear, I heard the all-too-familiar voice insisting I pillage for pills when my parents were out for dinner that night. In the other, I heard hers, whispering, “The world is not finished with you, sweetheart.”

"While my strict routine was upended and I lost my coffee companion, Grandma Bevy’s voice would always be in my ear; I just had to listen closely," the author writes.
“While my strict routine was upended and I lost my coffee companion, Grandma Bevy’s voice would always be in my ear; I just had to listen closely,” the author writes.

Photo Courtesy Of Jennifer Greenberg

I never thought I’d make it through that dark and stormy night home alone. I didn’t trust myself.

What felt like a solid foundation mere days ago turned into blaring profanities in my brain. I have a menial job in a field so far left from what I love, my graduate degree was a waste, I am painfully single with zero sex drive, conversing with friends seems daunting, I did get a refill on all of my psych meds today, my mom has that extra-large bottle of Tylenol stashed away. Am I really going there? Again?

Then, I heard my grandmother’s voice: “What about finally taking that trip to Vancouver to visit your friends from university?” The trip had been postponed due to an overdose, a hospitalization and a mixed-mood episode (a strange combination of agitation, despondency and wishful thinking). The suggestion of voyaging out West was a gift from beyond the grave.

While I had globetrotted in my 20s, traveling was something I never thought I’d be able to handle since my bipolar I diagnosis. I was afraid of jetlag affecting my sleep schedule, I didn’t know whether to take my meds on East Coast or West Coast time, and I was worried that the wanderlust of adventure would launch me into a euphoria from which I could not escape.

With some diligence and the help of my friends, I overcame these obstacles over the five-day sojourn. Our usual all-nighters were replaced by charcuterie boards and 10 p.m. bedtimes, we scheduled naps to recharge between activities, and the hosts let me use their dumbbells to blow off early morning steam when I couldn’t adjust to the time difference. I ensured the trip was a success for my Grandma Bevy, to continue to make her proud.

I came back from my time on the Pacific with a goal of being furiously happy—but not too happy—as I neared 31.

While my strict routine was upended and I lost my coffee companion, Grandma Bevy’s voice would always be in my ear; I just had to listen closely. I thought of her when I wanted to give in to my vices, I didn’t want to disappoint her by losing my fitness or my mind, I wanted to make her proud by working for the business founded by her husband. She would continue to help me out of my up-highs and down-lows, even if from a metaphysical distance.

“It doesn’t matter what the world thinks. You know what you need: coffee, exercise, and that undefinable quirkiness that makes you my darling Jenny. None of the rest matters.”

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