She’s very sick.
The prognosis, it’s not good.
Back in 2008, on New Year’s Day, I was the one who found her on the floor of the bathroom, a massive stroke claiming her body as she lay there helpless and scared.
As I held her in my arms and heard the distant wail of the sirens growing increasingly louder, I sang our favorite song, convinced she would die at any moment, holding my breath as I waited for help to arrive.
But my grandmother, she had other plans.
Though not the same woman entirely after that fateful day, my grandmother’s trademark strength and stubbornness defied the doctors’ predictions and we watched with grateful hearts as she began to recover, a slow and painful journey often marked by small achievements and glaring setbacks.
On good days, my devout Catholic grandmother would tell dirty jokes and pretend she didn’t like it when we smothered her with kisses.
On bad days, she would wonder where she was, confused and agitated, convinced we were trying to get rid of her.
For five and a half years the pendulum has swung between these two extremes, and in the middle was where we strived to reside, a place where my grandmother was happy, content, and complaining that she wasn’t getting enough dessert with her meals.
Two weeks ago she went into the hospital for gallbladder surgery. She was in pain and even though it was a risky procedure, it had to be done. They discovered in the ER that she had walking pneumonia, but the surgery couldn’t be postponed, and after being intubated, the quiet infection which had previously gone unnoticed began to rage inside her frail body and she was admitted into the ICU.
I’ve witnessed many injuries and ailments and illnesses over the years. I’ve seen loved ones doubled over in pain and I’ve seen my special needs son suffer through rare infections and so many seizures I eventually lost count.
But I was not prepared to see someone I loved struggle to take a breath.
Out of all the ways to suffer in this world, not being able to breathe……….is nothing short of torture.
She was released from the hospital late last week.
“Nothing more we can do for her,” they said.
She’s in a rehabilitative nursing home now, her days spent in a white room with a pretty view of the courtyard.
In her lucid moments she calls out my name while I sit next to her, her hand gripping mine with that stubborn strength that’s seen her through war and death and unfairness and more anguish than any one person should ever have to face. It courses through her shrinking body until it reaches my palm and my fingers and I soak it up and hope it sinks in because if I even have a fraction of her resilience and determination during my lifetime I will consider myself blessed and lucky indeed.
That same hand used to patiently wrap itself around mine when I was a child and frightened of the dark, consumed by the obsessions and compulsions that plagued me, convinced my nightmares would become reality as soon as the lights were out and the house succumbed to slumber.
We shared a bedroom for years in our small apartment, my immigrant parents too busy putting food on the table to concern themselves with such luxuries as enough bedrooms for everyone; I sometimes acted annoyed at the lack of privacy, but each night, as darkness fell, I reached for that hand, and each night, no matter how exhausted she was, my grandmother reached across our two twin beds, and held my hand in hers until I fell asleep.
Now it’s my turn to hold hers.
She’s told me so.
I don’t know what to say, so instead I hold her hand and bury my head in her chest, hoping my body does not betray me and reveal my silent sobs.
The standard thing to say in this type of situation is: “She’s had a full life.”
If that’s supposed to dilute my grief, it’s failing miserably.
And I don’t want to hear it. From anyone.
It’s devastating to see someone you love so fiercely suffer.
It’s almost impossible to bear knowing that life keeps going, even though you believe it should stop in its tracks when something like this happens.
When she moans from pain and calls out my name or when she summons her beloved Jesus, I am simultaneously humbled and terrified, reminded of my own mortality, and that inevitably the same fate awaits me, though the details of my own demise will likely differ.
And last I heard, when it comes to mortality, there’s not a damn thing I or anyone else can do to avoid it.
So instead, I spend a part of each day sitting at her bedside, doing the only thing I know how, the one thing she did for me all those years ago when I was a frightened, helpless child, convinced the darkness would swallow me up and never let me near the light again.
I reach across and find her hand, weathered and spotted and still softer than my own, and I place it gently in mine, holding onto my grandmother, anchoring her to the memories between us, reminding her in our trademark way
that she’s not alone.
My grandmother, her name is Valeria.
It means brave and strong and valiant and she is all of these things and more.
She is also a woman of profound faith, and I know she would appreciate your prayers and positive thoughts.