The following is something that I wrote last night, expecting but not foreseeing the immediacy of what would happen next. I edited and added a few things to preserve coherence but in all honesty this may be the most “raw” piece of writing that I have ever submitted for the approval of the midnight society or any other group of readers.
I have a draft of my dissertation proposal due in 36 hours and I find that my muse and my heart pulls me in another direction. It honestly frightens me to even write these thoughts down but I can’t really find a way to deal with my present emotional state than to lay it out on the digital canvas towards my ideal an almost imaginary reader. If there’s one thing any writer can tell a novice it’s that when inspiration strikes everything else needs to be deferred because the right words are fleeting and quick to escape unless they are captured with the stroke of a pen or a typing of keys. I write tonight for the memory of someone who has left this mortal realm, knowing full well that as I search for the right phrasing she still breathes and yet fully aware that her last breath is imminent.
Yesterday, my dad called to tell me that my grandmother was very close to dying. As I write, she is somewhat stable but as difficult as it may be to express, I feel that we are all just biding our time before the inevitable occurs. “Tata” as my generation of grandkids has amorously called her over the years, is in her mid nineties and been in the hospital for about four months. The revelation that she is leaving us does not invoke a sense of shock or delirium but it is still a surprise if you know her basic biography.
She is a widow at about the halfway point in her life with 5 kids, most of them grownup but that did not make the task any easier. She never remarried and remained staunchly independent ever since. If anyone ever asked me who was my role model when it came to emotional strength at the speed of an involuntary reaction I would declare that it was my grandmother. She has been the most stable thing in my life over a good fraction of it. Her memory evokes the image of silver hair, wide rimmed glasses, veiny hands, and a smiling disposition. This picture of my mind became frail over the years but rarely falters. At least, not until a few months ago.
While prepping for my comprehensive exams a few months ago, my parents called to tell me grandma was in the hospital. During the conversation, I was reminded of just how tough she really is. The medical staff apparently didn’t have a record of her, which was surprising until we remembered when her last stay at the hospital actually happened. I have a vague recollection of one time she slipped and hurt her shoulder pretty bad but everything there was an outpatient procedure. The last time she had to stay the night at the hospital was when she gave birth to my mother, that’s how much of a badass she is. Sure, she was getting a little slower, needing a walker, and having a few slips, but she was still fiercely independent even if my mom and uncles would convert the spontaneous visiting schedule into something rigorous to make sure she wouldn’t be alone or unsafe for any large period of time. So when I heard she was in the hospital I thought it would be a short stay and then things would be back to normal. Little did I know that our definition of normalcy would be radically altered.
Expectations of how quickly she would be returned home slowly shifted towards the question as to if she would come back. When you have a nonagenarian in the family, there is certainly an awareness as to any particular moment or holiday being “the last one” but having that possibility directly in front of you leaves your psyche quivering. That abstract moment in a vague future was now a very real fear and the family knew all too well of what awaited us. The pilgrimage of family members commenced somewhere around week 2 as I was still with my academic blinders. Still, I prayed for a cure, for something, that somehow whatever inconsistent powers of a super or magical variety of mine could help. As hard as it may be to explain or comprehend, my levels of empathy towards my family, especially towards my grandmother are strong enough that I can get some kind of feedback through the cosmic resonances of energies. If it was a bad pain day or if things got dicey, my spidey sense for lack of a better term would kick in. My parents have enough of a vague understanding about this to be honest about the situation, even when things are at their bleakest.
During her stay in the hospital, I have felt her energy ebb and rise so much that I have mourned her passing, even as I type I get the odd feeling that grandma is creeping closer to the end, if she is not there already. It fills me with a sense of dread and powerlessness, to be aware that someone you love is suffering and that you can’t help. And yet, even if I was right by her bedside like the rest of the family I could do nothing but hold her hand and maybe engage in some light conversation. But that was something, maybe not enough for a medical difference but an emotional one nonetheless.
I sent in the second part of comps at about 7am one day and made my way to the airport soon afterwards. By the time I got home the imminent fears had passed, heartbeats had been stabilized, and breathing was as close to normal as it had been in a long time. The danger had passed but hope was never really regained. I spent a good part of my impromptu Thanksgiving vacation by her bedside, trying to make her smile, trying to make the day brighter, trying not to let agony or the inevitability of what is our ultimate destiny rear its ugly head.
About a week later I returned to my academic responsibilities but left a proxy of me behind for the worst parts.You see, two years ago I went to a tiny regional Comic Con of sorts and decided to get gifts for pretty much all my loved ones. For grandma, I brought a tiny stuffed yellow ball that looked like a little chicken, which she affectionately called “el pollito”. I got it with the hopes of there being another safe toy whenever the great grandkids would come to visit but she had kept it for her own as a reminder of that sickly little kid that she helped raise and is now in a far off land studying serialization. Pollito was still in her house, so I thought that it would be nice if she had it with her in the hospital room. The immediate danger had passed but improvement was still on the horizon.
It wasn’t until I returned a few weeks later that the possibility of her returning home was attainable. I spent most of my Winter vacation by her side when my mom would take her shift to take care of her. Some days were good and we would talk and she would remind me to be a good kid and to get a nice girlfriend. Other days were filled with pain and frustration as the downside towards having decent cognitive function in this state of your life is an awareness that things aren’t getting better and that the only thing you can really do is try to be a minimal burden or disturbance to your loved ones and medical staff. It is an odd feeling to have your independence as an individual be slowly stripped away and have the pride that wants to push people away clash with the vulnerability and weakness that won’t let people leave your side. It’s difficult to remember this without a tear being summoned to my eye that she would cling to me or other family members only for her maternal instincts to kick in and say that we should leave so we can get something to eat. That’s grandmothers for you, always wanting you with a belly full of food and a heart filled with love.
Over the month that I was back, grandma was moved to another hospital with a focus on physical therapy, back to her house, and then eventually back to the hospital. I made sure to be there during these various stages to lighten the emotional load as the rest of the family had to resolve crazy medical logistics alongside seeing a loved one slowly deteriorating. It was tough on everyone but there were still moments where the clouds of fear and painful misery would part long enough for a moment of clarity to shine that helped bring closure in such a trying time. Long before she went to the hospital, I somehow attained the role of star grandkid for making sure to call once a week. With so much of the family being far away, having jobs, and other responsibilities I became the representative of my generation and one of the most stable visitors. In one of the most heart wrenching moments of my time with grandma, only a few short days before I had to leave, she pulled me in close and said that she loved me because “everyone else that comes to visit me is to say goodbye but you are the only one that comes to say hello.”
I find myself at a loss for words trying to figure out the next thing to say. It is only due to my instincts of freewriting that I want to remain typing away with the hopes of achieving something worthy of remembering her. I know that this is no epitaph or obituary, that most of you will glance through it and provide a well-intentioned but ultimately half-hearted “there, there buddy”. I don’t know why I write besides the urge to shape these feelings into something observable by someone, anyone. That this outlet through language in some way serves as a measurement for how much I love her and what a big part she is to my life. Maybe I just want to create some form of evidence to validate my emotions and my eventual grief. This is something that I can’t prove or show or somehow hold to others as some kind of superior affection. Maybe it’s just the fact that ever since getting that phone call yesterday my brain was hard at work prewriting this particular draft for such a post. The thing that scares me most is not the loss of someone I love. A big part of my training was to confront and fabricate simulations of loss because at one moment or another you will mourn or be mourned. It was that dreaded feeling that made me want to limit my interpersonal relationships, so that if the end came early to me most people who knew me would get a passing feeling of surprise and a momentaneous “that’s a shame” but nothing deeper. Loss, isn’t what scares me beyond its sudden realization. It is absence which leaves me with a sense of emptiness. To see that one place, that one spot without someone who made it a place of security and comfort, that made it an extension of home that really makes me rethink everything.
And as I wrote that previous paragraph my father called to confirm my suspicions and fears. She is in a better place, more than a solace or empty hope I know that to be true. I knew this moment would come, I asked for it, even prayed for a quiet end to the agony she was enduring. As predictable as it may be, this moment is still one of sadness for the family as we say goodbye.
But perhaps I am focusing too much of the end when all of my narrative instincts tell me that what resonates most is those key moments that span the entirety of a work. I should not emphasize the death and final days of my grandmother but rather the moments of her life worth celebrating. This was the woman who was fearless, though she did get nervous about fires and horses. This was the person who noticed when you were down, opened a bottle of booze, passed it over, and asked what was wrong. This was the role model who time and time again proved that family had priority over self. The only person I know whose move silently was of ninja quality with a bionic ear that could put you to shame. She will be missed greatly. Love you Tata.