I’ve been very lucky to have mostly healthy family members for most of my life. Other than Aunt Dot, I haven’t lost a major member of my family in many, many years. One of my grandfathers died before I was born, and the other died when I was Cordy’s age. Since then, immediate family members have kept on going and I’ve grown used to accepting they will always be in my life.
So when Aaron woke me up last weekend to tell me my mom had called, and that something had happened to one of my grandmothers (my mom’s mom), I immediately had a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. Filled with worry and panic, I called my mom back to find out what happened. They thought grandma had a stroke, she told me, and she can’t use her right leg. Her heart was also beating too fast. It was too soon to know how serious and what the long-term effects would be, but she seemed to not lose any cognitive ability.
I’ve spent the last week visiting my grandmother and getting daily updates from my mom. They confirmed that she did have a small stroke, and considering where the stroke happened in her brain, we’re very lucky it wasn’t more devastating. My grandmother started the week unable to walk, with right-sided weakness, but by mid-week was already learning to use a walker. They then moved to her to rehab, where they reported this weekend that she might get to go home as early as the end of the week if she keeps making progress.
My grandmother and I have never been very close, so my panicked reaction came as a little bit of a surprise to me. She comes from a time and place where emotions are held close and not shared with others, while I wear my heart on my sleeve. I was always too wild, too loud, too dramatic as a child, never able to live up to some unknown standard of how a child should behave, it seemed. She never understood what I was going through – no matter my complaint, I was always told how easy I had it compared to those who lived when she was a child. I could never impress her.
But she’s also my grandmother. When I was sick as a child, she was there even though I wanted my mom. And while she wasn’t as comforting, she did make me soup and read me stories as I laid on the couch. When we’d visit her house, I’d collect acorns in her backyard and pretend to make pies, and in the evening she’d measure me with her dressmaker’s measuring tape to see how much I’d grown, writing the numbers down on a plain white pad of paper.
In the past few years, I’ve listened more to her stories of her youth, trying to mentally take notes for myself. I vowed at Christmas to put my Flip camera to good use this year and videotape an interview with my grandmother, so we’d have a record of her life for posterity. Stories of growing up during the great depression in a poor farming family, stories of joining the ladies’ auxiliary unit of the Navy to support the war in WWII, and stories of raising three daughters on a farm with no running water, where if you wanted chicken for dinner, you had to go kill your own chicken. Last weekend I thought I may have missed my chance to save those stories.
Knowing that she’s getting her independence back so quickly gives me hope that she’ll be with us for a little while longer. Had she been forced to remain in a nursing home or assisted living, I doubt she would have lasted long. She’s a fiercely independent woman – she’s lived on her own for 34 years, ever since my grandfather died unexpectedly – and she’s not the type of person who could go on living if she couldn’t do it her way. As cold as it may sound, we all hope to someday (a long time from now!) find her dead in bed. No suffering, no long, drawn out decline or illness. It’s exactly how she’d want to go, and probably how my mom and my aunts want to go as well. That entire family prides itself on independence.
But despite our independent streak, my mom’s family is still a close one. My mom and aunts have been visiting my grandmother daily, keeping her spirits up, getting her whatever she needs, collecting her mail and keeping her house tidy while she’s gone. You’ll never see hugs exchanged, but they are there in our actions. You will never hear any I love you’s being said, but they are there in the silence between words.
I’m thankful my grandmother is still with us for now, and I’ll do a better job of remembering that she won’t be with us forever, so we should appreciate all the little moments. As soon as she’s feeling better, I’ll be dusting off that Flip camera and preparing for one of the most important interviews I’ll ever conduct.