I sit here, watching her sleep. Brief glimpses of rest fall over her face when her eyelids succumb to the exhaustion; broken up with involuntary grimaces of pain. She looks so tiny, and helpless in the large hospital bed. I can scarcely believe that this is the same woman who joined the air forces and taught school in Iclavik because she longed to see the world and experience new things in a time when settling down, getting married and having children was expected. No trace of the fire cracker who left her beau standing hat in hand on NYE because he failed to confirm she was going with him to the party; so she went solo. Not a glimpse of the woman and who didn’t marry until she was 30 and had her last child at 40. All things that made her stand out in her generation. All of them washed away with the years, and unapparent now on her pained face.
I try not to cry but the tears keep falling, despite my resistance, they come. The student nurse peeks her head around the curtain to see if I’m ok. I nod. I don’t trust my own voice. I wipe my nose on my sweater sleeve again. A moment later a tiny box of 1ply swan wipes appear on her bed. The kind young nurse has procured them for me; saving my sweater.
I woke up this morning and the day began just like any other day. A walk in the crisp, early morning air, time spent in my journal talking to God and sipping my chai- bagels and eggo waffles for my little ones. Then it all changed. I received a call that my dear Grandma had fallen and broken her hip and was on her way to the hospital. The discouraging statistics flooded my mind. 30% of those over 80 who break their hip will not live through the traumatic surgery and 80% will not survive longer than 3 months. I can’t, I won’t, allow myself to imagine life without her.
Her IV beeps and wakes her from the peaceful slumber. I am caught. She looks at me as if the idea that she is causing me pain, is a greater pain than her fractured hip and femur. It kills me. I cry harder, silently. I can’t even make eye contact. It’s too much to see the pain of making me sad, reflected in her eyes. She gives me an out, “Do you have a cold dear?” I nod, knowing full well that if I had a cold she would kick me out of her hospital room faster than you can blink an eye. Colds are the bane of Gram’s existence. When she gets one, it lays her up for a whole week. But for tonight we both agree to the white lie. It’s easier for us both. Satisfied, she closes her eyes once again. Every few minutes flickers of pain pass across her face, but the steady rhythm of her chest rising and falling tells me she’s still resting.
I watch her sleep like a mother gazes upon her sleeping child. I wonder how many times she has watched over me like this – her “Precious”. It is my turn now. The circle of life; a beautiful and heart rending cycle. The swan wipes are making my nose raw.
I am grateful for this time that is just mine. No one else is here now. I’m like her 5th child; more like a child than a grandchild. Mom was young when she had me and we lived with my grandparents until she married when I was 3; my grandparents remained permanent fixtures in my life long after I had moved out. We all know the days ahead will be hard, no matter the outcome, so taking turns is necessary. Her four children are happy to let me sit a spell.
I envision having all these conversations that I may never get to have again. But it is clear she is not ready to have them. I want this to be about her, and yet I want it to be about me and what I want; the opportunity to say all the things in my heart. To let her know that being her granddaughter has been one of the best gifts of my life. That her and grandpa’s love has shaped me each day and I am who I am today because of them. That I will honour and treasure her long after she’s gone. I will push the boundaries society has laid for me, if they do not suit me. I will see the legacy of love she created lives on in me and my family. I want to promise her that I will never forget. Ever.
She stirs and wakes long enough to scold me about going home to my babies. I hold her hand and look into her eyes and mine spill forth again. She knows. She understands. She feels. But she does what she does best, and offers me comfort. Just like she has since I was a baby. I don’t remember life without snuggling into her ample bosom and being rocked and sang to. I can still hum the tune, sing the words “Grandma loves her, Grandpa loves her, she’s our precious Layna girl.”
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. I’m good to go now. Please don’t be sad or worry about me dear,”she consoles. “I’m not ready Gram.” “You will never be ready love. I could live to be a hundred and you would not be ready. But I am ready. I will see you after my surgery tomorrow. You know you are so very precious to me. Grandma loves you. Go on now, go home to your family.” Even in her fragile state, I know not to argue.
The drive home gives me time to absorb, to process, to contemplate. So many of the people she has loved most are no longer with us. It’s like there is a party going on in Hawaii and the plane hasn’t stopped to pick her up yet. I don’t blame her for being ready. She has a solid faith and knows that her death is not the end. And so do I, but I can’t help selfishly wanting her to stay on this side of eternity, with me.
I can only hope my grandchildren love and revere me the way I do her.
There is nothing free in this life, and the way I adore her is no exception. It cost her many late nights rocking me to sleep, it cost her many early mornings taking me to figure skating, it cost her a lot of time and money, effort, care, concern, compassion, and love. It looked like driving all night when I got sick and lived hours away with a two year old who needed to be tended. It looked like buying a beautiful car seat for Austin when I could scarcely afford a used one. It looked like fancy dresses that twirled just so, it looked like stopping at native trading posts for me to try on moccasins all across Canada, it looked like selfless devotion. And I know she wouldn’t trade a moment of it for anything. And it is what I have to offer her in return.
The surgery that easily could have claimed her life has been performed, and was a success. Even under anesthetic her profound stubbornness, blessedly endured! I should have known when she told me she would see me after the surgery, she meant it.
Hours of grueling physio lay ahead, and endless days stretching into weeks, of lonely hospital life and food. It is my turn now to pour into the life of the one who poured into mine. So I will give up time and rest in exchange for long drives, McDonald’s muffin and DQ banana split deliveries and I will be given the opportunity to give back a little of what I have received.
I have been given my heart’s wish. To let her know that being her granddaughter has been one of the best gifts of my life. That her and grandpa’s love has shaped me each day, and I am who I am today, because of them. That I will honour and treasure her long after she’s gone. That I will push the boundaries society has laid for me, if they do not suit me. That I will see the legacy of love she created, lives on in me and my family. I will spend the rest of her days promising her that I will never forget. Ever.