My grandmother has been dying for the past 25 years. At least, that's what she's been telling me for as long. Our telephone conversations always end on an uneasy note and when I see her in person, she reminds me that it may be the last time. Having heard this omen for two decades doesn't make the fact that she's been suffering from congestive heart failure since December and that this time really might be her last year any easier. A big question mark hangs over whether she will reach her 87th birthday in April.
But she is one tough grandma. She has survived heart valve surgery, blood clot surgery, and the removal of a giant ulcer in her throat. Each time doctors warn us of the possibility that she may not survive. Even now, I do not know what to expect when I arrive in Del Rio, Texas next week. As I prepare to spend another holiday with her in the hospital, I am reminded of our time together earlier this month, during the Valentine/President's Day long weekend.
I spent long hours in a chair simply watching her. At first, I tried talking to her about random subjects to keep her mind off her personal demons, but she told me to shut my mouth. With the control of her body slipping away, the lack of strength to use her legs, the pain in her throat when she swallows (at the time, we didn't know she had an ulcer in her throat), she experience what the doctors called dementia and prefers talking to ghosts. During these sessions, she relieves painful memories. At first, the conversations seem benign. She talks to dogs on her hospital bed that aren't there, then she fusses about putting the baby in the crib. Sometimes, she hands me an invisible baby. I have three choices: to take the baby, to tell her the baby is already in the crib, or to insist that there is no baby. I find it's easier to choose one of the first two options. Eventually, she is giving birth and the pain is unbearable because the baby is stillborn. She yells for help and calls out for her mother. Her mother is the person she wants the most. She turns towards me, looks me in the eye and asks me to do something. I quickly call a nurse. The minute a nurse steps in and asks her what ails her, my grandmother snaps out of her nightmare and calmly says there is nothing wrong. When the nurses appear they are unfazed by our collective panic. I worry that her trips down painful memories will only get worse. This is the hardest part for me. I don't understand why she chooses to relieve the most painful memories of all her eighty some years, or if it is even a choice.
My grandmother gave birth to twelve children, but lost two babies. She outlived her husband and one daughter. These past two months, she reverts to relieving those painful tragedies of losing her first two babies. She comforts herself by having long conversations with her ghosts. When she addresses me, I realize how strong she is and I admire that she can maintain her sense of humor through all the surgeries, all the recoveries, and all her delusions. I can only hope that she will soon be well enough to return home. I hope the removal of the ulcer in her throat will make swallowing and eating more amenable to her and bring back her strength. I realize that wishing for her full recovery might be my delusion and that she may not recover and that there may no be another chance for goodbye. Solo vengo a despedirme. During the hours when she is at rest, I tell her that it is my honor to sit with her.