Friday, February 26, 2016

Another Chance for Goodbye

 Melinda Palacio

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.


msedano said...

When all we have is in the past, comfort from those present, or silence, is all one can offer. My dad was in the final stages of dementia when my son-in-law came to visit with my daughter and granddaughter. My dad stared at John and sorrowfully asked, "Are you the German tank commander I killed?" I knew the story, one of dad's lifelong nightmares from the Battle of the Bulge. I thought dad was gone, lost in the past and he'd never return. Then as we left him in the rehab hospital and headed to the door he called to us, in his last moment of clarity, a voice brimming with love and rejoicing for his great-granddaughter, "Say 'hello' to Charlotte for me!"

Wishing your grandmother many such moments of clarity, Melinda. Many such moments of clarity and joy and knowledge and remembering.

Unknown said...

Melinda, your grandmother's recollections of the past, near or 'way back when; the good or bad memories come not in the selected phases of her life, and many times these come unexpectedly and sometimes inconveniently. This is why your grandmother tells you to be quiet because you are interfering with bits and pieces of her life story that might never return to her, however much she tries to hold onto them.

Nonetheless, you feel an imperative need to talk to her, to ask questions, to share joint experiences that you remember. The need to communicate is imperative because you are aware of the capriciousness of life. Whatever it is she utters in your presence, even if it makes no sense to you, engage her in conversation; ask her about what it is she said; what it is she remembers. The spoken word becomes an act of love, and you might well see the light come back into her eyes as you had once, 'way back when. . .

A heartfelt prayer for your grandmother, and for you--

Mary Helen

Amelia ML Montes said...

Querida Melinda-- Muchísimas gracias for writing this heartfelt and painful piece about your abuela.
I agree with you when you write that you choose to just agree with her delusional comments--just go with it.
She is in that other dimension but still with you. Follow her there. Con las muertes de mi papa y mama-- I have
learned that elderly dying is not a smooth trip-- and the best thing to do is simply accompany them even if it makes
us (the still living for a while here) uncomfortable and uncertain. We are accompanying them on their journey, but
they are the ones leading the walk. I am sending you, tu abuela, all your familia-- calm, sympathy, much love.
Abrazos, Querida Melinda--- Amelia

Irma K said...

Querida Melinda:
Tienes un corazón muy grande y tu abuela lo sabe. Ella es de admirarse con todo lo que le ha pasado. Dale mucho amor, paciencia y escuchala. Es lo mejor que puedes hacer para despedirla.
Mucha calma y paz para ti, tu abuelita y toda tu familia.

Chris Wiltz said...

Melinda, this is such a moving and loving account of your grandmother. I feel for you to have such an important person in your life at her life's end, although I will wish with you that she makes an amazing recovery and you get to spend more precious time with her. Thanks for an important Bloga. xxChris

Mary Helen Lagasse said...

Melinda, your love for your Abuelita is in your presence, in your doing and caring for her. Nonetheless, at such times we're left with a feeling of incompletion, of not finding the right words to say, of how best to say goodbye.

You wrote that "When she is not at ease, she screams out in agony and calls out for her ancestors, and all the dogs she has ever kept." That she cries out for them at such crucial time tells you how much they meant to her. You might not have known her ancestors, but you knew her dogs, those little creatures that made her so happy! Perhaps pets do not mean much to those who don't love animals as your grandmother has, and perhaps many who love her nonetheless, but do not understand how pets could have meant so much.

You knew their names, their looks, what made each special to her in their own way. Bring them back to her by coaxing her to remember her doggies. And share those wonderful memories and moments that YOU AND SHE shared together.
God bless your grandmother and you,
Mary Helen