My grandma has been with me since the beginning. Well, technically, since my dad’s beginning, but my beginning too. She was at my parents’ place when I was born to help out during my first days (My mom’s mother was starting to get quite ill by then and was supportive from afar. She passed away the following year). My dad’s mom took on the double-duty grandmothering with ease. She was there when my sister was born, we spent nearly every Christmas with her and my grandpa and once we were old enough, large chunks of our summers were passed happily at their house, as well as with surrounding aunts, uncles and cousins.
We were not geographically close, starting at a 5 hour drive away and now there is a province between our provinces, but we have always been close in the ways that counted. Visits were as often as possible, birthdays always warranted a card and special phone call, and Christmas gifts pretty well always include something she has made herself. We have good talks about so many things and she surprises me often when what she has to say. I love to hear her tell a story. Until last summer, there had always been a deep-freezer full of ice cream pails with all kinds of baking in them. I don’t know how she does it, but when she goes into the kitchen, food just starts appearing, seemingly without effort. When she was here last Christmas, she made my favourite butterscotch tarts. When I last visited her at Thanksgiving over a year ago, she was still handling most of the meal and wouldn’t let me help — right down to planting her feet and giving that 16 lb, stuffed, turkey a good shove into the oven and then squaring her shoulders and taking her electric knife to the ham, even though she had never carved before. When my grandpa died nearly twelve years ago, she moved from their small town to the city, started volunteering at the hospital and basically showed us all just how it’s done. She only just stopped driving last year and it was her decision.
My grandma is badass.
My grandma is dying.
Today is the first day I’ve been able to fully admit that to myself and say it out loud. I’m going to see her this week. While I knew and could say that this was probably her “last good summer,” I couldn’t bring myself to say the rest of it, silently or out loud. The not saying it has not been good for me. It’s been coming out in other ways. I’m so afraid it’s going to affect my visit with her, or I’ll be a blubbering mess the whole time. I don’t want to focus on what’s to come. I don’t want to mourn her before she is gone. I don’t want to make her feel bad. I want to be fully with her now. I want us to laugh. I want to be able to say everything I need to say to her, even though I don’t yet know all of what I want to say to her. There is too much to say and not enough time.
She was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after my Thanksgiving visit. She had surgery and radiation and that seemed to be okay for a while, she was well in time for summer last year and was back to all of her activities, although she did make the move from her senior’s apartment into a retirement home. When she was out to visit us this Christmas, she seemed tired, but we thought it was a cold. In fact, the cancer had come back, filling the space left behind by the surgery and giving her other symptoms as well. I don’t think surgery is an option this time and she is maxed out for radiation. Her doctor says chemo would do more harm than good, although I think they are still looking into a lower dose option. Now she is visited by palliative care nurses and is followed for pain management, which they are still working out.
I talked to her on the weekend and her voice is croaky, but strong. She is still herself. She is a little wobbly, but she is not house-bound. She is, in fact, at my aunt’s campsite (composed of a comfy trailer with a porch), commuting with my aunt into the city for necessary appointments.
I am not ready for this. I am not prepared to lose her. I can’t picture my life without her and I don’t want to. I had thought she was going to dance at my wedding. I had thought that any children I had would know her, even if only a little. I had thought she would just keep going and going. Always there, like she had always been.
Wednesday, I get on a plane to spend a week with her, as well as my extended family. I’m going to soak her in, like I do every visit. I’m going to try not to cry too much (which admittedly, I also do every visit — getting older has made me soft), especially when she is around. I’m going to enjoy a few glasses of wine with her, like I do every visit. I’m going to listen to her stories and have good talks with her, like I do every visit.
I’m also going to love her, like I have since the day we met.