Thursday, February 10, 2011

On contemplating the end

My grandmother is 79 years old and has terminal lung cancer. The tumor is inoperable. Over the weekend I flew to PR to go see her and have her meet Lola. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Seeing someone you love in pain and facing their own end makes you question your priorities. It makes you take measure. It makes you incredibly angry, sad and confused.
My favorite recent photo.
My grandmother and grandfather met when she was 16 and he 19. He spotted her in the school yard and they started talking and fell in love. Her family did not approve so he carried her off and they got married in secret. He told my mom many years ago: "Me lleve la negrita" or I stole the black girl. That my grandfather told me this story is precious as he is suffering from memory loss. We are not sure why since he has not been diagnosed with Alzheimer's but my Dad suspects it's because he's not able to deal with loss. Abuelo has lost many people in his life and now he faces the loss of his precious life partner. When I think about how they will be separated I just can't stop crying- I just CAN'T!!! I can deal with their going together. I can deal with him leaving first. I just can't deal with her going and he being alone. And I can't STAND that she's sad and in pain.
Alone at home.
My grandmother is a truly beautiful woman. She was beautiful when I visited her 4 years ago- her clear green eyes shining... her cafe-con-leche skin wrinkled in that very special way only people who take good care of themselves and live in sunny places can... Her hair always in curlers so she got the curl without the frizz... Her beauty radiates now through the hair loss, the oxygen mask and the sadness- oh the sadness in those eyes!
Excuse me I'm crying..
One photo was all I thought to get.
My grandmother did not smoke, she ate her fiber and fresh fruit right off the tree. She reduced fried foods to almost never years ago. She watched her weight and ran herself ragged taking care of her husband, her grown children, her grandchildren, her neighbors, her friends- EVERYBODY. But she didn't forget herself- she bought her face cream, strictly watched her salt and sugar intake, took her blood pressure meds and regularly visited the doctor. But she did not get a peaceful end- she has to struggle. Unfair! Unfair! It's so hugely unfair!
crying again...

Seeing her in a hospital room hooked up to an IV and looking sad because she can't get up to hug me or hold Lola just kills me. We are all praying for a miracle- that the chemo will work- that she will recover- that she will return to her true love of 62 years- that she will return to her sewing and scolding and gardening and gossiping and cooking and cleaning and loving all those around her.
Together 2007- Guelo y Guilla
Seeing my grandmother fold a napkin over and over because she needs to keep her hands busy is maddening. Hearing my aunt tell me they gave away her prize orchids because "No one can take care of them like she can" made me want to HURT somebody. But who am I to judge? My aunt has to see her Mom die slowly in pain and in sadness. She has to stay by her side as I get on a plane and return to New York. And one day it will be my turn. I will have to do the same for my Mom- another woman I practically worship and that scares me to the very very core.

That is the human state- endings. But also beginnings. Can you face endings in full? Can you celebrate the life already lived and not focus on the end? Can you move on and try to make things better for yourself and those you love? Yes Yes YES!
That is what my Abuelita wants. She wants me to be happy, to be successful, to be healthy and to be kind to myself.
Sight seeing at La Parguerra during our brief visit.
I couldn't take photos- I came back with 30 pictures because I just could not focus. I came back with regrets and guilt and fear- for Lola, for Dave, for Mom, for Dad, for my brothers and sisters- for me. I faced the prospect of a prolonged and painful death and now I have to focus on a life with no promises- a life I have to make happy NOW because tomorrow is an idea and may never come.

Hug your loved ones- do those dishes later!


  1. Hugs to you dear! I am so sorry to hear all that you are going through. I know it is so hard and seems so unfair. My dad died when I was a little girl of lung cancer. Never smoked a day in his life either. He was head of radiology at a hospital here and helped cancer patients - then he became one. I'll keep your family in my prayers. Your grandmother seems like one of a kind. xoxo

  2. Bless your heart! My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family during such a sad & difficult time. You are right, we need to focus on the here and now, and not wait for tomorrow. Very touching & inspiring post. Hold on tight to that sweet baby girl...

  3. No, life is not fair...not fair at all! But the closeness and love you have for your beautiful family is a great gift to treasure. My thoughts are with you all at this most difficult time.

  4. OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I AM SOBBING!! I am serious! I am so sorry! You are so blessed to have her and to love her! Nothing is fair in this life! I lost my dear sweet grandma in 2001, who would have know that I would lose my mom only 7 years later! So, yes life in unfair. I am so sorry for your pain. Pain that all of us at some time go through. You are right just hug and hold tight and be thankful for today and take it one day at a time! BIG HUGS Michelle. Thank you for the wonderful, thoughts, history and emotion.

  5. Hugs to you Michelle! I'm crying as I type. What can I say to make you feel better? I hope you can get comfort in knowing you were lucky to have met her and be able to tell Lola stories about her abuelita. I lost mine when I was very young, to cancer too, and all the wonderful ways you described your grandmother immensely resonates with me. I hope you and your family can find strength and comfort on each other and on today's blessings. Thank you so much for writing this post, sometimes it really is necessary to get to know the woman behind the scrapbooks.
    Much love,

  6. HUGE HUGS to you. Don't know what to say - other than stay strong and know that her sprit will ALWAYS live on through you and your family :-)

    YOU put a huge smile on my face with your comment on my card deck lol THANKS

  7. hugs to you friend. this entry is beautiful.


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