The Grandmama Blues


Wednesday evening, I received a phone call from my mother saying that my grandmother, who has been on dialysis for the past 6 years and who was just diagnosed with bone cancer last week, had been admitted to the hospital and was intensive care on a ventilator machine. Congestive heart failure prevented her doctors from removing the excess fluid that was building up in her lungs. My mind instantly flashed back to around 1996 when my aunt (my grandmother’s sister) had an aneurism and died. She, too, was on a respiratory machine, but because she was completely brain dead, the family decided to pull the plug. I, along with my family members of all ages, watched my aunt breath the last breath she would ever take. It was the first time I saw anyone die.
Growing up, and having been to many funerals (I sang at many of them), I was used to death. My family was even close friends with the local mortician. Therefore, I knew the circle of life and respected it. Occasionally I’d have the existential thoughts about life after death and how I would die (I wanted to go in my sleep), but the more I aged, the more I wised up to the fact that you cannot prepare for a death. No matter how much time you put into making wills, or saving money for a funeral, you still cannot plan the day that it will happen…and that is probably the idea of which I’m most fearful. This is what I think about with I think of my grandmother.
Two years ago, when I thought my grandmother was truly gone, I cried for days. I would start my sentences as calm as a sunny day and they’d end in hurricane tears. I couldn’t fathom losing someone so close to me; someone who was a part of me, even. (At my birth, it was my grandmother who first held me because my mother was exhausted and my dad was committing adultery somewhere) My request then was that she at least live until I graduated since I am her first and only grandchild to do so.
Graduation has come and gone, and she’s still alive, but no longer kicking. Her legs are the size of my arm (which is mighty skinny) and her skin goes in and out of color due to dialysis (which, for those of you who do not know, is like having your blood cleaned and then recycled back into your body). Even her beautiful white teeth have fallen out. At 63 years old this woman who was supposed to age gracefully, no longer looks like herself. If this woman no longer recognizes herself as the woman she once was (and if I’m also having a tough time seeing her as the same grandmamma I grew up with), then why should I continue to look at life through familiar eyes? Everything is so different.
Times have changed and will continue to do so. But is time moving too fast now? There used to be a time where people could at least take time out to enjoy life before death made a reservation. But now, he’s showing up unannounced at the most inconvenient times. With graduate school in Scotland easing its way around the corner, I can’t help but turn my attention to my grandmother’s health. I don’t want her to pass away at all, but I would hate for her to leave me while I’m in another country. Oh, if only there were a way to straddle the ocean so I could have access to the family that’s begun to fall apart.
Since my grandmother’s health started deteriorating, the family dynamic has been affected in more ways than one. I hate to say it, but that situation that happened on Soul Food seems to be happening to my family. However, ain’t no Sunday meal gonna help us through our emotional ups and downs. For one, I don’t recall one Sunday where my entire family just sat, ate, and prayed together. It’s just something that didn’t happen in my family. What was consistent, though, was our love and respect for one another. However, as soon as my grandmother started dialysis, it seemed like my cousin, who she helped raise as her own son, began stealing cars and motorcycles and carrying guns. He ended up in jail for three years. My uncle, father to that same troubled cousin, also ended up in jail because his past caught up with him. And though he has since been released, his older brother, my other uncle is now in jail for a similar situation. My mother, strong and steadfast as ever manages to balance, family, finances, and rebuilding a life since the tornadoes devastated our homes. Everyone turns to her now, but the calls I receive from her are dripping with exhaustion.
Communication still happens in our family, but the youth…well, we’ve just seemed to stop talking to one another. Is it our attempt to not deal with the hardships of life? Or are we brain dead? Have we no opinions about how to keep a family together when such a beautiful centerpieces is about to fall out of sight? It’s funny; I have the right words for a lot of situations: to make someone laugh, to soothe a soul, to inspire, even. But when it comes to the future of my family and how we’re going to handle an inevitable process of life, I have nothing truly substantial to say…except I love you. To those of you who read this, I love you with all of my heart, because you’re here with me. Thank you so much, and thank you for reminding me what love is.

            My grandmother is doing better…but of course, we don’t know for how long. I’ll keep praying, and in the meantime, I hope I find the right words for what’s next in my life.



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