Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Indomitable Grandma

Last Tuesday 

I could tell by the look on my mom's face
that something was wrong.

"Grandma's in the ER.
She was there last night
and they released her,
but she had to go back.
I'm driving up tomorrow."

She had felt like she couldn't breathe
and had called her brother for help.

By the time he'd arrived at her house
the paramedics were loading her
into the ambulance.

The 15 minutes it took him
to get to her house had seemed too long,
so she'd called 911.

I was sitting on the couch
when my phone buzzed.

"They're intubating Grandma.
I'm leaving now."

Paul works nights in the ER
and there are days when I have to be at work
by 6am,
so a few times a week we spend the night
at Nana's house.

Luckily it was one of those nights
and I was able to jump in the car with my mom.


We had done this drive 10 years ago
almost to the day.

My uncle had called with the same news.
She had had trouble breathing and called the ambulance.

They had her in the ER but everything was going to be ok.
By the time we got there
it was bad.


Congestive heart failure
and fluid in her lungs.

I was 5 months pregnant with Lucas
when they told me that she was probably
going to die.

Her heart and lungs were failing
and they were doing everything they could
but she had a 10% chance of surviving.

We slept on the floor of the ICU,
watched her vitals dip and rise,
and searched the eyes and words
of the doctors and nurses for help and hope.

Machines were breathing for her,
medications were keeping her heart
from stopping.

On the 2nd day they told us to call for  a priest
if we were so inclined.

We went to her home and tore apart
closets and desks
for any guidance she may have had in place
for a situation like this,
there wasn't any.

We met the priest at the hospital
with the rest of the family in tow.

We stood around her bed,
holding her hand,
tears streaming down our faces,
but as he began to read,
my grandmother,
with paralytics and painkillers
coursing through her body,
began to shake her head 
as if to say "No!"
to the holy water being sprinkled on her.

And we began to cry harder
and to laugh.

No one was giving her
her last rites 
if she had anything
to say about it.

She began to improve after that.

It was a long road,
but she eventually got out of the ICU,
the hospital,
the rehab.

Her cardiologist told my mom,
"Your mother is the kind of woman
you can't even kill with a rusty nail."

Back home she went
to her life,
to her homes and car,
to her plants and dog.

Forever 4'11" 
(although she'll say 5')
of vim and vigor.

My great-aunt's 90th birthday

My grandmother
is one of 3 girls
in a family of 9.

She is not the oldest,
but my great-aunt had polio
as a child
and so my Grandma
became the leader.

She came to the States
in her 20s.

Worked as a nanny 
and housekeeper,
then a seamstress.

She would make bathing suits
and sell them out of the back
of her car.

She taught herself how to
speak English,
invest in the stock market,
navigate a city and a world
that is not always friendly
to young, immigrant women.

Some of my first memories are of being
at my Grandma's house.

Of her fruit trees.

Of novelas
(Mexican soap operas).

Of my Popeye record player.

Of her picking me up from school
in her blue station wagon.

Of standing on a foot stool
at her kitchen island
baking Christmas cookies.

Of watching her make chile rellenos
for my Grandpa Dwight
and delivering them to his office.

She did that even
after they were divorced
because they were his favorite,
and that is where I learned
that sometimes when words fail,
food and kind actions
will suffice.

She is the one
who taught me to bake,
to garden,
to sew.

I am the oldest grandchild
and those early years
of just the two of us 
are so precious to me.

Twenty years later
I called to tell my Grandma
that I was pregnant again.

I apologized
for being unmarried 
and I told her I felt ashamed,
that I knew I had not been
raised this way.

And then she told me her story.

Of her mistakes,
her heartbreaks,
the night she sobbed 
on the floor
over a betrayal.

This woman I had always loved
told me about her humaness
and in turn gifted me
with the secrets to her
strength and grace.

"Mijita (my little girl)
you are beautiful
and strong
and there is nothing you can't do.
You bring me nothing but pride
every single day,
even in your mistakes.
We all must fall,
but it is in the getting up
that we see what someone is really made of.
I love you.
And I'll always love you.
No matter what."

That phone conversation
changed my life.

And where I knew I couldn't love
my grandmother any more than I already did,
I fell in love with the woman.


When we arrived at the hospital
she was still in the ER.

There were no beds available in the ICU,
so we pulled up 2 chairs
and spent the night next to her.

At one point she regained consciousness
and panicked momentarily.
I stood up and put my face
next to her wide open eyes.

I stroked her hand
and kept telling her in Spanish,
"Grandma you're ok.
We're here.
You're in the hospital
but you're going to be ok.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you."

And then
she squeezed our hands
and smiled.

She began showing improvement
the next day,
and the nurses were telling us
how even intubated,
she would try and help them
as they adjusted her position.

Because if there were ever a time
to just lay back and let someone help you,
it would be when you're in the ICU.

Unless of course,
you are my grandmother.

And to that I say,
I never stood a chance
to not be the way I am.

Self-sufficiency runs deep in my veins.

She was released from the ICU
this past week
and will be home Monday
in time for Christmas.

She'll be staying with my mom
I hope forever,
but probably just a few weeks.

Because she's stubborn
and feisty
and that's why she's lived 10 years
passed a 10% chance of survival.

My Grandma,
my Queen,
she is a force
whose wake I will
gratefully stand in 
for as long as I can.

Mother's Day 2013

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