Although this guest post came to us from the Offbeat Bride Tribe it isn’t about weddings, but rather how we age, and how we relate to our loved ones who are aging.
My grandmother will not be at my wedding. The woman who was always so lively, so patient, and so strong is gone. She will never make me fresh tortillas. We will never again spend a day happily digging in her garden, ineffectually pulling at the weeds that always encroach on her mismatched flowerbed. She will not attend my wedding.
My grandmother was married at 16, raised 11 children, left her verbally and physically abusive husband to raise the youngest two children alone. She met the man I call grandfather and their love for each other freed him from alcoholism and drug addiction. She cuddled over 30 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. She buried one of her children. My parents both worked, so it was my grandparents who attended daytime awards ceremonies, recitals, and plays. In a moment of stage fright, I could look into the audience and see my grandmother smiling, proud of her little “mija.” My grandmother was one of the strongest women I had ever known.
My fiancé and I were working together at a summer camp when I called my mother on my night off. We talked about how my job was going, the movie my fiancé and I had just watched, trivialities. “How is everyone?” I asked that every time I called my mom, never expecting the answer to be anything other than “same as always.” “Grandma’s in the hospital. She’s had a stroke.”
We rushed to the hospital through the night. My fiancé drove, trying to outrace my fears and my desperation. We arrived and were greeted by a host of family members, some of them my fiancé hadn’t even met yet, all waiting. All hoping. Grandma was awake when I saw her, and she was excited to see us. She was worried that I had quit my job at the camp to come see her. I reassured her that my bosses were okay with me staying for a while until she was better. “That’s very nice of them,” she said, smiling.
She had another stroke while she was in the hospital, this one worse than the first. She was there for over two weeks, but we had to leave before she could go home. I told her we would visit again as soon as camp was done. But I never saw my grandmother again.
Someone else sits in my grandmother’s body. Someone so much more fragile than the woman she used to be.
The stroke marked her. She has only a little use of her right hand. She tires easily, she loses words in the middle of sentences. She confuses names. The worst part of this is that she knows exactly what the stroke took from her. She remembers that she used to cook and clean for herself and her husband. Now she can barely stand long enough to wash a few dishes before she needs to sit, and it makes her so sad. The stroke took away the woman she was from everyone, including herself.
The brain damage changed her personality. She is not the sweet, patient, calm woman that I remember from my childhood. She is moody, forgetful, strange. But she is also stubborn and feisty. And I can’t help but wonder if this new Grandma is the person my grandmother would have been had she been born in a different time. Maybe this new Grandma is just what my old Grandma would have been if she had been given the opportunity.
So now it’s me who makes her snacks when she comes over and who listens as she goes through her day, gently correcting her when she slips up on a name. I am learning to love this new person who has my grandma’s eyes and smile. I don’t know how long she’ll be with me, but when my friends ask who the white-haired woman sitting in a place of honor at my wedding is, I will smile and say “That’s my Grandma.”