One of life's fairest gifts is the unexpected generosity of those who have no obligation to us.
Many of y'all has sent Aunty some dear an' treasured messages, left encouragin' an comfortin' comments after these posts about Granny...I'se very touched. Y'all share yore own losses, meditations, insights... an' link yore experience to mine, such that I feel a special connection to folks whose faces I do not know, though I would know yore hearts. Much family comes an goes, yet yore kind words often find me at moments of a lonely vigil. Thank y'all from the bottom of mah heart.
Granny has once again confounded the doctors: She breathes on her own, her weak heart perceivin' thar's somethin' yet it must beat for, something that draws nearer on the horizon.
She has been moved back to her nursing home whar' she is still coherent --when she is awake, mayhap five or so minutes of each few hours. She is pearly pink, a little ole' lady rag doll, propped up on mounds of pillows to ease her ragged breathing. Deep in sleep, she will squeeze yore fingers iffin' ya lean down to whisper a prayer above her snowy hair, or trace the sign of the cross on her forehead. Though she remains motionless for hours, some mystery of awareness lies lightly upon her ravaged body. When night lengthens, I let go of her hand an' tiptoe to the door, an' she rouses to remind me to be careful drivin' in the dark-- ever the Mama mindful of her chicks.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Tonight, a passel of clan chillen's crowded into Granny's room. Happy voices fought fer a chance to tell Granny of their latest escapades. Her own voice, weak an' breathy, "ah-ha-ed" an' cooed over every detail. If her head sank back against the pillows an her eyes fluttered closed, a smile remained. Their chatter continued on...moved in a ring around her, the young sprigs content to be in her presence an' each other's. Physically an' symbolically, she lay at the center of their vibrant life, their sturdy bodies pulsing wif' some of her own blood.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Life Sciences class, circa a-long-time-ago: "What is the definition of life? Anyone? Think now, it's not that hard. The definition of life is?...Something that can die."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I knows, of course, that ain't none of us expectin' to escape the loss of those we love. As sure as the sun sets westward, each of us be knowin' that we will see death come, an yet...despite our knowin' it, each generation still mourns an' grieves as if death happens fer the first time when it be one of our own.
Hamlet unnerstood that:
Hamlet's Mama: "Thou knowest 'tis common, all that lives must die
passing through nature to eternity."
Hamlet: "Aye Madam, 'tis common."
Mama: If it be, why seems it so particular to thee?
Ah...yes, 'tis very particular.
We lose parents, spouses, friends, brothers an' sisters, an' perhaps most grievously, a chile'. We "expect" to see death, but what we doan expect is how we will respond. Can it be that the process of journeying alongside a dying loved one is never a universal experience, but intensely personal? If fallin' in love is a universal human experience, each pair that falls in love still surrender themselves in a personal journey. So, I see, it is wif' death, too. Death is very personal.
This journey claims its own path. I'se learnt through these months that Granny's dying renders mah own life more alive: Each moment is ripe with a particular beauty that I would miss, that I would ignore as if they were infinite, unless her death wuz heah, hoverin' over us, to show me how fragile, how exquisitely balanced each moment is. I exit the nursing facility, breathing shallowly to limit mah intake of its illness saturated, antiseptic rinsed air, then, push open the door an' gasp like a drowning woman. Inhale, exhale.
Outside, the sweet, lake scented fragrance fills mah lungs an' I am aware of my breath....an' life. Pneuma. How effortlessly I breathe! Is it not inspiring? Literally? To expire is to die. Pneuma/ spirit/ wind/ ruah/ breath. I recall the pulmonologist's hushed voice:
"Even after the heart stops beating, the body takes one last breath."
** ** ** ** **
Dignity. Granny is rolled an' propped on her side, otherwise bedsores burrow into her defenseless flesh. An hour passes, her body is turned again, shoved to one side as pads are rolled up, snatched out from under the inert flesh an 'new pads tucked under the raw, scarlet skin on her back. An ointment is uncapped, the nurse's green gloved hand smears the white salve across the landscape of her red blistered waistline. Pulled back to the center of the bed, her body is resettled by the aides. They push marshmallow pillows under her elbows. "Please, straighten my feet," Granny whispers.
I adjust the blinds so that the day dances on the ceiling. It is enough light for me to read, dark enough for Granny to be undisturbed. Mah book lies in mah lap an' I look at her body. Her feet are held upright in aqua plaid foam boots, yet another pillow under them so that the heels have no pressure. Them high arches is still apparent, though the ligaments, unused now, is contractin' the foot on the right into a painful cramp. Such tiny feet.
As chillen' we clamored to play dress-up in Granny's shoes. Her feet be so small that a 9 year ole sapling girl could wear her heels. How we sashayed to an' fro in front of the hall mirror, mimicking the dance moves we seen when Granny an Pappy Cracker "cut the rug." Granny an' Pappy wuz in their mid 20s when Elvis became a national sensation. I look at them foam booties now, but I'se hearin' Granny's feet stompin' to "Ya' can burn mah house, ya' can steal mah car, drink mah liquor from an' ole fruit jar, do anythang that ya wanna' do, but uh- uh honey, lay offa mah shoes, Doan't 'cha step on mah blue suede shoes!"
The skin on Granny's arms is a purpled mosaic of ole' an new bruises. I cringe when I see a new infiltration from the IV--her skin is so thin an' worn, so too are the veins on the inside. These infiltrations cannot be helped, the veins simply woan't hold fer long. I gently rest mah hand over her arm, a reminder to keep still 'til we can git thangs back together...but we know I'se really holdin' on to her to comfort us both as we make this pilgrimage. I can only go part way wif' her. One day now, she will turn loose an finish the last stretch on her own.
The nurse winces as she makes a third attempt to insert a new line. Every vein has been tapped, an' I'se prayin' that we ain't gotta do a picc line again to git blood fer the tests--last year we had even a picc line go bad. She lies heah in need of a decent vein; Where can we get a clean insert? An' somewhar' beyond the window, on the streets a few blocks away, an addict asks hisself the same question.
Granny went to school fer her Master's degree after her chillen's all growed up. She chose a nurturin' profession which can be thankless unless youse got a stout strong heart. Granny wuz fond of the Starfish Analogy, "I cain't save all the starfish that wash up on the beach, but each one I return to the sea is one more that lives." Many an addict wif' track scarred arms an' fibrotic an' leukodermic veins can thank Granny today that they's clean (er) compared to the lives they once led. Other patients were put back to work after dreadful illness or accidents that left behind amputated limbs or partial paralysis.
Her mottled bruises is made darker by the afternoon shadows, an her fingers move over the nap of the thin blanket as she sleeps. It's as if she were feelin' the fabric, testin' its quality. She wuz a fine needlewoman. We had custom designed party dresses, an' our dolls wore enchanting beaded gowns or embroidered coats. Costumes for the school play? Of course; Granny turned out Robin Hoods, Tinkerbelles, Little Women...all in week's time.
"Mama... sip. Take a sip of water. Mama? Mama, wake up. Thas' it, please take a sip."
Her haid sinks back into the pillows. Her lips move, no sound comes to mah ear. But I know she is thankin' me.
I stand over her broken, waning body. Looking down on it I am suddenly jolted by the reality before me. This body is all used up. Spent. Hardly any part of it functions. This body is ebbing away. And yet.....Because of this very body, this exact, unique body, mah body has life. Part of me lies there. No, wait; part of her is still whole--in me.
The shock of it widens; involuntarily mah hand flies to cover mah mouth--mah eyes sweep from her white haid to the booties on her feet: This purpled, bruised, inflamed, strugglin' flesh is the source of mah flesh. This body gave life to mah brothers an' sisters, an through her chillen, Granny's body gave life to a tribe of granchillen' who in they own turn will have babies whose flesh will carry Granny's flesh onward in all that they do, for good or for naught, they carry with them this body that gave them life. She din't hold back, but loved wif' abandon. Because she "spent" her body, poured out her essence on us'uns, an' her physical an' emotional efforts on many others, she herself is now used up.
But her story doan end wif' a broken, spent an' bruised body. Her life, in however small a measure, will live on in those she conceived an' bore, an' loved an' served.