My grandmother has these really long, graceful hands that I seem to have inherited. We used to put our hands together, palm-to-palm and they would match up perfectly. Those hands played the piano beautifully, made thirteen dozen tamales from scratch each Christmas and would caress my cheeks while she proclaimed, "Preciosa." Precious.
She is Mexican by descent but looks more Spanish with her beautiful black hair, high cheekbones and pale, wrinkle free skin. It's as if somewhere in her 50s, she stopped aging, although she is a couple of weeks shy of her 89th birthday.
Not that she would know.
My grandmother is in the last stages of Alzheimer's. She lies rigid in a hospital bed unable to feed herself, use a bathroom, sit up, open her eyes, or talk. She has been in this state for years.
To say that it breaks my heart to go see her like this is an understatement. It often takes days to emotionally recover from seeing her, simply because she was so full of life, incredibly loving, the most positive person I have and probably will ever meet. She had that rare gift of making whoever was in her presence feel like they were the most important person in the world. And now, when I go and try to hold her hand and talk to her or kiss her and she cannot respond, part of my heart dies off.
If you could have seen her the way I still do, you would have been in awe of her beauty, both inside and out, however cliché that always sounds.
Both my parents were 20 when I was born. My grandmother was my third parent. I can still smell her kitchen, filled with Mexican specialties and love. My mother would drop me off at Grandma's house and we spend hours at her vanity, applying layer after layer of make-up. Then I would drench myself in her exquisite collection of costume jewelry and she would capture each moment on film. We would sing songs and bake cakes and there was no place in the world more special than in the room with my Grandma.
Every holiday at my Grandma's was spent around the kitchen table, and she NEVER sat down before everyone else ate. She would flutter about the kitchen, refilling drinks, adding sauce to our plates, catering to the smallest of needs. And as much as we would plead for her to join us, she was the happiest caring for her family.
About eight years ago, my Grandpa started worrying about her memory, things she said, her moods. We all chalked it up to old age. She's getting older. Of course she would forget things.
But then the calls from my Grandpa started to come at night. I could hear my Grandma, near hysterics in the background, as my Grandpa would plead for help. Alzheimer's had stolen her short-term memory. She was terrified of the older man that was in her room. Where had her young dashing husband from 1944 gone? She could only remember my Grandpa when he was young, not the loving husband some sixty plus years later, crying at her feet, trying to calm her.
Alzheimer's slowly kills off its victim's brain cells. It starts with their memory and moods, then kills off their body's ability to walk, talk, digest, function at all. It can go on for decades, until the brain can no longer tell the body to breathe. It may be one of the most horrific diseases known to man. And a woman like my Grandma never deserved such a fate.
She went into the hospital in 2005 to stabilize her condition and never came out.
I sometimes think the only good thing that has come out of this is that I get a chance to give back to her now. I can love her the way she always loved me, unconditionally and with all my heart. I still can't get the visual out of my head when my beautiful Grandmother could not understand that I was trying to help her go to the bathroom, and she fought me and screamed because she didn't know what was happening and it terrified her. I just kept crying and holding her saying, "I love you. I love you so much." And in some ways, I am most grateful for that moment, because I was there for her, instead of some stranger. She was in the arms of someone who loved her.
It was actually almost a relief, when her mind moved over to another plane. She was no longer tortured. She seemed calm. But for my grandfather, everyday is still an exercise in torture. He visits her every day, brushing her hair, feeding her, playing her beloved Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby and Benny Goodman.
It feels monstrous to admit that I pray she can move on soon. I don't want my Grandma to die. But I can't honestly say that she has a life right now. I also believe she is only still here because some members of our family are not ready to let her go. Like I said, her family's happiness was her greatest achievement.
My beautiful Grandmother. We are both only children. I inherited her hands, her sometimes-melancholy disposition, her smile, her obsession with the camera. Of course, I wonder if I will inherit her fate as well. But all that is secondary. What matters most is that you know how much I love you, my lovely Grandmother. Thank you for teaching me what love is by giving it so freely every day of your life. You have always been in my heart and always will be.