My grandmother has been on hospice for almost three weeks now.
It was sudden surprise, coming after two years of inexplicable nausea, vomiting, and an eighty pound weight loss for an 82 year old woman.
She was sent into the hospital on a last ditch effort to find the source of her illness – every test previously came back negative for cancer. So we had no indication, no expectation of what the doctors would find – the entirety of her intestines riddled with cancer; so numerous and miniscule the cancer cells were, it was like someone had cast salt into her body, encrusting everything, turning the mass into an inoperable Gordian knot.
And this of course has changed a few things. My plans to leave NYC on a cross-country road trip back to California has been canceled, and I’ve left the city to take care of my grandmother full-time, along with my father who serendipitously retired on the day of her surgery. In fact, for the terribleness of the situation, everything seems to have come together perfectly, for the sole purpose of caring for her, for being with her.
I moved to NYC this year, and nothing quite worked out the way I planned. The post-baccalaureate program I was enrolled in at Columbia University turned out to be wrong for me, and a job in publishing as well only proved that this is not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life; the classes I was taking at NYU were okay and filled the time; I learned to love wandering the city alone and treating myself to gourmet meals; I spent more time writing and getting to read and watch all the books and TV shows I missed, and the friends I actually liked here are wonderful, but I always found myself calling California.
No, nothing quite worked out the way I thought it would. I learned a lot about myself, (which to New York, I am grateful for), but what I have finally learned was my reason for being here: my grandmother.
I hadn’t seen her in almost six years before moving to New York. And here, I got a year with her, living in the Greenwich Village apartment she grew up in, where my great-grandparents had lived in the thick of an Italian-American neighborhood.
I could go out to Long Island every weekend to visit her and listen to her numerous stories about growing up in the apartment I had been living in for over a year.
And only I, out of her five children and ten grandchildren, has lived in the city and knows exactly where the streets she used to play on as a kid are.
I got a year with my grandmother, and she got to know me as a young woman – something none of my cousins will get to experience. And I am so grateful for that. And I am so privileged to be the one taking care of her. It is a privilege, truly – despite blood, bile, urine, and waste I feel privileged to be here with her everyday.
I have worked in hospice before: when I was 19, my mother and I volunteered for a hospice for a year; and it was very hard, coming into a dying stranger’s home, offering the little comfort we had, loving them, and having them part from us. I think it is one of the most important things I have ever done with my life – it was an honor to serve the dying.
But this is my first experience with hospice on a personal level. My previous volunteer work has given me a few tips, but it has been a major learning experience. Everyday is different, some good, some bad. I am grateful for the good days though, when we have them.
My grandmother is an amazing women – love emanates from her constantly. Even on her worse days, she is all concern for her family, “Did you eat? Here, take money from my pocket book.” Always she is making us laugh and smile, and even after she is gone the memory of her will continue to do so. The testament of her love and life surrounds her, our large family constantly bopping in and out, visitors arriving unexpectedly to just hold her hand for a moment, even in her weakness; the amount of company she has is alarming to her doctors and nurses, who have also come under her spell; as my father joked one day, “We’re loving her to death.”
I am happy to be here, and no one knows when she will pass, but I know when I will have to leave. On June 11th I leave to California before heading out on a two and a half month long trip throughout the Mediterranean. And I cannot think about it too much for it breaks my heart, what if I leave and that’s when she goes? But truly, I believe she’s not really going anywhere. We are all a part of this infinite universe, we are all a part of the divine. There is no leaving it, there is no entering it – always we are one. I know my grandmother is. I know I never really have to say goodbye.
Image: My grandparents on their wedding day