Driving north to see my grandpa two weeks ago, on what happened to be his final day, I asked myself why I was leaving work on a Monday morning to do this. Yes, that is how meager my relationship with my grandfather was – work did seem as important, if not more, than seeing him in the hospital.
By that night I understood why I had made the trip.
I did not drive north to take my grandfather’s enormous and soft 86 year old hand. That moment, while important to me, was not the meaning of the journey.
The meaning for me was that afternoon, while he was getting a tube inserted to drain blood from cavities of his body that should not be full of blood. The hospital room was empty of his bed. His wife and their three daughters, who are my grandma, mom and aunts, sat in a circle around the space his bed should be.
Grandma was falling apart during these long days sitting by his side, not caring for herself and in poor health as well. Amongst other more serious issues, she had a cold.
One of the three blond sisters sitting to my left asked whether it was time for more cold pills.
My grandma has mastered the Ice Queen/WASP act and her walls of frost rose before the question was completed.
The implication of her brusque answer was: Do not make me take more cold pills. I am ready to throw myself on the pyre when he dies.
The subtext with my grandma gets so thick sometimes it can freeze you in your tracks, preventing you from saying the perfectly normal things one would to dispel an uncomfortable situation.
So you shuffle off.
But that afternoon I witnessed what I consider to be a miracle. Instead of silencing her daughters, my grandma’s frosty response unintentionally made them… laugh. We were sitting around waiting for doctors to drain enough fluid off her husband to maybe, if we were really lucky, keep him alive long enough to go home. There was no hope past Let him die at home. He had kidney failure, blood in his lungs, and pneumonia. And she was mad that her daughters were urging her to take her decongestants?!
The relief in that brief group laugh probably added a few years to my lifespan.
The depressing afterward is three sisters reverting to old roles, played against each other by her refusal to communicate, her anger at being helped, her sheer brittleness of ego.
Who is Grandma talking to today? And who has she made feel like a bother?
I can’t go back in time and give my mother better parents. I can’t begin to explain to my grandma how she makes her “loved ones” feel. All I can do is tell the truth, which in this case, is that somehow, these three women decided what they wanted motherhood to look like in spite of their nearest example. I honor all three. And I wish, more than anything, that they could just one more time experience the delicious relief of laughing, together, at their all too powerful ice queen.