The last time I saw my grandmother, she was sitting apart from the rest of the family, watching my son drive his new Tonka truck. The procedure to remove the cancer in her vocal chords failed. She was only getting nutrition through the feeding tube in her stomach. It made her distant from the family activity of sharing dinner, made her reluctant to watch everyone else eat her favorite foods.
We talked a little about the feeding tube. She showed me the incisions and the places the chemotherapy had permanently destroyed her hair follicles. She was still carrying nitroglycerin in her purse to restart her heart in a pinch. But she was in fairly good spirits. It's not easy living life through a morphine haze, but it didn't seem to bother her much.
After years of fighting cancer, and after dozens of near death experiences, she was still convinced she was going to get better. I think that determination kept her going.
I hugged her frail body, and said we should see each other again soon.
She died last week.
The body I saw at her viewing didn't look like her. It was a wax doll wearing her sweater, with her family crying around the casket, but the woman I knew (though not very well) was never that still. She was never that quiet. She was always in motion, always getting up to take care of something, even when she was recovering from the newest procedure and eating nothing and should have been resting. The perfect sixties housewife transplanted to the wrong era.
My grandfather, her husband and partner for over fifty years, looked so lost and tiny standing over the doll-like figure of his wife. I wonder what it feels like to see the woman you've loved being laid to rest and knowing she will enter that furnace alone to become ashes.
Less than twenty-four hours before she breathed her last breath, a new life entered the world. One of my very dearest friends had her second daughter--a beautiful, perfect baby girl.
My son is almost two now, and I've forgotten how fragile and boneless newborns are. I forgot the smell of vernix and how velvety their cheeks are. The lack of motor control, the unfocused stares, the wrinkles on their thumb-sized feet.
I don't know what I'm getting at with this, really. I'm thinking a lot about life lately. My grandmother used to be a tiny, wrinkly baby, too. My great-grandmother probably enjoyed snuggling her chubby stomach as much as I enjoyed snuggling my new niece's.
And life goes on.