Not that I've really been on top of the blogging recently anyway, but I've had some weighty things on my mind this week. I just haven't been feeling very bloggy.
But maybe it'll be good to get it out there.
My grandmother is dying. She's had cancer for most of the past year. Actually, she beat cancer, breast cancer, once already, back in the eighties, which was the same decade she lost her daughter, my dad's sister, to cancer. I was very young; I don't remember my aunt before she became sick. In fact, I don't have any memory of her being able to speak because she was already too far gone. So for my grandmother, cancer's never been far from her mind in the years since.
And last spring a strange bump appeared on her head. The doctors were convinced she was just a batty old lady who hit her head and didn't remember it. The thing was, though, she was as sharp as any eighty-year-old can be and would have known if she'd hit her head hard enough to cause a nearly golf ball-sized lump. A month or two later, they finally decided it was a lymphoma. She had surgery to remove it and we all had a good time cracking jokes about the ghastly, stapled wound running like railroad tracks all the way across the left side of her scalp, not to mention her half-shaven head. Hey, if you can't laugh...
The follow-up radiation seemed to be successful and she was in good spirits most of the summer, worrying primarily about the cost of a decent wig. Further tests, however, showed that although the excised lump on her head didn't appear to be coming back, there was a troublesome spot on her liver. More radiation followed, then chemo, and it's been downhill ever since. She was experiencing pretty severe nerve pain all through the fall but didn't like taking the pain killers because they made her foggy. She started saying that she just wanted to make it until November 4 so she could vote. And she did. Like most of us, she'd had enough. I hope she was lucid enough last week to enjoy the inauguration.
Thanksgiving was the first time I talked to her that she was no longer herself. The painkillers were taking their toll and, always a nearly unstoppable talker with a brain that moved at hyper speed, she was even more manic and scattershot than usual. After that, I stopped calling as much, I guess not wanting to confirm the reality that things were probably not getting any better. Two weeks ago, when I called her hospital room, her speech was very slow and slurred, but you could still call it a conversation. Last night I called her (she's now in a nursing home in their small town in Maryland) and she was there on the other end of the line, but all she could manage were unintelligible mumbles. I could tell she understood most of what I was saying, though, but only because the syllable-count in "I love you too" is unmistakable.
I called my grandfather right after that and that's when I finally lost it. I don't remember ever hearing him cry before. Their house is less than a mile from the nursing home, but he knows he'll never bring her home again (and here I am losing it again.) Poppop spends all day, every day by her side but goes to sleep alone at night, something he hasn't done in sixty years. He told me she's decided not to pursue any further treatment, a decision it's difficult to argue with. Only she knows what she's been through.
My parents made plane tickets to go visit two weekends from now and I was going to drive up at the same time, but my dad called me this morning and asked if I wanted to drive up with him this weekend. We all get the feeling that sooner is better than later. So on Friday my father will pick me up and the two of us will drive north, presumably to say goodbye to his mother.
Sure, you never know with these things. She could hang on for another few months for all anybody really knows, because it's not really up to anybody in the end. They'll be moving her to a hospice care facility by the end of this week and, just as much as we'd like to see her before she goes, I think we'd like to be there for my grandfather. My heart breaks for the poor guy. Always a stoic, I've had two conversations with him in the past 24 hours and both times he cried. I think he's doing a lot of that lately.