Compared to the many decades of her life, as well as those spent by her family knowing and loving her, the two years I spent getting to know my boyfriend’s maternal grandmother seem to pale in comparison. But here’s the thing: She was a woman of stories, and to know her for any amount of time was to experience an adventure into the past with insight into the present.
If you’ve ever met a family member who has seemed to hold their family together, you already know a crucial part of her role within the family. She was such a loving human being, which may sound typical of grandmothers, but she was also capable of massive sass. She didn’t back down, and would express the sentiment in the right amount of words with the right amount of bite. She was certainly the orator of her own fate, and considering the how, where, and what of how she died only makes this all the more true.
She already suffered from a lung continuing to fill with fluid, as well as cirrhosis of the liver. However, it got worse—she was diagnosed with liver cancer, and it could not be treated because of her age and the effects of her previous conditions on her body. Apparently, the cancer usually kills within a month or two of diagnosis, in the state it was in at her diagnosis.
This was several months ago.
From the first moment I visited their house, my boyfriends’ grandparents made me feel welcome there. I walked through the door and felt like I was walking into the home of a relative, in that it felt so familiar and so unlike how I expected to feel. At this point in my life, both of my parents’ mothers had died, and I had gone through a low period when the one thing that kept going through my head was: I don’t have a grandma anymore. The thing that had already happened to a fair few of my friends had finally happened to me, and I felt a gap I hadn’t known could exist. Not too long after I met my boyfriend’s grandmother, I felt like someone’s granddaughter again, and it felt so good to have someone in that role in my life again.
This woman was the picture of resilience. A gradual weight loss and age, as well as her ailments, did take their toll on her. However, from the way she spoke and made you feel when you sat across from her would give you pause. She could smile, laugh, sass, and carry on conversations with the best of the them, even besting this proverbial them when the need arose. This Southern Italian woman was true to herself no matter what was handed to her. No illness could rob her of such a personality.
The last time I saw her was December 26, 2016. My mother and I had driven down the night before to the hospital where she had been transferred, because earlier that day my boyfriend had texted to say she didn’t have more than a day or two to live. We told her stories that night, and she listened, even though she always wanted to provide her thoughts in return. We took turns holding her hand as she slept, and slept either in a chair near her or in the consult room next door. I honestly thought she was going to die at some point on Christmas Day, but she didn’t. And she didn’t die the next day, either. In fact, she was more awake and lucid the next morning. By the time my mother and I left the hospital around noon, she was in good spirits and wanted to go home.
She was relocated from the ICU, and even walked around with a physical therapist before being able to go home on December 28.
Two days later, I got the text that she passed away. I was sick with something I couldn’t classify as any specific illness, and I got the text message almost two hours after my boyfriend sent it because I had left my phone in my room. I had just gotten through using hand gestures and what was left of my voice to tell my parents that she was back at home and doing just fine.
It still hasn’t fully sunk in yet. I cried for a while after I found out, but part of me still expects to see her when I spend time with my boyfriend and his family after the funeral tomorrow. That same part of me anticipates sitting with her if the rest of the family gets too loud, or I want to hear one of her stories again. There is a nostalgia I feel even while writing this post that will either disappear after tomorrow, or will come back to bite me in a major way later on.
I’m unsure if I’ll be able to say anything at the funeral, or if it will resemble any of what I’ve typed here. If I am able to, however, I hope that whatever I do end up saying will do justice to her legacy and her memory.