I always knew it was coming, and I frequently worried how I would cope when I got that call. My Grandma Chris is 79 years old in December… and as much as I hoped she’d live forever, I knew that every year she was getting just that little bit more frail and that it would come eventually.
But not like this.
My Grandma Chris is the single greatest influence in my life. She is the woman who raised me in my formative years; the woman who laughed with me when there wasn’t much to laugh about; the woman who filled my school lunch box with so much food I was able to feed half of my class. The woman who was there for me when my mother wasn’t. Who bought me my first sanitary pads, bought, washed & ironed my clothes, lent me money, screamed at me, sometimes quite mercilessly tortured me. She was always that one constant in my pretty tumultuous upbringing. She is the source of my world view — that person who keeps me humble and who I am more like than I care to admit.
So when I say “my Grandma is sick and I need to be at the hospital every day”, I get this look, like… “it’s not your Mum”. She’s just my Grandma and Grandmas are old and Grandmas die. But to me, this is not just a Grandma. She is my rock.
She is the toughest, most hard working and complexly-kind person I have ever known. And honestly, while I knew in the back of my mind that she was getting old, and Jason and I had often had discussions about how I will deal with her death… now that I am facing it’s inevitability, I am a little bit mad at the world.
Grandma was born in Tipperary the week before Christmas in 1931. Her mother was unmarried. In Catholic Ireland. In the THIRTIES. She had 2 older brothers and a younger sister, Josephine, who died from a tonsillectomy when she was 7. Around the same time, her mother died in childbirth. Her father didn’t give a shit, so her uncle paid for her education at a convent in Cork.
My Grandma grew up in an Irish Catholic Convent during the Second World War. She worked her whole life. She worked 2 jobs, often cleaning offices. Never smoked, never drank. Never did anything but work and raise her 2 sons. She doesn’t talk much about her childhood — her memories are always positive and usually avoid nun-dodging.
She is the toughest, proudest, most stubborn old bird you could ever, ever meet. She can be ferocious — and it would be a disservice AND a lie to not acknowledge that I was often afraid of her. But holy fuck, is she funny. She has that Irish “oddness” about her, and no-one can make me laugh like my Grandma. Even now as she lays in her hospital bed, we laugh.
But the thing that makes me angry is that despite all of the shit-on-a-plate that she has been handed in her life, her faith in God is unerring. God and Mary and Jesus and rosary beads and Catholic ritual are all so important to her, she is so genuinely hurt and afraid for my mortal soul. Because I don’t believe in God. I believe in God so much less now, if that’s possible, than I did a week ago.
Because now, this woman, who has led one of the most virtuous lives I can think of, is faced with either pancreatic cancer that has metastasised to her brain and lungs; a primary brain tumour that is inoperable and advanced; or a benign brain tumour that will still only give her a year tops. The woman who worked hard; never smoke, never drank, saved every single cent beyond what was necessary — lived a very humble and faithful life — is being rewarded with a painful and potentially undignified end. So FUCK God and his plan. But I don’t say that to her.
We have been waiting 8 days to get an MRI so we can find out the prognosis. The only thing that keeps her lucid is the dexamethasone, but she is on a downward spiral. How fast it’ll happen remains to be seen, but if she can she’ll come home with us. I feel that it is the least I can do. She looked after me when she didn’t have to. She never lets her guard down with anyone but me — and for that I feel privileged. I know that she is embarrassed but she lets me help her. And it is not an obligation, it’s an honour.
And I am dealing with it much better than I thought I could. I visit the hospital every day for a minimum of about 4 hours, I do her washing, make sure she’s eating, chat to her, fuss over her, remind her again that we have taken care of everything… and in a weird way I am enjoying the time I get alone with her. And now, facing her death is not so scary. Through trying to be positive for her, I end up holding it together.