In my first year of teaching, my grandmother on my father's side was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just to be safe, she had a double mastectomy which was tremendously hard on her. She was sad about the removal of a part of her body that she regarded as being directly linked to her femininity. Rehabilitation was also hard on her and she had to spend a few weeks in assisted living in order to recuperate from the surgery. Over the past few years, her health has continued to decline and the cancer that they hoped would be halted by the mastectomy has spread throughout various parts of her body. She is now in the hospital, being cared for as she lives out her final days dealing with mental illness and brain cancer.
It's hard. I spent many weekends with her as a child. And while just like any family member makes you a little crazy sometimes, I have fond memories that should be captured here one day. It's challenging to write about it now because of how hard these final stages of mental illness have been on her and on us. Matt and I have tried several times to see her over the past year to no avail. I can't tell you how many times we have opened up our schedule to try and see her only to be cancelled on or have been unable to get hold of her in time to go see her. Her Christmas present sits wrapped in my closet along with an envelope of pictures I wanted to give her. As she has progressed along, it has been evident on how hard it was for her to keep track of life. In talking with her, I almost imagined her floating along without a lot of awareness of what day it was, what time it was, and while she could keep track of things from years past, she had a hard time holding on to much from recent years. I am grateful that it didn't seem frustrating to her, that it wasn't a burden to her heart that she couldn't remember.
Now though, she is mad about not being at home as she winds down her days. And things are moving along quickly. There has been some discussion on whether or not my sister and I should see her in order to preserve our memories of her as she was instead of the situation she finds herself in now. While I want to see her and be with her, a part of me appreciates the protectiveness at the moment. I am fearful of seeing her, so close to the cusp, and I hurt at the thought of needing to say goodbye. When we said goodbye to Matt's grandmother two years ago, she was hours away from passing. It was hard, but I hadn't known her all my life. I had only a handful of memories with her and felt pain more on the behalf of Matt and his family, especially his father. And it seems now, that she had resigned herself to being ready. My grandmother has not reached that point and there could be some painful aspects to seeing her. It is a really hard part of growing up. To realize that the hundreds or thousands or more of memories that you have with someone will soon be all that remains of them. And the guilt that I feel of being scared hurts as well, because I don't want her to feel alone.