Grandma was slipping downward, her body compacting into itself, inching slowly across the bed. Her pajamas became bunched up at the crotch, cutting into her legs. She picked at the offending folds of fabric lightly, ineffectively.
I called the night nurses who helped me prop her back up into a sitting position. We had tried to lay her down on the bed several times but she always worked her way back up again. Even with the head of the bed raised, she would inch her way back to a full sitting position, her back resting against the wall, her legs dangling over the edge. Perhaps she couldn’t breathe well unless she was sitting. Maybe she didn’t want to meet death lying down.
We propped pillows around her back in an attempt to make her more comfortable and tried to keep her feet somewhat elevated. They were unbelievably swollen at this point. Puffy and purple, they looked painful. But Grandma showed no sign of pain. Occasionally a flicker of consternation would dance across her brow, but otherwise there was nothing. She was deep, deep inside of herself now. At the end, she had gone within, far beyond reach.
Eventually the nurses procured a recliner which they pushed into the middle of the room. Together we got her transitioned and her feet elevated. I don’t think she was aware of the change, but it looked more comfortable. Grandpa still had not returned. I wondered if he’d forgotten.
The night was still and dark surrounding the two of us. I rubbed her feet and held her hand. I placed blankets over her legs and took them off again when she grew restless. Occasionally she would pluck at her clothing as if the cloth bound her to the earth and she wanted to be free. Even these movements were muted, however. She was deep, deep inside. Any outward motion or expression was simply an echo of whatever was happening within.
Occasionally my eyes would gravitate toward my smart phone and ear buds laying abandoned on the bed. It was impulsive, this need to be entertained, to be distracted.
The room was thick with darkness, illuminated only by a small blue light and broken only by the beeping and wheezing of machines outside our door. The noises had faded into the background by now. Only this room, this moment, this woman remained. I focused my untrained consciousness on her with every ounce of determination I possessed.
I studied her breath as it came steadily, in and out, in and out, in and out. I timed it with my own, in and out, in and out, in and out. For now, we were here together. We were still here together. That hadn’t changed, yet. I lived in the space of those hours, holding her hand in the dark stillness of the night, still together, still together, still together. It was sacred space.
I hadn’t always appreciated my grandmother the way I should have. After my dad died, my grandparents stepped in to help raise me. They were always there for me, watching me, feeding me, loving me. Every single event and accomplishment in my young life, they were there. We shared Sunday dinners, camping trips, holidays and festivals. They were ever-present in their love and support. I loved them deeply but in the folly of youth I often took them for granted, like the sun, the earth, the air.
Then I was carried away by the rapturous excitement of my own life. When I left home for the first time the delights of my newly minted adult existence were endless. I didn’t take as much time as I should have to look back. But my grandmother never held it against me. She just kept loving me, praying for me, encouraging me. Her love carried me out into the world and nourished me through those early years and beyond.
I remembered back to that first night in Hawaii – As I wandered across my dorm’s open air atrium, through the hot dusky twilight, I could hear music playing softly in the distance. Someone was strumming a ukulele just beyond our walls. Then another type of music caught my ear. From each room and every open window I heard voices – melodious voices in every language I could imagine. I understood almost nothing, but their words were sweet intoxication to my ears. I would later learn to identify a few of the subtle differences, memorizing the sounds of Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, Germany, Spain, South America, French Tahiti, and on and on and on.
From that moment, I dove into Hawaiian life headfirst. I gleefully absorbed every sight, smell, sound and taste of my new home. Every person I met hailed from increasingly exotic and foreign places. I could feel the existential boundaries of my world expanding in ways I never could have imagined before. Everything was suddenly new.
The vibrant tones of “aloha wear” (muumuus and Hawaiian shirts) dotted the campus, blending in with the thriving array of vividly hued tropical flowers. Brilliantly colored lengths of fabric called lavalavas were used for everything from clothing to carrying belongings to providing shade. Many students and professors continued to wear the traditional clothing of their native countries.
Even the buildings were different, built for sun not for snow. Delicious floral aromas hung in the air. The foliage was an exotic burst of color and the ocean danced tantalizingly, sparkling in the distance.
I had always longed for travel. I blame it on my paternal grandparents. Their far-flung adventures, the treasures they brought home and the stories they’d woven of their experiences abroad had ignited a spark in me. I’d obsessed over foreign cultures and exotic places with the kind of single-minded passion that most teenagers dedicate solely to sex. It was my one true desire. Now there I was, living in the very epicenter of a cultural earthquake. The world in all its fascinating and diverse glory, centered in one place. It was my own personal paradise. I was adrift in an atmosphere of exuberant wonder.
My spirit lept anew as I thought back on it now. From the depth of the night’s darkness my mind took hold of those memories and dove into them as if I was entering them for the very first time.
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.