Dear Grandma…

It’s been two years since you’ve passed on, grandma. I’m still sad that you’re no longer here, with us. But I’m happy for YOU, because I know that you’re in a much better place now; a place with no pain or sorrow. But when I’m out and about walking in town and I see on older nana that reminds me of you, I just can’t help but tear up. “That should be my grandma,” I think to myself. “That person looks like the age my grandma would be, if she didn’t get sick.”

Growing up, I lived in my grandmother’s house. She was my maternal grandmother, my mom’s mom. I never got to meet my grandpa, because he passed away before I was born. So all my life, I’ve only ever seen my grandma as a widow. She would cry all the time because she missed my grandpa. Even during the happiest of occasions, when the entire family was together, she would still cry. She cried because my grandpa wasn’t here to see everyone–all his grandkids. All she could think of was what my grandpa was missing out on, since he was gone. Decades after my grandpa had passed, my grandma was still missing him like crazy.

When my grandma got sick, my world changed. She experienced a series of “mini strokes” that took such a toll on her health. She had trouble walking, and even talking, so she had to go to a nursing home. It was so weird visiting my grandma’s house and not seeing her there. The house I grew up in wasn’t the same anymore.

Having my grandmother in a nursing home was a big adjustment for all of us. Eventually, she became really good friends with her nurses, as well as the other patients in the facility. At this point, my grandma couldn’t walk at all anymore, and she also lost her speech. Dealing with her immobility was one thing, but her speech loss was another. It was so difficult for us to communicate with her. We had to depend on hand movements and facial expressions, but it wasn’t enough. We’d get frustrated because we weren’t sure how to help her, and she’d get frustrated because we couldn’t figure out what she was trying to tell us.

Speech is one of those things that people take for granted–I know that I took it for granted. When my grandma lost her speech, I was left with just memories of what her voice sounded like. I missed hearing her and her broken English, her and her filipino-y accent…I missed hearing the way that she pronounced my name out loud. I just miss her talking to me, and asking me, “Who is your companion?” (That was my grandma’s way of asking me if I had a boyfriend.)

Every time that I would visit her in the nursing home, I would pray that our visits went well. Sometimes, our visits were difficult because we couldn’t get her to eat her food, or she was in a bad mood or things like that. But sometimes our visits would go great, and we’d laugh together and all went smoothly.

I remember when my grandma’s health started going downhill. She just wasn’t “there” anymore. I don’t know what was going on in her head, but whatever it was, it was affecting her–distracting her. When I would visit her, it was like my presence didn’t phase her anymore. Her mind was just so full of, I don’t know, what. Her appetite decreased and there was just something in me that knew that something wasn’t right. She was dying.

“It’s not fair,” I thought. “Why did this happen?”

My grandmother has been through a lot: an immigrant, a plantation worker, a mother to an ill son, a widow, and then a health scare that changed everything. I found myself asking God unfair questions: “Why couldn’t she have aged gracefully? Why did she have to get sick?” Because if she hadn’t, then things would have been so different…

mamaAfter contemplation, I realized that God actually gave my family a gift–the gift of time. He gave us more time with my grandma. When she was first taken to the hospital, He could’ve taken her right then, and there, but He didn’t. I got to spend many, many months with my grandma, while she was still my grandma–before her illness started taking a heavier toll on her.

I remember the night that my grandma died. I didn’t see it coming. She was still so strong the day before, so I didn’t know that she was ready to leave us. We had an early birthday party for her and the whole family was invited. Toward the end of the party, everyone started singing “Happy Birthday” to my grandma. I was recording the event on my camera, and as I scanned the room and looked at people’s faces, I got angry. They were looking at my grandma with sadness…with pity, even. This was supposed to be a happy party for her.

Apparently, my grandma passed away after her birthday song. But I didn’t even realize it. She was a small, frail woman, and sometimes she would just lay really still. I assumed that she was okay. It wasn’t until my mom started wheeling my grandma out of the room, that the thought crept into my mind, that maybe my grandma was gone. I moved closer to my grandma’s chest to check on her breathing, but I couldn’t tell if she was alright. Sometimes here breaths were faint anyway, so I wasn’t sure.

We took her back to her room and had a nurse check on her. They hooked her up to a machine, and then I heard it–that sound the machine makes during a flatline. My heart dropped. I couldn’t accept that she was gone. I was in denial. I walked over to my grandma and shook her. I kept shaking her, waiting for her to wake up, or have some sort of reaction. But she didn’t.

The night my grandmother passed away was a hard one. The nurses had us clear out her room right after they took the body away. It was extremely difficult to pack up my grandma’s things right after we had lost her. “Why couldn’t this wait till the morning?” I thought. It was heartbreaking, cleaning out my grandma’s room. It was if she had never been there. The photos on the walls were all taken down, her personal belongings were gone, her closet was emptied–everything was cleared out.

Dear Grandma, I miss you, dearly. If there’s anything that you’ve taught me, it’s commitment and undying love. I saw just how committed you were to grandpa, long after his death. I saw how your love for him never faded–if anything, it grew stronger in his absence. Although I wish you were still here, I find comfort in knowing that you’re in a better place. I know that God is with you, and I know that you’re now with grandpa. Even though you’re no longer with me–with us–on Earth, I’m glad that you’re with grandpa now. You’ve missed him so much. I hope that you are now at peace.

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