My parents are those odd people who like to look around in cemeteries. Sometimes they are looking for ancestors as my mom is very into genealogy, and sometimes they just like to putter around in quaint little cemeteries in forgotten little towns. Recently, my dad came across a tombstone in one of these little places that intrigued him. Hell, it intrigues me. It was a tombstone of a woman, and under the name and the dates was inscribed:
Remember Jackie, what I told you.
Now I don't know about you, but that is the kind of thing that blows my mind. The randomness of it - who is Jackie? What did she tell her? Why did Jackie need to be reminded of something so much that this woman had it engraved on a tombstone? Think about it - she needed Jackie to remember. Was it tangible, like - here's where the money is hidden? Or was it more emotional, like -Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get?
Did Jackie even ever see it?
I bet she did. And I bet she remembered. I bet it was stamped on her brain, just like it was stamped on that piece of granite. Never, ever forget. It was that important.
My grandmother died last night, after 10 days at Hospice House of Kansas City, an amazing facility, with amazing nurses and caring people.
This past June, a week before I left for San Diego, she was diagnosed with tumors in her lungs, a recurrence of the breast cancer that had metastasized. She'd had mammagrams every six months for the last eleven years, and they all came back clean. Suddenly one day she can't catch her breath very well, and it's because there's no space to pull air into the lung, a tumor is in the way. She didn't want to fight it. She was a nurse, after all, she knew better than any of us that at 94, the treatment would kill her anyway, and rob her of what she had left. No.
Eleven years ago, as I was about to deliver my first child, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 83. She'd found a lump, which turned out to be a swollen lymph node, which was surgically removed and then she did radiation for six weeks, "as a precaution" the doctors said. Really nothing major.
While she was going through radiation therapy, her husband (my grandfather) was dying in hospice. She'd been nursing him herself until she couldn't lift him, and then hospice came in. And then she was diagnosed with cancer herself, and he had to be moved to a hospital against his will so that she could come to Kansas City and be treated. It was rough.
Anyway, he was dying, she was taking radiation, and come that July, I had a brand new baby I didn't know what to do with. Everybody needed a lot of attention. It was a very stressful time for my mom and dad. But my mom had a solution. So for that first week I was home by myself after my husband went back to work, my mother would deliver grandma to my house after her radiation treatments, and she would hang out with me and the baby for a few hours. I needed the company, she needed to feel needed, and my mom needed a break for a while. Everybody wins!
Together, my grandmother and I were like one whole person caring for this tiny baby. I had lost a lot of blood in delivery and was severely anemic, barely able to move from one room to the next without sitting down to rest. She was tired and weak from the radiation therapy. But together, we could make it work. We sat and talked, we took turns feeding and burping him, and she helped me smear vaseline on all his various parts that needed it. We giggled about how hard it was for either of us to even lift him out of his crib. We were silly together. It was really a nice time.
When Drew was three weeks old, my grandfather died. At the graveside, she sat in her little folding chair with her head held high while the preacher talked. At the end, my dad said quietly, "Mom, are you ready to go?" She said, "I've taken him as far as I could take him. I've done what I promised I would do. I believe I'm ready to go now."
She spent a few more years living alone in the house they built with their retirement money down at Truman Lake, outside of Warsaw. But then she had a bad fall, and nobody could hear her crying out for help. It scared us all. After she recovered from (miraculously) just a couple of broken ribs and collarbone, she decided it was time to move to the city and be near my parents. She moved to an assisted living complex in Leawood, and instantly made new friends, played bridge three times a week and got her hair and nails done regularly. In short, she loved it.
Last year when she fell (she was totally pushed) and broke her shoulder, I got to spend time with her again while she stayed a a rehab nursing facility near my house. Nearly every morning I stopped by to visit on my way to work, even if it was just for a few minutes. I treasured those minutes, and so did she. It was a chance for me to step out of how crazy and busy my life was, and just visit pleasantly about the weather, the kids, whatever. It was a chance for me to catch my breath before going onto the next thing. For her, it was attention and company she needed, and someone who could help her with difficult things like putting new batteries in her hearing aides and fitting them into her ear that she couldn't reach. We needed each other then, again.
She doesn't need me anymore. She doesn't need anything. She's got her husband back.
She told me, back when we were caring for that tiny baby who is now my middle schooler, "Do you ever get blue? It's okay to feel blue, lots of new moms do. You need to know that it's okay to feel that way, and that it goes away."
She needed me to know that. She had felt it herself. Here she was, sick and weak and missing out on her husband's decline, and she was worried about me. She was probably feeling it then, so helpless and out of control of all these different situations. But it was tangible, how important it was to her that I know that feeling depressed was part of the post-partem process, and that if I felt down enough to be bothered by it, I could talk to her about it. It was stamped on my brain. She understood, and it would all be okay.
I still remember what she told me. I always will.