It was just last month: April. My paternal grandmother had just celebrated her 89th birthday, and because we’d spent an entire day at her house, my mom asked us to show her mother the same courtesy. The next day, a Sunday, we drove out to see my Grandma Virgie.
It had been raining on and off, and as the tires of our SUV sloshed in the mud and we approached her house, I remembered the first time I’d been there. I must have been around 12 years old. My Grandpa Willie (my mom’s dad) had just died, and my mother, my brother, and I had flown to the other side of the world to… pay our respects? Go on vacation? Have an excuse to miss school?
I’m sure there must have been a serious agenda, but I was too young to recognize it. My mom has always had a very complicated relationship with her parents, and that complication had estranged me from them. By the time my Grandpa Willie had passed on, my maternal grandparents were a dirty joke that my dad told to make light of the problems between he and my mom. I only saw them one a year, if that. Sometimes, two or more years would pass without laying eyes on them.
By that rainy April afternoon, we hadn’t seen my grandma in a month or two. The moment I laid eyes on her, my nursing student brain knew there was something wrong. She’d lost a lot of weight, so that her skin was sagging around her neck and upper arms. She seemed even less talkative than she usually was, which meant she was damn near mute. Most damning of all was her skin, which had gone from being the enviably pale and radiant shade of the pulp of young peaches, to the ruddy and dark orange hue of mashed sweet potatoes.
I asked the maid if my aunt (my mom’s only sibling who lives in the Philippines) had seen my grandma. The maid said she had, and that she’d written off the symptoms as “things that happen to old people.”
I knew better.
Jaundice usually meant organ failure, and from the looks of things – pumpkin skin, yellowed eyes – she definitely had jaundice. (Later, my aunt would say that a doctor had overruled me, saying that Grandma Virgie’s pigment had simply changed.)
I looked at my grandma, who was lighting up with joy at the sight of Riley. I saw her face glow. I saw life in her eyes. I saw a willingness to be happy. And then I remembered the facts: No one ever visited her anymore, except to get money from her. Her hearing had diminished substantially, so that she didn’t bother attempting to hold a conversation. Her days were spent on her own property, either gardening or crocheting. Her lifestyle was solitary and sedentary, and as I watched my son hugging her, talking to her, and smiling at her, I knew I couldn’t let her last memories of life be a mundane loop of loneliness.
I resolved right then and there to have her live with us.