12.02.2011

Thoughts About Grandma Wanda

I have been thinking lately why I feel so attached to grandma Wanda. I remember many shared times with her.

When I was in kinder and first grade, my mother would work long hours so my grandma Wanda would pick me up from school and take me home. She used to cook a great tomato sauce from scratch for spaghetti. That was a treat! The pesto sauce and pasta she would make was lovely too. She used to make a British beef stew for my grandfather, which I loved. She used to cook calves' brains for me, with lemon juice and olive oil, another treat, because I loved it. She used to make a boxed peach pudding that I was always clamoring for.

Grandma and I shared plenty of times when we both wished we could knock each other out, I wasn't any angel after all, and she's always been quite stubborn and set in her own way. For example, when I went back from Mexico to Italy to complete second grade, she insisted I wear my Mexican Catholic school uniform...even though my second grade school in Italy was a public school and everyone wore casual outfits. That was stressful and embarrassing! Other times, she would force me to drink milk, even though I had a sour stomach afterwards!

Yes, then there was also the time when out of desperation, she rubbed fish guts on my face as she was making one of my favorite dishes: breaded fresh anchovy fillets. The smell is quite something if you've never smelled fish guts, let me tell you. That was also the day she ripped one of my girly magazine comics. That was really all I could have out of her! My mom was hearing both of us arguing at her reasons why we didn't want to spend any further time together ever again, and in retrospect it must have been absolutely hilarious to see a 50+ year old woman and a 4+ year old child being so childish and adamant.

When we moved to Mexico, and my grandfather passed away in 1985, it was very lonely. She basically provided me a sense of family at a time when it was difficult for me to find that sense. Being far removed from home, from family, or from the natural acquaintances that emerge from being in your city can be disruptive at best and traumatic at worse.

Grandma began visiting us at Christmastime and would extend her trips for several months. That was the best thing ever! I had such a happy feeling when she would come and stay. Although we each had our own rooms, I urged her to share mine, I would even give her my bed and I would sleep on the folding one.

I used to love teasing her and even bopping her on the head with a notebook I was writing in, ticking her off and making her march out of the room in complete indignation that I would willfully cause her a brain hemorrhage. Seriously it was just a bop with a notebook!

As I've gotten older I notice so many similarities between my grandmother and I. I'm not sure whether they're due to genetic reasons or just because we spent so much time together. Her stubbornness for example, or her need to be by herself ever since grandpa passed away, they remind me very much of my own tendencies.

Which worries me, because when you're by yourself and act like an island, aren't you setting yourself up for failure? And yet it's almost like it's inevitable. Some personality traits are too hard to fight, the best we can do, really, is just tweak and massage the quirks on one's own to make the outcome a little different.

I'm definitely worried about grandma as she's now in a hospice, ready for her time. She's been going downhill progressively fast ever since I came back from my visit. The hospice is giving her a sedative via IV so she's hydrated and peaceful. Previous to the sedative, she had been screaming out at all hours in a strong voice for her mother and father, and mom said she didn't recognize her anymore.

That's very stressful, to digest the fact that someone you love so much and with whom you have so many memories and times together is no longer themselves.

But this is when you pull up your grown up pants and stop thinking about yesterday and think about today. Isn't it? And yet it's so hard. You have to make decisions for someone who has been independent and very stubborn if not adamant for the past 25 years. Worse of all, you know this is goodbye.

I'm not sure how I'm taking all of this, but one thing is certain, there are some very important lessons here:

  1. don't isolate yourself or you'll regret it when you're older and need help. Try hard. I know it's hard, it is for me.
  2. plan for your old age or it'll be here before you realize it and you'll be up a creek without a paddle. If you don't plan on having kids or living near family, make alternate arrangements like designated savings accounts, powers of attorney and other legal obligations. Get rid of your debt, own your home, and save, save, save.
  3. most importantly, hug love and kiss each and every one of your loved ones and never be afraid to show them you loved them. Life is far too short.