Grandma

Grandma en Chile.

Aida Rojas

December 9, 1930 – August 6, 2010

I’ve debated with myself for a couple of weeks now if I would post something this personal online.  I have found reasons to do it and reasons to not. I have decided to post what I said at her memorial, thoughts about death and other feelings.

I feel that in our culture it is often difficult to talk about death.  We tip toe around the subject or we talk in hushed voices around those whom would be sensitive to the matter.  In avoiding these discussions I find that it is often harder to understand and cope.  Watching someone you have known and loved all your life take their final breathes is the most difficult thing I have done.  You can never be completely ready for death but you can prepare in some ways and try the best that you can to be there for others.

My mom has told me how terrible it was for her to lose her parents to cancer and how much pain they were in. Other than that, no one ever told me what it is like to watch someone go through the final stages of their life until it was happening right in front of me. Hospice nurses told me all that they could and even supplied literature.  At this point you can either learn and understand and use this to help make the person you love as comfortable as possible and be there for them or you may find it too difficult to try to understand.  Too painful to believe.  Both routes and others that people take are how we deal with death and we all deal with it differently.  I discovered that my way of coping was to make sure that I was there for my grandma and my family and I wanted to make my grandma as comfortable as she could be.  I tried to understand the biological process, to keep busy, to not allow myself to focus on my emotions.  Most of us know of birth yet few of us know the stages of death. No one wants to think about it, especially not when it’s happening right in front of you. Yet it’s next to impossible to think of anything else. Although I could never understand what she could have been going through emotionally and physically, I tried to understand and I wanted to be there to listen, and to love.

My grandma knew what was happening, she knew that she was dying. No matter how much I knew it too, hearing her say it still brought tears to my eyes.  Years before she would often bring up her death and how she would have things prepared and organized and that she thought I should know what she wanted and how things should be.  I would nervously try to avoid the subject but she was firm and told me that I would need to know this, and that we all have to talk about it.

I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia crying so hard but also in a state of disbelief.  It was 3:00pm and my dad had to tell me that we both needed to head back to Michigan.  Moments later I found myself driving back home.  The next morning, July 25, I finally made it to my grandparents’ house.  I spent almost every hour at grandma’s bedside for the next 12 days. I have never experienced time move the way that it did during those limited days.  If not all three of us at the same time, at least one of us, my dad, papa or I would be in the bedroom with Grandma.  I spent my nights in my sleeping bag on the floor in my grandparents’ room. Waking up every hour or so, checking on her, wanting her to still be with us, but not wanting her to suffer any longer. It’s hurts to tell someone to let go, that everything will be ok, when you want them to be here forever. Yet we know that no one can stay forever.

Days started to blend together, but each morning I thought of how it could be her last.

On the morning of July 6, I awoke around 4:30am knowing she would soon be at peace.  At 4:50am my grandma’s suffering ended with my papa, my dad and I by her side.  All that we could do was tell her how much we love her and hold her …….. and cry.  She went peacefully.  I remember the way the sky began to lighten outside, a beautiful still morning, birds starting to sing, and the way the sun filtered into the room.

As much as I can say that we should talk about death, I found it incredibly difficult to tell any friends that I was back home and why I was back home. It’s hard to say, “My grandma is dying.”   And even more difficult to say that she isn’t here anymore.  Even though I could talk openly about the biological process of death, actually talking about my grandma not being alive anymore has been extremely painful and awkward at the same time.  And so I try to talk about the good times as well, my memories of her.  During her last days, when she would hardly talk, sometimes she would just hum a sweet and calm tune.  & I can still hear her humming.

I suppose for me, writing this has been some sort of closure.  It hasn’t been easy to write, and I’ve spent multiple nights attempting to add to this. To figure out what I felt comfortable posting.  This is why I am writing this, a way to remember, share and talk openly, not just about death, but about the life that my grandma lived and all of the love she gave us.  I do not write this in search of condolences, but as a way to understand and to remember.

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I want to thank all of you for being here, and for sharing your thoughts, love, and condolences.  I also want to thank those that have helped us through these difficult times. I know that my grandma is loved and admired by many.

 

I started writing this at my grandma’s bedside, when she was still here with us but found it too difficult to finish and I hope that I can manage to read through this.

 

I write this as my grandma still holds on, strong as always. She always has to have the last word.  We know that she will decide when it’s time to let go because Grandma would never let anyone else tell her how to do something.

 

I want this to be a celebration of my grandma’s spectacular and accomplishing life.  I want this to be about the love she has for all of us, and the love we have for her.  I want to share with you the things that I as well as others love about my grandma and what we will miss. I hope that this, too, is what she wants.

 

So many things will always remind me of my grandma, and going to my grandparents’ house or spending time at their restaurant.

 

The smell of artichokes steaming in the kitchen, me as impatient as ever for them to finish.  My dad and I arguing over who would eat Grandma’s artichoke since she never really liked them.  I remember sharing a bowl of grapes with my grandma, Papa would usually note with excitement that the grapes came from Chile.

 

The sound of the green oval plate being set on the counter, slices of avocado and tomatoes spread across it, topped with just the right amount of olive oil and salt. Toasted bread on the side.  She made this plate for me for more than 20 years.  Even when tasks became difficult, she insisted on preparing the dish for me.  On my last night with Grandma I had a plate of tomatoes and it was one of the last things that I told her about. Grandma, it’ll never taste as good without you, but it will be one way that I’ll always remember you.

 

I spent some of my last moments with grandma looking at the family pictures with her. It’s something we have been doing together since the moments when I could finally drag the photo album off of the shelf and bring it to her. During her last days, the photos would bring a smile to her face.

 

I can still hear the sound of my grandma’s voice. I can hear the way she would always call for my papa when he was in the other room, or did something she didn’t approve of.  I can hear her calling me princessa and telling me that she loves me.  I can still hear the sound of her large gold pendant she used to always wear, everyday. The sound of it sliding across its long chain as my grandma always kept busy cleaning and organizing.  And I can still hear her final breaths that lead her to peace.

 

As independent and strong as my grandma was, she also knew that she was not alone. She had family to help and support her, and most of all, she had her husband, my papa, by her side. No matter how difficult things became, or how tired he was or how poor his health was he was always there by her side. Papa, I want to thank you for having the courage, strength, love and dedication to take care of grandma and to make it possible for her to stay at home, with family, just as she had wished.  The love you two had can’t even be explained in words.  We all love you both very much and I know you want to be with her, but I told Grandma that she has share you with us and that we’ll all be taking care of you now.

 

Thank you for all of your love and all that you have taught me.  I love you and I miss you Grandma. Ciao.


Rolling grape leaves at the restaurant with Grandma.

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