I recently had the opportunity to visit my 93-year-old paternal grandmother. Earlier this summer, she caught pneumonia and didn't seek medical help because she assumed that she was just dying, which I guess is something you assume when you are 93 years old and start feeling really shitty. She did eventually go to the hospital, where she was diagnosed and successfully treated. So the old girl kicks on.
We hadn't seen each other in many years, and we are not close, but still, there is that familial connection, that blood bond, that made me want to see her before she died, to tell her I love her and that she was a good grandmother.
During our visit, she spoke matter-of-factly about her impending demise, which is an awkward thing to experience, as most of us would rather not address this particular issue until that creepy motherfucker is directly in front of us, holding a dance card with our name printed on it, in bold, undeniable.
I looked into my grandmother's eyes, the left clouded by cataracts, and we spoke of aging, and the way our bodies rebel against us. We spoke of the weather and my job and places we've traveled to. We also spoke of comparative mathematics, which is a field that she was inspired to investigate by her spirit guides. (Alas, it is doubtful that her binders full of notes will ever make it to textbook-form. Did you know that pi is no longer 3.14159 etc., but the square root of 10? I don't know what she was talking about, either, but her cloudy old eyes lit up when I mentioned it after noticing the labels on the binders.) She told me about the healing powers of placing certain crystals (these were arranged on a TV tray in front of her) on ailing body parts. We ate meringue cookies.
My parents let my grandmother take me to church once and she gave me an orange to eat. I remember the orange but not the sermon. (My grandmother once beat my father with a broom because he refused to go to church one Sunday.) I only went that one time.
My grandmother took me to the zoo and we made a book together afterwards about what we did and what we saw. She drew the pictures and I coloured half of them in before growing bored. (I was never crafty.)
My grandmother dyed her hair bright red, and she took me and my brother to the beach and wore mismatched socks, which I found embarrassing.
My grandparents' apartment was full of crystals and coloured rocks and minerals, and one day I got to polish my own gemstone.
There were always bowls of trail mix and dried fruit on the coffee table, and we went to the Shanghai Restaurant for Chinese food on special occasions. We went there for my Grade 8 graduation.
As a daughter and granddaughter and aunt and niece whose family members are not all within easy driving distance, I have come to realize the importance of those telephone calls about school and the weather, the birthday cards sent in the mail, the occasional emails, the token Christmas gifts. They say to the recipient: I am thinking of you and hoping you are well, and it doesn't matter that I rarely get to see you, because you are my family and my relationship with you has played a role in shaping the person I have become. Because of that (and sometimes in spite of that), I thank you.
I hugged my grandmother goodbye for what is assuredly the last time, and as I left the room, she said, "I'll see you in heaven," and I mumbled some sort of assent. (When the whisper of death is upon someone you love, it's sort of rude to disagree with their version of the afterlife.) Despite the presence of that bleak old specter, our visit was sweet rather than morbid, and when I left I was a little teary and sad, but glad that I had made the effort.
Making the effort is all we can do, really. Make the effort to be kind to others, and make the effort to do the things and spend time with the people that make us happy. It's hard sometimes. It's so much easier to let life slip by. But I promise you that the effort is worth it. Because all the lights go out eventually, and it would be such a shame to live your entire life in the dark.