Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Still Standing

Well, it's been a week.

C, the dear friend I've had longer than any other in my life, is a doctor in the small town where we grew up. She moved back there about a year or two ago and has seen my mom and my grandma in a professional capacity. I asked her a while back to call me and tell me to come home if she ever thought I might miss the chance to say goodbye to my grandma, who is also my hero and like a mother to me. Early last week she gently let me know it was time to come home while my grandma would still likely know I was there.

I always knew, even at 10 when we were in fift grade, that C would be a doctor, and I warned her even then that I'd probably call her for lots of help, but I don't think either of us realized how far I'd take it. So far she hasn't charged me a dime, but I know I owe her more than I can repay.

Before I talked to C, I was struggling with the rooster, worrying, feeling sorry for myself, mired in muck. But once I heard that my grandma needed me, I got my self-pitying ass in gear. I booked two of the most expensive domestic flights you ever saw for Peaches and myself, bumming hard that in the last two months Peaches stopped being a free lap baby and Airbus went belly up (goodbye $75 flights), and I tossed the necessities in carryon bags.

Not everything in the whole wide world can be about the rooster. Life goes on, autism or no. Other priorities also need their due. I made my plans in such a way to minimize the disruption to the rooster's routine, and I worked hard to make sure he'd have what he needed in my absence, but I had to go, and I went.

And so I have been out of touch for a while, having a smidge of Internet withdrawal a couple of times. A few of you wrote to find out how I've been, and I will be honest: I've been better. But I've also been worse. It's been complicated. It's been... life.

My grandma is an amazing woman, a crucial force in my upbringing, and I cherish her. She stayed strong and well into her 80s, until after the passing of my beloved grandpa. The day before I arrived back East, she had slipped into a semi-coma, she was having "episodes" and needed medication, restraints. The day Peaches and I arrived, I don't know what changed or why, but I do believe our visit could have helped her some. All I know is that she was happy to see us, she was up and dressed when we arrived, and she wanted to go out for Chinese food. We put her in the car, drove about a block down the road, and watched as she chowed down on shrimp in lobster sauce.

My grandma has diabetes and arthritis, but that's not new, she's had those a long time. My grandma had breast cancer several years ago. She had a flesh eating bacteria that nearly cost her an arm after that. Recently, my grandma has also developed congestive heart failure and some dementia. I understand all this, but it often feels so incongrous with my grandma as I know her... it just seems impossible is all. But it seemed especially impossible as we sat around and had a perfectly normal conversation. Sure I could see how much she'd aged since I saw her last summer, and I know all that she's dealing with right now. I know I don't get to keep my grandma forever. But as we visited, she commented how much Peaches looks like "that actress" from 24, and she told us how happy she felt to see us, that we were blessings. I watched her shake her head, staring at Peaches, repeating, "I've been so blessed, more than I ever expected." We reminisced. She remembered coming to be with me in the delivery room when the Rooster was born (she stayed for all 32 hours of my labor), and shortly after Peaches was born, too. At the end of our visit, I took a picture of Peaches and Grandma together, and my mother took one of me with them as well.

My husband called me in Virginia several times to let the Rooster talk, because the Rooster really missed us, and he felt sad. I talked to him and told him I loved him. I didn't freak out about it; I remained focused on my grandma.

Peaches travels about as easily as any two-year-old ought to be expected, but getting to my crazy hometown ain't easy... it's a schlep from our school (so that we could drop the Rooster off there Friday morning as usual) to the airport, an hour flight to Chicago, an hour layover (that turned into a 4 hour layover on the way out due to weather), another 4 hour flight, and then a 75 mile drive across the state line. We left our house at 7 a.m. Friday morning and got in to grandma's house at nearly 2 a.m. Saturday. Walking through her empty house, knowing I would sleep in her bed while she slept in a hospital bed, knowing my grandpa had been absent from the same bed for several years now, nearly did me in, and I wandered in circles around the home of my childhood, weeping, opening and closing doors and drawers, coming to grips.

We spent Saturday and Sunday visiting Grandma and spending time with my mom and stepdad, as well as C, and stopping in to see my high school boyfriend whose 8 year old son has issues not so very different from the Rooster's. (He wisely told me not to compare, though. "You can spend your whole life looking at other kids for a match, and you'll never find one. Your son is your son, and there is no one else like him. You just have to let him be who he is, and wait and see who he becomes.")

Peaches didn't sleep much in Virginia, disrupted in her routines, and so I didn't either. Together we stayed up past midnight every night.

Then, we got up at 4 a.m. Monday morning so we could arrive back in Cali in time to pick up the rooster from school at the end of the day. I knew that I'd said a goodbye to my grandma that might not happen again, and that going home might not ever be the same, but I am awash in gratitude that I had the opportunity to spend that time talking to my grandma and telling her I love her with all my heart. She said, "Maybe next time I'll come see you in California."

We got home yesterday, and when I called today for update, things had turned bad again. More problems, more drugs, more drastic measures and nighttime sitters in her room. My mom and stepdad have their hands very full, their long days punctuated with decisions, challenges, emotional ups and downs. C tells us that my grandma might have more good days again, and she might not. I tell her how happy I am that she called me when she did.

My grandma gave me gifts while I was there. She gave me her good days, her smiles, her love, her time, her words. Going there also showed me that I could; it is a gift to know that I could do something other than worry about autism and the world could keep spinning.

I told my husband that I still need my grandma so much, and he said that he knows what I mean, but that I don't need her the way that I think I do. He tells me I'm all grown up now, and that is largely thanks to her. He thinks she did a good job with me, and that I have learned how to not just take care of myself, but to be a good mom. I hope he's right.

I have never had the opportunity to tell my grandma about the rooster's diagnosis. To have reached the point in life that I don't share my troubles with my grandma boggles my mind. She has lifted me through more than 30 years of tough times, and cheered me through an equal number of happinesses. I guess she's helped me so much, that I will always be able to call upon the help and still feel it now when I need it. My favorite thing my grandma says is, "I'm so proud of you, I could bust." I think of that all the time, and I know she would tell it to me now if she knew how hard I'm trying to help the rooster. And I know she would say it to him, too.

Oh, how I wish I could hear that, other than in my mind and heart.
But for now, I guess that has to be enough.


Anonymous said...

Oh, sweetie, I'm sending warm thoughts your way and lots of hugs. What a tough thing to be facing.

KAL said...

I've been here reading for some time. This post really touched me. You write so beautifully, your grandmother would be proud I think. I know this must be a terribly hard time for you and I'm sorry.

Niksmom said...

Sending you hugs and warm thoughts (through my weepy tears).