Wednesday, July 30, 2008

As Long as Mable's Able

When I was seventeen, My Grandfather had a stroke. He was sitting there, at our kitchen table, about to bite into an apple, and he fell face forward on the table. The stroke was in the Brain stem, and he fell quickly into a coma, where he stayed for two weeks. I still remember my grandmother swabbing his lips with glycerin as we visited him in the hospital. I came to visit him one day in the hospital, but our time with him had already come to an end.
My Grandmother, having to see him in that condition for the two weeks before his death, always said that
she hoped that she wouldn't die of a stroke.
She lived another good 19 years beyond him, and outlived another husband to boot.
She was "strong like an ox," just like her own mother who lived to be 90.
With this in mind, She expected to live a long, strong life, and that she did.
Referring to herself, she'd say,
"As long as Mable's able."
That pretty much summed up her philosophy.

But as fate would have it, what dis-abled Mable was a stroke-
in the right hemisphere of her brain.
But it was also A Stroke of Fate.

We all thought it was ironic, at first or perhaps a cruel joke. But what we realized, during her last two weeks, was that, as My Brother Paul so aptly put, in her Eulogy,
"When God Gave Grandma A stroke, he gave us all a gift."
A gift?
It was the very thing she had hoped would not be her fate. She was a woman of dignity, and to be left in a state, where she was unable to care for even her own personal needs, must have been a blow.

But, as is very often the case, what's best for us, is not always what We think is best.
What we all learned-- all 14 grandchildren, and 30 great grandchildren, was that the two weeks we did get to spend with Grandma were precious. Not just because they were the last weeks, and we were savoring them as such, but also because the time we each spent with her, was a testament to the individual dynamic we each shared with her.

When I sat with her, and held her hand, she knew it was me, when she felt the bitten fingernails on my hands. It immediately brought me back to the times, both as a child and as an adult, when, we'd sit together, and she'd hold my hand. She'd run her thumb over my bitten thumb nail, and say, "That's ca-ca." In other words: Don't bite your nails.

When my brother Mike held her hand, she felt the ring of my grandfather's that she'd given him. They shared, at that moment, a connection, a memory of a special occasion, when she gave him something that represented my grandfather had worn and cherished.

When my sister Debbie held her hand, she felt the ring she had bought my sister, as a token, for taking her on her errands. She never drove, and so had to depend on others throughout her life to take her on errands. She was grateful for this, and my sister was glad to be of service,

Each one of us shared with her, an almost magical experience of the unspoken.
Grandma was unable to communicate with words, but with her touch, she got her point across, in the most eloquent of ways. She was a woman of little formal education, but she educated us in those two weeks, in a more profound way than even the most educated of her grandchildren could have even attempted.

When you'd ask my grandmother if she liked something or someone, she'd often respond, waving her hand back and forth in her Italian American Way, "Mezzo, Mezzo."
I always understood it to mean "half and half'"
Indeed, Grandma's stroke of fate was "Mezzo, Mezzo",but even as, ironically, she watched Highway to Heaven at the moment of her stroke, It was in that moment that we were all given an opportunity to become Grandma's other half, holding her hand to communicate with her and interpret her needs, and with that union we became "Tutto," whole.

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