For Grace

My grandmother is dying.  This isn't new news, but rather old news that is suddenly springing into center stage in the weird, nebulous thing that is my awareness.  Grace Sha is currently 92 years old, and has lived a long and fulfilling life.  I think.  We've lived in close proximity for most of my childhood, but I never got around to resolving the language barrier.  Our relationship, more than anything, was based on the simple act of her feeding me.  When I was younger, she would prepare small meals that I could heat up on my own when I got home from school.  On the weekends, the family would always get together and eat dinner at some Chinese restaurant or other.  These weren't great dinners, full of laughter and storytelling.  If anything, they were somewhat difficult, since my grandparents couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Mandarin.  After I moved across the country, it became something of an annoyance to have to do these dinners.  I'd only have a few days in California per visit, and any number of friends that I'd rather see - friends that I'd grown up with, who were funny, full of life, and where I'd almost certainly have a great time.  But I would still always go to the dinners - often eating in relative silence after the initial bits of conversation dried up.  Because that's how she would tell me that she loved me, and I think you have to be a very special type of a shit to reject your grandmother's love, no matter how irritating it may be.

In the last several years, she has had a number of health issues that have resulted in periodic trips to the hospital, from which she almost always bounces back.  A few weeks ago, it came to light that she most likely has pancreatic cancer.  We can't be sure, because testing would involve surgery, and Dad and his siblings have basically decided that even if they knew what it was, it wouldn't make any difference. No one is going give the 92yr old woman chemo.  I cracked a little when I was speaking about it with my cousin Eric.  I vaguely knew that she was going to die at that time.  But it was still a "maybe later" type of thing, like the other trips to the ICU.  Cancer could mean months, but it could also mean years.  Who knows?  Not the doctors, and certainly none of us.

I saw her this morning.  We spoke for a few hours.  Not in any meaningful way, but in the Groundhog's Day type of endlessly looping conversation that we've developed ever since she started showing signs of Alzheimer's.  Her short-term memory is hopelessly fried.  She forgets everything that we've discussed within roughly 45 seconds, so just happily asks the same thing she did before.  In a way, it's a minor blessing, as it allows me to have prolonged conversations with her, even if they just go over the same content over and over and over again.  I can say whatever I want, because if I fuck up what I meant to say, who cares?  She'll forget and I'll be able to try again in another 45 seconds.

This morning's conversation revolved around two topics.  One - How old are you and are you getting married soon?  Do you have a girlfriend?  Oh, that's right, she's very beautiful.  Where is the wedding happening?  If you have it in New York, that's OK, I will come and be there.  Two - What do you want to eat?  No really, what's your favorite?  I know New York has everything.  What would you like to take back with you?  I'm sorry, I'm a little tired today.  Tomorrow, I'll take you to your favorite restaurant.  We had both of these conversations over, and over, and over again.

Fast forward many hours later.  I am sitting at my family's dining table, eating a pizza and talking with my Dad.  We are discussing plans for tomorrow, and I casually bring up that she wanted to get dinner.  And then it occurs to me that she can't be out of bed for more than thirty minutes a day without becoming tired.  She hardly eats anything anymore, which is why she doesn't have the strength to get up and about.  We're not going to have dinner tomorrow, and I feel stupid for asking about it.  And I am now incredibly aware of the fact that I will likely never go to one of those dinners with my grandmother ever again, barring some kind of miracle.  And I can't actually remember when the last time we went to dinner was.  Did I enjoy it?  Was I properly grateful?  Or was I just being a prick, checking my phone and thinking of other places that I could be?  Because that may never, ever happen again.  And I literally don't even know what the words are to tell her how sad this makes me, and how much I will miss her when she's gone.


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