A story of love and loss

Contrary to the implications of the title, this won’t be a story chronicling a love between two people. Rather, this will be a tale of two separate and distinct lives, of two people, and their only connection is me. They do not know each other, and they probably never will. One is my Grandma, the other is my “Grama” Gwen.

My Grandma was in a lot of pain for months, and doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. They didn’t know the cause of her pain, so instead, they continued to prescribe pain medicine after pain medicine; they weren’t treating the cause of her pain.  She bounced from specialist to specialist, and I tried to stay as supportive and encouraging as possible, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was beyond frustrating. I want to be a doctor myself one day, so when I heard that they couldn’t find the cause of her pain, I became discouraged. I hate to admit it, but I felt like they saw an old woman who has lived a beautiful life . . . I felt like they were content with keeping her medicated while never getting to the root of her pain. Someone up in that big blue sky heard my cries of frustration, and I started to hear plans of scans and biopsies; they were finally going to figure out what was going on, and in the pit of my stomach, I already knew what it was: cancer.

How do you support a loved one who has just been diagnosed with cancer? How do you tell them that everything is going to be alright? How do you force yourself not to cry when you’re on the phone with them, because any hesitation and crack in my voice would have quickly given myself away. I stayed strong. I answered questions. I explained everything the best I could, and I researched. I researched like hell. And I felt better. I felt confident that she would be alright. My grandma had a team of experienced surgeons that had become personally invested in her success.

February 11. February 11 would be the day of her surgery, and she reminded me of that every time we spoke on the phone. I heard the familiar hesitation and crack in my Grandpa’s voice when we spoke on the phone. He was being strong for her. I was being strong for him.

February 10, I called to talk to my Grandma. “Hello?” My Grandpa had answered the phone, my Grandma was out to the pharmacy to pick up a pre-operative prescription. I wouldn’t get a chance to talk to her before her surgery, and deep within my stomach, that familiar sinking feeling grew stronger. The hesitation and crack in his voice were strong. She wasn’t there, he didn’t have to stay strong for her, but he tried so hard . . . It nearly broke my heart. We got off the phone, it was a short conversation. Well wishes and prayers.

I continued with my day. I went to class that evening, and I found myself on the verge of tears, salt stinging my eyes, blinking it away in the hopes that my pride could outweigh my fears.

I came home that night to an empty home. I live with a family . . . Judy and Sam are married, their mother Gwen lives below me with her caretaker, Pamela. The day I moved in last summer, Gwen had written me a note welcoming me to her home, signed “Grama Gwen, 91 1/2 years old.”

“Grama” Gwen was not in a lot of pain, she was old, but she wasn’t dying. She would get in her walker and go out into the backyard to play fetch with her miniature poodle, a rescue, named “Papo.” She believed that he was the reincarnation of her husband who passed away years ago.

The other day, Papo came out to greet me when I came home, and I carried him into her room. She showed me her newest drawings, she really is an artist, and she shared another story of her past. She was happy, she was smiling and talking to me and everything was fine . . .

This is a tale of two separate and distinct lives, of two people, and their only connection is me. They do not know each other, and they probably never will. One is my grandma, recovering from a surgery designed to rid her of cancer, the other is dying from congestive heart failure in a hospital room surrounded by her family and friends.

Papo is in bed with me as I type these words, and he has not stopped looking at the door since Gwen left last night. She was picked up by the paramedics while I was in class. She can no longer breathe on her own, and uses a machine in order to assist her. Her granddaughters are on their way to the hospital. One lives in Lake Tahoe, California, the other lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. My heart is heavy, yet my heart is happy.

Thank you for giving me so much to look forward to, “Grama” Gwen. Thank you for fighting to stay with us, Grandma.

A.A.G.

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