holding hands

I’d come home for six weeks that summer of 2005, during the short break I had between spring semester and the summer semester in which I was teaching, for really one reason.

It wasn’t the typical “I will, in fact, eat you out of house, grocery budget, and freezer-stored protein having only consumed cheap carbohydrates affordable on a college student’s budget during the past four months” or the inevitable “I have so much laundry…do I actually own more than one sheet set?!?” reasoning.

It was my Mimi.

In February, she got really sick. REALLY sick. She just didn’t really wake up one day. My grandpa, after spending nigh on to 50 years waking up next to her, couldn’t nudge her lucid. It was then we knew it was serious.

I was hundreds of miles away when it all happened, still in coursework for my PhD and I’d never felt so helpless. There was talk of a stroke, and then an obnoxious cell phone silence all day because Mom didn’t charge her phone before she ran to follow her to the hospital. I cursed her for it. She obviously didn’t plan on having a family emergency, but I don’t think she’s ever been without a charged phone since.

The talk of stroke soon turned to talk of some weird electrolyte imbalance and her digestive system shutting down. I didn’t even know digestive systems DID that. They put her on a series of drugs, one of which basically turned into an extended acid trip. She didn’t know Mom, or my aunt, or my wheelchair-bound grandpa when he could visit. It was not good.

Over the course of several weeks in the hospital, they regulated her meds, got her digestive system up and cranking, and so it seemed like she was on the road to recovery. Mom and the Aunt took care of everything–taking care of grandpa, who was (no offense, but it’s pretty standard in this generation) beyond useless when it came to caring for himself. Mimi had done it all forever. She cooked, she cleaned, she kept up with all of us, she guilt-tripped us into submission as any mom and grandma does–she managed to keep the world together with a coupon book, a smile, and love from her very big heart. I still don’t know how she did it.

Suddenly, my already overworked Mom and working-mom-to-teenagers Aunt were primary caregivers not only for grandpa, who was routinely freaking out with the stress of his bride being in the hospital, but for Mimi, who needed them there too.

So, coming home, I was singleminded in my purpose: to relieve the nearly-broken Mom and Aunt from some of the demands. I could do laundry, I could go grocery shopping, or…as it turned out…I could sit with Mimi. Because, as healthy as Mimi might have gotten physically, she’d seemed to lose her Miminess. She couldn’t walk. She could hardly sit up on her own. The illness just drained her of all of her independence, an independence that had been her crowning characteristic my whole life.

Now, she struggled for words. She wasn’t sure where she was or how much time had passed. She couldn’t even worry about her most basic needs. Once she was discharged to a rehabilitation center, ostensibly to get her ready to return home, she seemed to pull further into herself.

When I got home, though, she was still my Mimi.

Frail, yes. Confused, sure. But her hands, so warm and willing to hold mine, were my Mimi’s. Her eyes, amid the clouds of fear and confusion and pain, still held that spark of love that I knew and could claim as my own. Mimi was more than my grandma. The longer I spent with her that summer, and the longer I’ve been without her, the more I realized that Mimi was, in many ways, me. Stubborn. Loving. Demanding in good and bad ways. Smart. Empathetic. Afraid.

I decided that my job that summer was to take care of her in any way that I could.

I decided that I would be her handholder for as long as she needed me. It was my calling. Whatever, whenever, however. It was me and her–in the fight for as long as the fight was there to be fought.

It was the best decision I made that summer, and the fount of some of my best, most painful, and most faith-increasing moments.

One Response to “holding hands”

  1. Oh wow. What a wonderful thing you did for your whole family. How meaningful that must have been to her too….

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