She wants the ‘switch’ turned off. Her tired body is sitting in a chair facing the window, no fancy cords attached to her body like some kind of robotic machine, aside from a simple nasal breathing tube.
In front of her sits cups of water, juice and meal replacements all half full – or perhaps half empty. She hasn’t eaten in two weeks.
Stubbornness runs in this family of ours and she is no exception.
Why can’t the switch be turned off? It’s a theoretical question of course. We don’t yet live in a world where we can hold our loved one’s hands and say “I see your pain, you can let go now” and trust that will be the case. Instead, she sits and she waits.
When I was knee high, I knew her as the queen of candy. We’d head up to the local dairy and fill white paper bags with an assortment of sugar laden treats. Back at her home, a large Kowhai tree took residence in the yard, filled with life and colour. We’d ride around in homemade go-carts constructed out of whatever could be found in the garage, racing them up and down the long driveway.
But I’m pretty sure I was more the quiet observer, rather than sitting in the drivers seat. I like that – observing or as now as I see it – holding space. I get filled with so much joy when I sit next to a stranger and eventually have them strike up a conversation. Sometimes it’s surface deep but mostly, and this is my favourite, we go further still. No judgment, just love and a strong curiosity that I hope never leaves my being.
So that’s how I find myself – observing her, hearing her words, watching his defensiveness while searching within for any of my own. She’s scared, understandably, and bored. But most of all, she just wants to be heard and perhaps even held.
Just like the small plastic doll kitted in a bright yellow outfit sitting on a nearby chair, not unlike a child.
I haven’t always been able to stand in my own energy around her. With her mind full of worries and anxieties that replay like a broken cassette tape, it’s fair to say over the past few years I’ve really struggled, raged at times even. But as I grow, the more I learn that this is less about her and more about me – how can I learn to be compassionate in a space where there doesn’t seem to be much to be found? And deeper still, what is she reflecting back to my own being?
A lot, it turns out.
So I try to make her laugh. Make pinky swears with her, tell her she’s strong, hear her and love her in her darkness. I know it’s what he would have wanted. He’s somewhere in this room too, smiling, I can tell.
“Look after one another”, I remember him saying before he packed his things and left for higher skies. And while for the longest time I thought he meant someone else, now I see in this room dappled with light and views that stretch across to the mountain, that he really means now – with her.
And that is a call that I can easily answer.
I do my best in our time together to nurture her, before kissing her forehead once, then back for a second and when a nurse smiles and asks who I am as I wipe the wet floor beneath her feet, I stand up tall and say: “I’m her granddaughter”, with a sense of pride that I’m proud to own.
My nana is not for the fainthearted – that I will admit. Strongminded like an ox, she is obsessive in her thoughts and ferocious in her words. She has been known to judge the world and those in it harshly, but I now see it as something I wished I had of spotted earlier – as an armor, a protection of sorts, perhaps from a place that took more from her than it ever gave back. And those memories of us hand in hand searching for golden treasures at the local park, the endless treats at the dinner table or our little adventures do not get erased simply because life happened and she did what she knew to get through it.
I have so much love in my heart as I sit here typing this, hoping to be the one holding her hand when for the first time in her life she simply stops; stops fighting and searching and just lets go.
I’ve seen several stories end over the past 2 years – each one while dotted with grief, unique and special in their own ways. I used to worry that the more people that I loved that left this world, the more alone I would be. But now I realise that that’s not the case; I carry a powerful soul within and I will always have a safe, wise voice to listen to and a heart to call home.
Ahhh, life. I’m so grateful for the lessons and I cannot wait for one day when I’ll be able to share them with tiny feet and tiny hands who boast tiny hearts that beat all the more for my endless love that will be theirs to forever keep.
We’re so blessed. Let’s make this ride worthwhile.
Attraversiamo, Nana. When you’re ready.