While I was in the Peace Corps, I accidentally created a character of my grandmother. I took stories of our family get togethers and blew them out of proportion while talking about her. You see, we always had a few bottles of wine when we’d get together for a holiday or birthday and the story turned into grandma having a case of wine for herself. She’d turn into a rambunctious old lady and we’d eventually have to cut her off. The story would always end with me yelling at her, “No more wine, grandma.” It got a lot of laughs and the laughs turned it into more than it ever really was.
But the time for me to tell grandma that she’s done drinking has ended. Yesterday, March 15, 2013, grandma Ferraro passed away.
Her life is a story I’ve been working on telling for a while and I never seem to know where to start. I want to start at the beginning and tell where she was born back on June 16, 1938 but it feels too sterile. I want to say her beginning came earlier with her ancestors coming to America. I want to think that maybe her story really begins later in life when she met George Ferraro who she ended up marrying and having four children with. Maybe her story really begins with her grandchildren, of which she had nine. But I really don’t know where to start. All I really know is how to end the story.
Around the same time I left for Ukraine, Grandma was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a rare form, I’m told. It pained me to think that she’d have to fight it and I’d not be around if anything happened. But life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, as they say. Each week, when I talked to my parents, I asked about Grandma and heard about her ups and downs and new treatments. It was a slow and steady decline. Towards the end, I wondered if I’d be home in time to say my goodbyes.
Grandma was a fighter. She had already fought breast cancer and won. I knew she could hold her own, but she was fighting a losing battle. When she beat breast cancer, she was much younger. She had the strength to fight as long as she needed to. The leukemia was a stronger breed than the breast cancer had been and Grandma was much older. In the back of our minds, we knew it’d be her end.
In November, when I surprised my family on Thanksgiving, Grandma was the first to see me. She was tired, but still full of energy and she was happy. Since that time, her decline increase its pace. She was taken off the special treatments because it was causing more harm than good. Her blood transfusions increased in frequency and decreased in effectiveness. Each week, there was a stark contrast from the earlier week.
In early February, I went and spent a day with Grandma just talking. She told me how she had remembered more and more about the old days. Memories would come out of no where. She’d tell them to me and I’d listen. Some I had heard before, some not. She seemed healthy that day when I left.
A few weeks later, I visited again and I knew the time was near. Her body was breaking down quickly and it scared us. “She was fine when I saw her last,” we’d say to each other. “I can believe how weak she looks.”
After that visit, I saw Grandma at least once a week until now. I’d visit for my sake and to take friends and family to visit her and say their goodbyes. It was hard knowing that the time was near, but it felt good knowing that Grandma could say her goodbyes to everyone that could make it. By the time had come, she had seen nearly everyone that we figured she’d want to see. Only one or two hadn’t been able to come in time. That comforts me.
On Thursday, my mom called me at work to let me know that Grandma had taken a turn for the worse. Mom had stayed with Grandma for the week to take care of her while Hospice wasn’t around. She had told me that each day was worse that the previous but I wasn’t ready for what I faced Thursday night. Grandma had been moved to a hospital style bed near the windows in the living room. She was weak, frail, and not able to open her eyes. She couldn’t speak but she could hear. For the first time, I realized what her sickness had done to her. It hurt to look at her. She was in pain. Everyone in the room was in pain.
I stayed for a bit on Thursday. Before I left, I kissed her forehead and said, “Goodbye, Grandma.” At that moment, I knew I wasn’t saying goodbye. I was saying goodbye. The French have two goodbyes in their language, “au revoir” means “until I see you again” and “adieu” means “goodbye, with finality”. This was, adieu.
She passed away five hours later.
Someday, I’ll have more stories about Grandma. I’ll tell her life from the beginning until the end and you’ll understand what a great woman she was. But today, all I know is the end though I desperately try to remember anything but.