This past Thursday I arrived at the nursing home to find my grandmother a semblance of her usual self. She has been hospitalized ever since, our family sitting in anxious vigil by her bedside.
On Friday morning, a compassionate emergency room physician sat toe to toe with my father and gently told him that our matriarch was dying. He warned that with her rapidly failing health there would be some difficult decisions that would have to soon be made. In that moment I instinctively knew that despite our mutual concerns for our loved one, we would be a family at odds over those decisions.
Despite my continuous struggles with my faith, when it comes to death I have always trusted that God knows best. Even as a little girl, the prospect of death did not scare me and mostly because my beloved grandmother too frequently intoned how blessed we would all be on the other side. I can still envision those promises of an eternal Eden and even now I believe that she herself trusts in that as her wakeful moments are spent beseeching her “sweet Jesus” to come for her.
Since Friday I have slept in the hospital each night and only a few times has she known who I was. Last night, after calling me by her late sister’s name for over three hours, she woke from a restful sleep and questioned what took me so long to come. I had to smile as I told her that I had never left her side and would be there until she was ready to go home. She nodded and told me how much she was hurting as she cried over and over for Jesus to come help her. She told me she was tired, and I understood that even though we might not be, that she was ready for whatever might come. I held her hand and squeezed it tight, and told her that everything would soon be fine. Then she called me by my name and asked me to scratch the hurt out of her head.
In that moment I could no longer hold back my tears. I was suddenly reminded of how, as a little girl, my grandmother would scratch my scalp whenever I felt bad, intoning that a good head scratching could take the hurt of anything away. There was overwhelming comfort as I sat on the floor between her thighs, my arms wrapped tightly around her legs as she meticulously parted my hair, gently oiled my scalp, then braided love back into the loose strands. We bonded in those quiet moments, that time together all our own as we lost ourselves in conversation. So, in the wee hours of the morning, tears streaming down my cheeks, I scratched my granny’s scalp, remembering how she had once scratched mine.
My family and I continue to sit vigil, still at odds over what should happen next. None of us want to lose her, but not all are trusting, believing instead that the most intrusive procedures might inevitably do what God will not.
There are no words for the bond between me and my grandmother. My love for her is immense, the old woman occupying every square inch of my heart. Since I was a little girl she has trusted me with secrets that I will take to my grave, where I know that she will carry mine. I have done the unimaginable for my grandmother, very few others coming close to moving my spirit as she has.
And now, when she doesn’t know that I am there or even remember my name, all that I can do is hope and pray that a plastic comb and a gentle touch will bring her a semblance of comfort and help scratch her hurt away.