Today is Veteran’s Day and I want to add my words of gratitude to all those who have served in the armed forces, especially my cousins, and my Dad.
My dad didn’t talk too much about his experience in the army when I was younger, and apart from my awareness that he had served, I really didn’t know much about his experience. He speaks more about it lately. He served in his early twenties, in the army. According to my dad, it was good experience for him because it helped give him discipline and focus and provided him a career direction in the aerospace industry. My dad’s Spanish-speaking skills also gave him the opportunity to be stationed in Panama–an experience he recounts fondly. He is proud of his service, as he should be. And although our family may not have recognized this day and celebrated with my dad in the past, today I want to say thank you Dad, and let you know that we are proud of you too.
This week I again went to visit my grandmother during my lunch hour, although it wasn’t to gather more research for my Historias page. This time I went to visit my grandmother for something more serious, but necessary. My grandmother is 97 years-old. She is feisty, and independent, and grows more stubborn each passing year. She insists on living on her own, in the same house she has lived in for over 50 years. She continuously rejects any offers from her children to go and live with them. She would rather live in her own house, on her own terms, rejecting her children’s offers to clean her house, weed the yard and do any needed repairs. Plumbers, handyman, electricians have all had the front door slammed in their face as my grandmother turns them away when they are summoned by my parents to go to the house for necessary maintenance. In her mind, my grandmother, the one who sewed clothes, cooked meals, tended to a garden and upholstered her furniture– in her own mind she is still capable of doing all of these things, on her own. In truth, and in fact, she is not.
This week, when I arrived at my grandmother’s I was greeted with the same cry I usually receive, “Que Milagro!” Never mind that I have been a regular weekly visitor lately. It’s still a miracle when I go to see her. Then she always asks for the children. “How are my Diego, and Nico? What about that Erica?” I don’t bring them often enough, even though I know she would love to see them. She can’t stop beaming when they are around. Luckily, my kids love her too. Diego will throw his arms around her neck, bringing me great distress that he might break her. Nico approaches her shyly at first but then hugs her warmly. Erica, my step-daughter, is not blood related to my grandmother. Still, Erica is content to sit with my grandmother and hold her hand. Erica, who deeply misses her own grandmother since she died two years ago, once told me, “Diana, I love your Grandmother. She smells like my Grandma Lupe.” But this time, my kids were not there. No. It was only me, and my mom, and my uncle. We were there to make sure my grandmother signed the Medical Durable Power of Attorney.
When my grandmother was 92 she broke her hip. My mother and grandmother were leaving a neighbor’s party when my grandmother lost her footing and fell to the ground. She refused to go to the hospital, until the next morning when she woke up and could not move without feeling excruciating pain. My mother had stayed the night with her. It was obvious that my grandmother needed help. Still, she would not be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. So my dad arrived and carried her to the car. They drove her to the doctor where she was told she had broken her hip. She needed surgery and recovery in a convalescent home. We all thought that would be the beginning of the end for her. But, she amazed everyone and made a full recovery and was sent home a couple of weeks after surgery. That was five years ago. Since then, my mother has constantly worried about what would happen to my grandmother when she needed medical care again. My mother can’t even talk to my grandmother’s doctors unless my grandmother is present or gives her consent. My grandmother has resisted all efforts to get her sign a durable medical power of attorney. We needed to do this, and the longer it was left undone, the more it caused my mother distress.
I was there to lend support, and because I know a little bit about law, I was there to explain to her why it was necessary. My grandmother did not like it at all. She was really mad. She told us that if she signed the document she would be sure to get sick. She asked why we always bothered her about this, and accused us of never visiting her unless it was to ask her to sign the document. It was terrible. It was painful for my mom, to be accused of not caring. My mother, who visits her own mother twice a week, and calls her twice a day to remind her to take her medication. The notary, who we had arranged to be present for the signing, offered an encouraging word to my grandmother saying, “It’s for your own good.” My grandmother, snapped, “How do you know what’s good for me?” My grandmother’s beautiful hazel eyes dampened with tears, as she tried to keep herself from crying, resisting the idea that she would lose control of her own medical decisions and put them into the hands of someone else.
I also fought hard to keep from crying. When I read to her the section of the document which asked if she would want extreme measures to be provided for her care, I became emotional, thinking of a day sometime in the future when my grandmother may be in need of life-saving care, but it would not be administered. When I explained what “extreme measures” meant, and how I would not want my children to see me in such condition if and when that day came, I could barely keep from crying tears for myself, and my own future adult children.
Finally, finally, we convinced her. She signed. The tension and emotion lifted in the room. The notary finished with her business and left. I started to leave and told my grandmother I would see her again soon and come for another visit next week. I told her that we would never have to discuss the document again. Next time I go to visit my grandmother it will be to talk about her childhood, her young married years, and the years raising her family and playing with her grandchildren. Soon, I will bring my kids to see her again. Diego will hug her until she nearly breaks and Erica will hold her hand, taking in her Grandmother scent.
I made another attempt at doing some more research for my “Historias” page yesterday. I went to see my grandmother and mother during my lunch break. It was a welcome respite from the gang, drug and sex abuse cases I deal with during my job in the criminal justice system. The cases which are stories that all too often do not have happy endings.
When I arrived for lunch my mother was already there. She comes at least once a week to visit my grandmother who refuses to leave the house she has lived in for longer than I can remember. My grandmother, of course was there too. She was a little disoriented, but at nearly 97 years-old, she’s entitled. She asked my mom three times, if the food my mom brought over was for her. My grandmother finally stopped fussing in the kitchen, and settled down to eat her “hot cakes and sausage” while my mom and I enjoyed our Caldo de Pollo. My grandmother began to recount some of the stories from her youth with clarity and animation. My grandmother’s stories transported me to another time, when catching flu in the year 1918 was fatal, and when the death of a spouse meant homelessness and poverty for a widow with three young children under 10. I deal with tragedy and ugliness everyday in my job, but when I view it through the lens of a young 5 year-old girl who happens to be my grandmother recounting her history, it is vivid, it is real. I listen to her story and realize that the woman she is today, the mother who has given birth to 6 children, 2 of whom did not live past one month, and another who died at 42; the grandmother who has helped to raise 9 grandchildren, but has also buried one of them; the woman whose life has given her memory filled with happiness and sadness; this woman who now has difficulty remembering how the food she is eating was put on her plate, I can’t help but think that her’s is a story with a happy ending.