At Grandma’s, Time Stood Still
As I recovered from each chemo, I often wondered what it would be like if my Grandma was still alive.
I imagined myself staying at her house or, rather, a one bedroom apartment in the city. A fifth floor walk up, I used to run up the stairs, sometimes taking two at a time.
Breathless, I would ring the doorbell, a black toggle switch on a square white plate. I would hear the tinkle of the peep hole cover and in the next second the door would open and my Grandma would have the brightest smile on her face, her eyes lit up, her arms outstretched inviting for a hug.
I would bury myself in her soft embrace as she would kiss my forehead with a loud smooch and usher me inside, into the tiny hallway.
It was so small, she had to step into the living room so I could take my shoes off and hang my coat.
I would then follow her in the living room, my nose hungrily inhaling that day’s lunch smell.
As I struggled with nausea during my chemotherapy and stood on the cold tiles of my kitchen, I imagined instead sitting at my Grandma’s kitchen table, watching her mash cooked vegetables through a sieve, pouring cream in and creating the best svickova I have ever eaten in my life.I would eat eight, even ten dumplings instead of my customary three or four.
Her little kitchen got steamy in the winter and cover the window panes with condensation. When I was a child, she used to let me draw with my fingers in the watery layer on the glass.
When I lay in bed, the chemo fever racking my body and making me dizzy, I imagined instead sitting on the couch at my Grandma’s living room. She would be across the coffee table in her arm chair, talking, sipping on her afternoon coffee.
When I was little, we would play cards or battleship for hours. She would listen to my stories about school, my friends and my teachers and always took my side.
When I struggled to take my dog out because the post chemo vertigo almost knocked me down, I imagined instead walking down the street, my Grandma holding my ten year-old hand. I loved going shopping with her because we never rushed. She was a little heavier and sometimes pressed my whole forearm against her soft body as she waddled on with me like a stick figure attached to her hip.
When I lay in my bed, crying because I felt the chemo would never end, I imagined instead sitting on my Grandma’s lap, her arms folded around me, my head on her chest, sobbing. She never minded if I made her shirt wet with my tears or if my nose ran. She would hold me until I felt better. Until my tears dried out.
When I stood in the bathroom, looking at my bald head and circles under my lash less eyes, I imagined instead standing by the bathroom sink with my Grandma fixing my hair. She would wet the comb under the running faucet, holding bobby pins in her mouth, comb my hair and twist the strands in the style of a 40’s movie star.
When I made hot tea in the morning, several days after chemo, and tried to work for a few hours, I imagined instead making tea with milk with my Grandma. We would stand at the kitchen counter and she would slowly pour the milk in the darkly brewed tea. The milk bubbled up from the bottom of the mug and we called it making clouds. She always waited for me to come to the kitchen to make clouds.
When I tried to fall asleep, scared of what I would feel like in the morning after chemo, I imagined instead falling asleep at my Grandma’s house with her sitting on the edge of my bed, caressing my hair and singing a lullaby.
Time at my Grandma’s house stood still. It was an oasis of calm and unconditional love.
It was a meadow in the middle of a scary forest.
It was a calm segment of an ocean.
It was a slice of paradise with no deadlines and no demands.
Her wise words always pulled me from whatever abyss I was falling in.
My Grandma died suddenly, in January, 2001. I received a postcard dated with the exact same date. She walked to the post office to send it off and died later that day. It was one of the worst times of my life.
I wrote a poem about her a little later, when the pain subsided a little:
You always patiently listened
Even when you were tired
When my eyes with tears glistened
Or when my heart was on fire
You never said: “Just wait a minute.”
You never left me lonely and sad
You never said; “Go away, I mean it.”
You never even got mad.
I always felt love coming from you
I always felt incredible warmth and feeling
Everything you said rung the truth
Talking to you I could feel my soul healing.
I wish you were still with me here
I wish I could hear your voice
I wish I could hear you call me “Dear…”
Living without you was not my choice.
I miss you more than you can ever know
I think about you every day
You were my hope’s bright glow
My life stopped when you went away.
Reading your past letters makes me strong
In this difficult time of my life
Falling asleep I try to hear your lullaby song
And sorrow pierces my heart like a knife.