For Elizabeth

I flew down to Fresno yesterday morning and back again on the five thirty pm flight.  It was four hours sitting in airports, five hours sitting on planes, for four and a half hours at the hospital to sit next to my grandmother’s bed.

 I love my grandmother.  She’s 96 and she had a stroke last week that’s taken away her ability to speak or swallow, and use the muscles on her right side.   Did I mention that I love this grandma?  Dearly, dearly, dearly?

I called Surfer Ty once I’d landed in Fresno and was climbing into a rental car to tell him I’d arrived safely.  I told him I dreaded going to the hospital.  I don’t like hospitals.  They give me the creeps.  My dad spent a lot of time there and my former husband did, too.  I’m not very nice when people are sick.  I’m scared.  And not patient.  I don’t like being a nurse, don’t want to be a nurse, but I needed to see Grandma.   I needed her to know that I love her and worry about her and want her to recover.

At 96 there isn’t always a lot of talk about recovery, or rehabilitation.  People get old.  They die.

But not my grandma.  Not yet.  This grandma owns such serious real estate in my heart.  If you carved my heart up, sometimes I think she’d have at least half.  I know that sounds funny but she was one of those people that anchored me to the universe when I wasn’t sure I belonged here.  She made me feel important and loved my entire life even if she wasn’t the huggy, cozy kind of grandma.  No, Grandma Lyles is a rock.  My rock.

When I was a little girl I loved staying at my grandmother’s house because she had so many books.  Grandma worked–headed up a huge construction company and remained Chairwoman of the Board long past the age most men retire–and when she’d be at the office, Grandma’s housekeeper watched us.  Grandma’s housekeeper made me eat bologna sandwiches (I did not, and do not, like them) and take naps (I did not like them, either) but Grandma said I could take books with me into the bedroom and read them during naptime instead of sleeping.  I liked that.

When Grandma was home, she never made me bologna sandwiches.  She made me BLT’s and I loved those.  Especially with ketchup.  Grandma also always had marshmallows in her big glass jars, and at night, we always had a bowl of ice cream.  She’d have 4 or 5 cartons at one time in her freezer–chocolate chip, rocky road, fudge swirl, strawberry, vanilla–and we could have whatever flavor we wanted.  We could even have scoops of different flavors.

This grandma–her name is Elizabeth–was the first woman to head the California Construction Assocation.  She was the first woman to head a California construction company.  Back in college, she got a degree in French and Physical Education.  This is before most women took PE.  This is a woman ahead of her time and fearless, absolutely fearless, because even when she was worried or afraid–and I know there were times she had to have been–she still acted.  She still moved forward.  She never gave up.

Yesterday Grandma couldn’t talk.  She just looked at me. 

And looking at her, my heart hurt because it loves this person so much and I didn’t want to cry but I couldn’t help it.  I’d lean forward and kiss her, and stroke her hair and tell her, I love you, Grandma. 

At three thirty I had to start thinking about heading back to the Fresno airport and returning my rental car since my flight boarded at 4:55.  She’d been dozing and when she opened her eyes once, I leaned over and told her, I have to go soon, Grandma.  I have to go back to Seattle.  And she looked at me so long, looked at me for forever, and her eyes were watery and it hurt even more.  She can’t say what she wants, thinks, needs, feels.  She can’t ask for a nurse to lift her.  Can’t say she’s choking.  Can’t say goodbye Jane, or are you going to come back again, Jane?

I’m glad I flew down to Fresno.  I’m so very glad I spent time at her bed.  And even happier to see she has such good care.  That she has frequent visitors and wonderful nurses aids my uncles and mom have hired to sit with her during the day around the clock to make sure she is comfortable and able to breathe.  I know this, too:  when I am 96 I hope I am loved as much as she is.  I hope there will be children and grandchildren who will love me as dearly as she is loved.  I hope there will be caregivers who will rub my back, and massage my feet, and kiss me goodbye when they leave.

I know my grandmother has had a great life.  I just want there to be more.

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