“There’s nothing more we can do.”
Those words pierce your heart like a dagger. Wanting to break down, I had to stay strong for my mother — and for my grandfather, who had no idea he was about to become a widower.
Losing my grandma was my biggest heartbreak. See, my abuela molded me into the woman I am today, even until her very last breath.
Today, March 30, 2018, on what would have been my grandmother’s 90th birthday, I wanted to take a moment to reflect, and share about how much she meant to me.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have three grandparents in my life who were constants: my paternal grandmother, my maternal grandfather, and my maternal grandmother, whom this post is about. The three of them changed my life in ways that I honestly could never fully put into words. I don’t even think they knew how much they’ve positively affected me.
My grandma Dolores was like a second mother to me in every sense. I often got along better with her than my actual mom. Our bond just ran really deep. She taught me that the opinion of others should never matter. And she made me truly believe that despite any obstacles, I could do and be anything.
She spent years living with us, caring for me and my brother, and then eventually, my son. It was like giving everything up for us didn’t matter to her because we were her life. That selflessness is something she instilled in me, and for that, I am so thankful.
Her time in our home, she slept with me in my room. I remember I would always bang on her bed because she wouldn’t let me sleep with her snoring. “Abuela, abuela! Tu no me dejas dormir (you don’t let me sleep),” I would say. She’d wake up, startled, saying “Muchachita, te voy a matar! Te voy dejar durmiendo sola tanto que tu me jodes (Little girl, I’m going to kill you! I’m going to leave you sleeping alone with how much you stay bugging me.)” At the time, heck yes I was actually so annoyed, but I think back and I’m like, that was so wrong. I’d knock her out her sleep. Years later, we’d reminisce and laugh about it.
My abuela had so many little quirks that I miss terribly every single day.
We were always laughing, talking about everything because she’d give me the best advice, and watching movies (her top faves were To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and Maid in Manhattan). Yes, I had the best times with my abuelita.
Around 2012 or so, there was a big shift in my grandma. She began asking a lot of the same questions and repeating herself. At first, we honestly didn’t think much of it because to be frank, there were times she’d ask us the same things to see if she could catch us in a lie. But it soon began to become apparent that there was something really wrong. Shortly after, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
As it began to progress, we watched my abuela slowly fade away. She never forgot who I was though, and that’s something I have to thank God for. There were times she’d even forget my mom, her own daughter, and I know that hurt my mom so much. It pained me to see my grandma losing her memories, and her willingness to eat or be able to do normal daily activities.
The disease just ate away at her…
My heart has never hurt this bad. Today I lost my rock, my grandma. She loved me unconditionally, and I her. She taught me to never care what others think and live your life in the way that makes you happy. She wasn't just my abuelita, but also my mom. My abuela was a fighter and she fought until her last breath. I love her more than I could ever describe. My heart is in a million pieces but knowing she's no longer suffering is my consolation. I am so grateful to have had her in my life for as long as I did. Thank you, abuela, for everything you ever did for me. Nothing and no one can compare to you and the love you gave us. Te quiero y nunca te voy olvidar 😢💔#ripgrandma #mivieja #loveyouforever #12152017
I made it a point to see her as often as I could. And the days I couldn’t make it out to see her, I’d send my kids. To me, it was so important for them to be around her as much as possible.
There was nothing quite as painful as the last few weeks of her life, in particular, that final one when she passed away.
It was the week of December 10, 2017, my mom was a bit frantic. She kept telling me how my grandma was in such bad shape that she wasn’t sure how much time she had left. “You need to go see her, like now,” she said to me. My mother tends to exaggerate, so I wasn’t sure how to take it. At the same time, I guess I also didn’t want to accept the fact that I could be losing my grandmother.
The truth is, no matter how old someone you love is, you’re never, ever ready to let them go.
So, the next day I immediately went to my grandparents house. When I walk in, my grandmother is lying on the couch where she normally sat, completely incoherent. “Abuela?” I said. Her head was shaking, she was so frail that you could see her bones, and she couldn’t even get up on her own to even go to the bathroom. She barely opened her eyes and was unresponsive. All she would keep doing is shaking her head and saying “no,no.”
That day, her doctor came to visit. He told us my grandma was completely dehydrated and that if we didn’t provide water, he wasn’t sure how much time she’d have left. At this point, we couldn’t really get my grandma to eat or drink anymore. She just didn’t even have the strength to lift a fork or much less a cup filled with water.
No one was able to get her to take even a sip of water — except for me, that is.
I arrived back at her house the very next day again, it was a Tuesday, December 12. I rushed over after picking my kids up from school. There was no change in her state, she was still unresponsive and shaking her head with her mouth open. I knew I had to somehow get her to drink water, so I took a straw and started pouring the water in her mouth, as if I were feeding a baby bird. Man, I can’t even begin to tell you the feelings that rushed over me. This was a woman who was so independent and strong and she could no longer do anything for herself.
She had truly become a shell of what she used to be.
The following day, Wednesday, December 13, on my brother’s birthday, we went back to my grandparents’ house. I continued to give her water in the same way I was doing the day before. And on this day, there was a bit of change in her, my grandma actually became responsive for a small moment. I kept calling to her to let her know it was me who was there with her. She opened up her eyes and kept trying to focus. I think she was unable to even see at this point.
“Abuela! Abuela! Dame un beso (give me a kiss),” I said to her. She leaned in and blew me a kiss. I had no idea this would be the last kiss I would ever get from her.
That night, we decided the best thing to do was take her to the hospital because as my mom put it, we couldn’t just let her die without trying to see what could be done. When they took her away, I saw staring at the empty couch. In that moment, a weird feeling came across me and I said to myself, “she isn’t coming back.”
I spent the next two days running back and forth to the hospital to be with her.
On the morning of Friday, December 15, one of my grandma’s doctors came over to talk to me and my mom. She made us aware of a ton of issues my grandmother had, in addition to her Alzheimer’s, that we had no idea she even had. It was shocking to hear some of the things she told us.
In that moment, the doctor let us know that it was really all over from there. “I’m so sorry. With her age, there’s nothing more we can do.” My eyes watered up and I saw my mom immediately start to break down. So I had to shake it off and begin making the decisions my mother couldn’t make. “Well, if my grandmother is in the final phase of her life, I just want her to be as comfortable as possible,” I told the doctor. The plan was to then move her to hospice.
It was getting close to the time that I had to pick up my kids from school, so my mother, my father, and I made our way to the house and planned to return right after the kids were home. Before walking out, I gave my grandmother a kiss, told her I loved her and that I’d be back soon. This was a little after 12pm.
We get home and eat before I head off to pick up my kids.
At around 2:30pm, my mom gets a call from my grandpa who was still at the hospital with my grandma. “Your mother is gone,” he tells her. I wasn’t home at the time this happened. I actually arrived back to hear my mom hysterical inside the house. When she opens the door, the first thing she says is “she died!” and completely breaks down again.
I felt my world crumble at that very moment. How could it be? We just left her. How is she gone already?
Snow falling, we rushed to the hospital. Walking into the room and seeing my grandma’s lifeless felt surreal. There was nothing anyone could say to me at this moment that would have made me feel okay with her being gone. I felt like I would never be OK again. How could I? This was a woman that loved me until her very last breath, as I did her.
The worst part of all was that we never got to hear her last words because she was unable to talk in her last days.
I was inconsolable. I spent every single night crying for weeks to come after that. And honestly, those tears never fully fade away. There are days I feel completely fine and talk about her without a single tear drop. Then there are other days, like right now, where the waterworks just don’t stop.
My only consolation is that I knew my grandmother was in terrible shape and her dying meant she would no longer be suffering. But it took me some time to really come to terms with that. I couldn’t imagine not being able to call and hear her voice anymore, and I couldn’t fathom not feeling her hugs and kisses anymore. It’s still hard going to her house and not seeing her there.
But I’m slowly healing…
I just hope that she knows how much she meant to me. I hope that I’ve made her proud. And I hope that on a day like today, she’s up there partying like never before.
I love you, Abuelita. You were a remarkable woman, beautiful inside and out. Happy 90th birthday in the heavens above!