When Grandma Huxley asks her granddaughter the hardest question to answer, what is she to say? Is honestly always the best policy?
”Am I dying?” The question floated lingering between heartstrings. Her grandmother squat over the hospital toilet. Grandma Huxley – emaciated away to a pale seventy-eight pounds of skeletal walking flesh – still held enough strength to race Olivia’s heart to marathon speed.
Instinct said to lie. The truth would only…
Education said to sugar-coat it. Word it in such a way so that Grandma swallowed her response with a mixture of childish confusion and pleasure.
The drip-drip echo of Grandma’s tinkling what little liquid she had drunk today seemed to count off Olivia’s procrastination. But just how can I tell her? Not even Mom could tell her. She had been less than frank.
“Momma,” Olivia’s own mother had spoken softly then, ” you’re just here long enough for the doctors to get you better. You…had a fall at the center.”
True, Grandma Huxley had fallen, two weeks ago Sunday to be exact. While walking back to her room in the Alzheimer’s Wing, holding onto the wall railing even, she’d fallen. Three nurses around and non alert enough to catch a feather falling.
They had brought her to the emergency room just to be checked out. That’s when the doctors discovered it; a tumor, in the lungs, by now spreading up her spine and slowly deteriorating her brain.
A diseased brain, but still hers. The brain that once did high-level mathematical calculations, self-taught, without calculator or even pen and paper. The brain that once could dominate the Sunday Times crossword puzzles in ten minutes flat. It once could rattle off all twenty-three grandchildren (seven great-grandchildren) in exact birthday order without skipping over one.Olivia knew, the whole family knew, Grandma Huxley still smoked these twelve years after Grandpa Huxley died of emphysema. Driving her home one weekend afternoon from a family cookout, Grandma Huxley had revealed the secret to Olivia.
“Don’t you tell your momma now, but I still take a puff every now and then,” Grandma Huxley had chuckled.
Snickering respectfully, Olivia had countered, “Grandma, Mom knows you hadn’t quit yet.”
“She does?” Grandma’s face possessed serious surprise.
“Yeah, everybody knows.” There had been a thin pause, then a congested laugh. It was the last time Olivia drove her home. That fall Grandma Huxley had to retire to the assisted living center – where she fell.
Now they were alone again. No snickering. All seriousness. Mostly silence. And the question loomed in the urine-infested air of her grandmother’s third floor cubicle-with-a-view hospice room.
Honesty. There had never been anything else between the two of them, grandmother and granddaughter. The youngest of both generations, it was the thread that tied their hearts together stronger than heritage.
“Yes, you are.”
Grandma Huxley flushed, hobbled back to bed while leaning wholly on her granddaughter’s strength, and lay back down under hospital white linens.
The doctors had predicted three months.
Three weeks later, under cover of early morning darkness, Grandma Huxley’s demise arrived.
And peace was at her side.
Published in: Family