The hardest thing about it, I think, is the way my brain continues to be surprised. Each time I expect to see the strong person I have known my whole life, and instead I see someone exhausted and frail. Her mind is as sharp as ever, and my heart hurts knowing that she is acutely aware of everything that is happening to her.
My grandmother ran races and marathons until she was eighty-one years old. She worked out. And I mean, aside from running, she lifted weights. My friends' grandparents did not run or lift weights. She once asked me to polka with her. We were at my uncle's wedding and she wanted to polka. "I don't know how," I'd said helplessly. "That's okay," she'd replied, and she lifted me up off the ground in her strong arms and carried me around that dance floor, polka style. I was seventeen years old.
When I reach for her now, I am aware that she cannot lift me up to polka, but I am still surprised that her hugs are like a whisper. "I love you," they say, and I am grateful.
But I miss her fierceness. I miss seeing her at the dinner table, her elbows propped up, her hands clasped to the side of her face, joining in the conversation. She argued, she laughed, she drank wine with dinner and coffee at dessert. She passed the pasta and she declined the dessert placed in front of her, only to sneak a bite here and there when she thought no one was looking.
I have her eyes. She has always told me that. "Green eyes like Grandma." When I was young and foolish and knew everything and nothing, I'd roll my eyes and wish for blue eyes like my father or brown eyes like the Van Morrison song. But it is her eyes that still hold her spirit. They still have her spark, her lightness. She looks at me with her bright eyes and says what she has always said, "How's my Mary?"
If I close my eyes, I can still see her strong. Her broad shoulders, held straight and proud. I can picture a thousand different times she has found me in a crowded room with her green eyes to say, "How's my Mary?" When I was sick. On every birthday. Christmas night, after she'd finish the dishes and find me sitting at her piano. At Sunday dinner. In the hospital after all three of my children were born. When she held my hand and stared at me hard and said, "You cannot be a writer until you sit down and write."
She is eighty-four years old. She has cancer. And still she fights. She does not run anymore, but for her, the race is not over.
Please pray for my grandma. She is wonderful.