It’s been exactly one month (and three days) since I recorded an interview with my grandmother. I was inspired by the StoryCorps project and had dreamed of going to one of the mobile recording booths with her. Days after the booth left her area, she was diagnosed with cancer. I immediately took time off from work to spend with her, and even accompanied her to her first visit to the oncologist.
In recent years her memory has been pretty impaired, due to dementia. I wasn’t sure how my time with her would be, but she was completely lucid and reflective for the whole week.
It was my first visit to her new apartment. She had lived in her previous apartment in the suburbs for as long as I could remember, and had recently moved back to the South Side of Syracuse into an “enriched living” apartment. She lives on the fourteenth floor, and has a gorgeous view of the city’s skyline and a little park. The house where she raised her five sons isn’t too far away, although I don’t know if she can see it from her windows.
Oh, how time changes everything and nothing. She had grown more pale and fragile since I had last seen her, but was as generous and kind as always. When we went out to get dinner, as I was accelerating out of the drive, she looked over at me and said, “This is funny. When you used to visit, I always drove.” I am completely unfamiliar with Syracuse, so our drive to the restaurant was quite scenic. Well, kind of. Syracuse has the feeling of a rust-belt city that once relied heavily on industry. Now so many of her historic buildings, even high-rise office complexes are empty. The downtown and business district is so desolate. Houses and businesses are boarded up in every direction and on every street. It seems as though the city is dying off, much like the remaining elders of my grandmother’s generation.
My grandmother and I spent most of out time chatting about our lives, our dreams and our memories together. Occasionally I’d pick up a notebook and ask her questions about her childhood or her family. On the day before I left, I set up the recording equipment and did a more formal interview. We recorded about 45 minutes together. When we took a break, I explained to the best of my abilities (as I had just learned days earlier how to run the equipment in a very rudimentary way) how it all worked and played the conversation back to her. Oh, how she giggled as she put the isolation headphones on. The mixing board reminded her of when electric typewriters first appeared on the market.
Although she opted to try chemotherapy, with category IV cancer, she has gotten so very sick very quickly. Since my visit, a blood clot was discovered in one of her lungs, and she has had at least two blood transfusions. She now has a prescription for morphine, and needs round-the-clock care. The end appears to be near.
Today was the first time that I had revisited our recording. It was hard to listen to knowing that it may have been my one of my last days with her. I tried to no avail to figure out a way to transfer our conversation from mini-disc to my computer. Why does remastering have to be so difficult? Why can’t it be as simple as importing pictures from my camera?
Out of frustration, or maybe solace, I went to my photo albums to find all of the pictures that I have of my grandmother. Sadly, there aren’t many. But I did discover that we share the same huge smile (with a squared bottom lip, showing off our molars).
I believe in aging and death with dignity. Out of respect for her status as an elder, sister, mother and grandmother, I hope to be by her side during her final moments. I want to comfort her, rub her hands and wipe away all of her fears, say prayers with her and let her know how much she is truly loved. I want to ensure that she is surrounded with the same loving warmth and compassion that she always showers on others, assisting her through this new transition in life.
She will greatly be missed.
TAYATA OM BEKANDZE BEKANDZE MAHA BEKANDZE RANDZA SAMUNGATE SOHA
[tags]Betty Mahaney, cancer, death with dignity, Elizabeth Mahaney, grandmother, hospice, Mahaney, Story Corps, Syracuse, grandmother, Mahaney [/tags]