A memoir about the last time I saw my grandmother alive, but from her point of view
She awoke in a hospital bed. This was not something that she was unaccustomed too. Cornelia Springer had spent much of her life in hospitals later in her life. Whether for surgery or doctor's appointments, her dementia or her diabetes, by this time, Cornelia Springer was used to hospitals. The room was sterilized, thus smelling of nothing much, if anything, antibiotics or alcohol. The room was cold, as it often was in hospitals to kill the germs, but thankfully, the bed sheets kept her warm. Faint steps outside the door passed her ears. A rustling near her caught her attention. It was Angela, her niece and caretaker.
"Auntie Cornelia, ya wakin' up? Ya want to eat?" Cornelia didn't respond at first, words escaped her. So, she nodded her head. Angela set to work on placing the food the hospital staff brought in on a tray in front of her. She would be lying if she said she wasn't disappointed. She would much prefer roti with curry chicken, or oxtail, or anything that reminded her of her homeland. She'd been in America for years now, but she still thought of Trinidad fondly. Having only visited it recently in 2006, she wished that she could go back once more. Or at the very least, move back to Trini and stay. She looked down at what the hospital called food that had been placed before her. From what she could make out it was greens, mashed potatoes and a little piece of meat that resembled beef. There was a little bowl of peaches on the side for dessert and some apple juice to drink.
"Ya want to watch TV Auntie Cornelia?" Angela asked, and Cornelia didn't respond. Not even a nod. It didn't matter though. Angela put the TV on anyway. Cornelia stared blankly at it as she ate. The food was bland and tasteless and without seasoning. Made by white people, no doubt, she thought to herself. At least the peaches were good. Although it takes a special kind of person to mess up fruit. She faced the TV, barely watching it. Angela put on one of her shows, and she paid it no mind.
Cornelia had no interest in many things. She was 80 years old, and quite frankly, she was done. Done with everything, done with pain, done with suffering, done with life. Quite frankly, she was ready to die. She felt that she hadn't much to live for anymore. Her children and grandchildren are grown. And her children are becoming the bane of her existence. Her oldest child, Judy, visited the most to use the laundry room or ask Angela to cook for her. And every time she visited, they constantly bickered and argued. They had screaming matches that would frighten and worry everyone. On one such occasion, an argument they had scared her oldest granddaughter, who happened to be staying with for the time being, so much that she didn't leave her room until her aunt left. Judy was her only daughter, and at one point, they were close, but as they got older, they had drifted apart somehow. Perhaps Cornelia felt that Judy always seemed to want something from her, but it's truly hard to say what the reason is now. Angela often complains that Judy should help her mother more, often telling her granddaughter that Judy wouldn’t even clean her mother or change her diaper. Perhaps Cornelia felt that she should help her out too, after all, she had done those things for her. But again, who’s to say?
Her youngest son Kenny was often very distant. He had been so for the majority of his life. He was often quiet and only spoke when spoken to or when he felt like it, and when he spoke, he was blunt and lacking tact. When Kenny spoke, he was often painfully honest; he spoke a truth that he would, in his own words, "give it to you raw.” Kenny would often come in, say hi only to his oldest daughter, Cornelia's oldest granddaughter, and head straight upstairs where he stored his laptop, or clothes, spices, CDs, guns and a whole assortment of other things. He would only come downstairs when he was finished with whatever task called his attention upstairs, hungry and ready to eat. Somedays he would bring food for himself or food everyone in the house. Sometimes he would run errands for Angela or Roseland, Cornelia’s other caretaker, when they needed him to.
Kenny Springer was often an enigma. Kenny could be harsh at times, but he often found ways to show that he cared. If you asked Kenny to do something, he'd do it if it was in his power, although he'd grumble and complain the whole time. Kenny was a grumpy thing that liked to make sarcastic comments when he saw fit. But he'd do it. Cornelia wondered if her youngest son would visit her in the hospital this time. But Kenny would say that men didn't visit their mothers in the hospital. A fib that was a clear and obvious sign that he didn't want to see his mother in that condition. And no one could really blame him. There probably isn't a person on this planet that enjoys seeing their loved ones in such a state, with tubes, wires and just the feel of death on every floor. Most people hate hospitals for that same reason. He often told his daughter this lie, and she saw through it immediately, perhaps the only one to truly understand her father. Or so the rest of the family thought and would say.
Lastly, her middle child Terry Springer. Terry, financially, was the most successful of her three children, and he certainly guarded his money. He was known for being a little frugal, but thankfully, not when it came to his mother. Terry paid most of the hospital bills, the telephone bill, cable bill, etc. Of course, he stopped paying the cable bill when he felt his mother wasn't the one that was really watching it. Terry was probably the calmest of the three children. Kenny liked to party and kept many different women. Judy somehow seemed to stay in drama. Terry didn't really appear to do much in comparison. But then again, while Cornelia, Judy, and Kenny, lived with their families in Baltimore, Maryland, Terry lived in Columbus, Ohio, where he could get into who knows what type of shenanigans and no one would be the wiser. But aside from Terry divorcing his wife, having young children with another woman in his old age and going through a sugar daddy phase where he dated women that were legal, but still younger than his young son, Terry was still pretty tame. He visited during holidays, gave his niece and nephew money and spent time with his mother.
Cornelia would never say that she didn’t love her children. Crazy as they were, they were hers, and she made them that way. She loved them. But as Cornelia aged, it started to feel like everyone around her was after something from her. Especially her children. Now whether this was true or based on her own paranoia was hard to say. Cornelia was ready to go. Though her body clung to life, her spirit was ready to move on. She often told people if they asked how she was that she was waiting on God. Some time ago, there was a small fire in her house in the room that her granddaughter stayed in. When Angela and her granddaughter tried to get her to leave, saying that there was a fire in the house, she replied, “Well, let me burn then.” Angela was having none of that, and neither was her granddaughter.
Cornelia spent most of her life being a strong woman. Most women of color had to deal with adversity, even though coming to this country was easy enough for her. Her husband at the time got a job being a painter, and he moved his family to America with him. The hard part was staying. Finding work for herself, helping other Trinis that had come up, getting them jobs, helping them make friends, helping their children make friends with her children, keeping them out of trouble. All the things that probably would have been easier in Trinidad. Perhaps if her children had been raised in Trinidad and not in America, they may have turned out differently. But probably not. But she didn’t regret raising them here.
But what she may be regretting, if anything, were the lifestyle choices that led her to this bed. For such a strong and independent woman to have to rely on other people was more than unfortunate. She couldn’t lift herself, she couldn’t wash herself, she couldn’t even use the bathroom herself. Her home was a three-floor house with an attic and a basement, neither of which she could make the trip up or down the stairs to. The front of her house had a long set of stairs that were always an ordeal to manage, so she barely left the house. She couldn’t even tend to her garden anymore. The garden used to start in the front of the house, where she grew local flowers, and stretch around along the pathway, where she grew tomatoes, to the back where she had a mix of flowers from Trinidad and other lands, resembling a forest. That was truly insufferable. She didn’t even sit on her porch anymore. But then again, what was the point with no flowers to enjoy.
Life had become mundane, and there were few things to look forward to anymore, except for possibly one thing. Her grandchildren. They made her proud, the ones she had watched grow and mature and had helped raise. She barely saw Terry’s boys Micah and Aaron, but she was happy to when she did. Micah, who had passed away some years ago due to a tragic car accident, was something of a genius. Even NASA sought out Micah to work for them. Micah, although he died young, was born with cancer and lived two or three times longer than the doctors said he would. He had also traveled far and to many places in his young life. Aaron, at the time, was in the United States Air Force, and she even said in her own words, “I’m so glad to have one of my grandchildren in the military.”
Judy’s only son, Jason, was happily married at the time and had a job working with computers. He visited often enough and was pleasant to be around. And last but not least, Kenny’s oldest daughter, who Cornelia thought to be his only child, Olivia. Olivia had gotten two college degrees, traveled to Trinidad with Cornelia, and traveled without her to Japan. After college, Olivia had moved into Cornelia’s house for one reason or another. She seemed to be making it her mission to add a little bit of sweetness to her grandmother's last days as much as possible, wishing her good morning and good night every day, coupled with kisses to the cheek, and every now and then saying, "I love you."
Olivia tried her hardest to be a little light in the darkness that Cornelia faced each day as her life headed towards its end. And though Cornelia rarely verbally replied to anything, her granddaughter Olivia gave her a reason to smile, what little reason she had. After all, a smile most days was the only response that Cornelia could muster up to give her to repay her for her kindness. But Olivia was still thankful for that, because that was an acknowledgment of her action. Her grandmother being responsive was always a good sign. Though Cornelia never verbally said that Olivia was her favorite, she often treated her as such. She'd hide money for her around the house, take her with her almost everywhere she went, and buy her almost anything she wanted. She even became cross with her other grandchildren if they wronged Olivia. Olivia and Cornelia shared a special connection. Cornelia thought how even though she had not much to look forward to in her home, she had Olivia. As Cornelia stared blankly at the TV screen, she heard a knock on the door. It was none then Olivia. "Hi, Olivia, come in."
"Hey, Angela. Hey Grandma." She walked around the bed to the left side of the bed that was nearer to the window. She leaned over to kiss Cornelia on the cheek.
"Excuse for not saying so earlier Olivia, Auntie Cornelia has some sort of infection. I think it's in her foot. I don't know if it's contagious or not."
"That's okay, Angela.”
Angela and Olivia talked for some time. Cornelia listened in and out. She caught wind of more of Angela's complaints about Judy and some word of some comic books Olivia had brought or been reading. She didn't respond much; she didn't need too. At some point, Angela had left the room and it was just Olivia and Cornelia. Olivia headed towards her grandmother, and Cornelia, though still unresponsive, had given her her undivided attention.
“Grandma I love you, and I hate seeing you suffer this way. I don’t want you to die, but I don't want you to be in pain anymore either. I’ll miss you terribly, but you’re ready to go. I don’t want you to suffer for me or anyone else. I love you, and I’ll miss you.” She stood up and leaned down to kiss her grandmother’s cheek once more, said goodbye, gathered her things, and left. She didn’t move, but she heard every word clearly.
It’s hard to say what Cornelia thought of after that. Her old life in Trinidad, her children, her grandchildren, Micah being born, Aaron saying his first words, Jason joining the Boy Scouts or Olivia playing in her garden in the back, pretending she was adventuring in a vast jungle. One thing was certain; Olivia words clearly reached her. Cornelia Springer didn’t have to wait on God anymore. He had come for her. Cornelia Springer went to join her late husband Vivian Springer. Forever loved and truly missed.