This article originally was published July 30, 2003
The room was dark as I entered. The television was off and the only life in the air was generated from a ceiling fan that was circulating at a low rate. I knew it was going to be hard to take those initial steps into my grandma's house but I also knew I had to, no matter how much it hurt.
As I walked in, I saw her, the person who I've always considered the strongest woman I've ever met. But on this day she didn't have the energy to get up and greet me with a typical hug.
I knew this was coming, but it didn't smack me in the face until I walked into her house last week. After hearing the news in March that my grandma only had eight months to live due to rapid-moving bladder cancer, my initial reaction was to get on the first plane home to Massachusetts to see her. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to hop on a flight home whenever something tragic happens, so my trip east last week was my first visit since hearing the news, and could possibly be the last time I'd ever see her alive.
After hunching down to kiss her on the cheek, my mind started wandering through everything I knew and had experienced with this woman. She raised four incredible children (separated only by six years) in a small house that has about as much room as a Ford Expedition. With a husband who spent extended periods of time on the road for his work, she had to be the enforcer and the homemaker by herself, which is never an easy job. But she managed and made sure all four kids had an opportunity to make the most of their lives.
She religiously made the half-mile walk to her church every weekend. Just a few years ago, after the death of my grandfather, she took on the role of baby-sitter for my younger cousin's son. It brought a smile to my face to think about my grandma chasing an infant around that empty house.
And, more recently, I can think back to the times when I'd visit her and within minutes she'd have a heart-stopping, greasy breakfast ready for me. As much as I didn't think I needed more eggs, sausage or toast slathered in butter, I knew I could find the room in my stomach just to spend another 10 or 15 minutes in that cramped kitchen with her.
My mind then wandered to how her days now start and end in her recliner. She doesn't have the strength or energy to climb in and out of her bed. Watching her methodically use her walker to get to the bathroom was almost unbearable. Instead of her usual walking stride, she's been reduced to shuffling her right foot, sliding her walker a few inches and shuffling her left foot to catch up.
My daydreaming came to a screeching halt as I heard her say in a hushed tone, "I never thought it would come to this, Michael." Immediately, I was thrust back into reality. I spent another 45 minutes or so at her house and decided it was time to go. We both knew this was goodbye without having to say the words.
I walked out of the house and into the bright sunlight of the day, a sunlight my ailing grandma doesn't get to experience anymore. I wanted to rush back into the house and pull her out to the front porch for a look. But I knew I couldn't. My grandma doesn't have the strength to stand on the front porch anymore, but she's still the strongest person I've ever met.