I got an email from my mom last night:
My great-grandmother went into the hospital for extremely high sugar levels yesterday. They were able to get her levels down but also discovered cancer in her pancreas. She is 96 years old. 96. Nearly a century. There is nothing to do about the cancer. She went home and ate some pizza. I sobbed on the couch as I held the phone tightly to my ear. Ali stopped studying Arabic to come over and run my back. Surely, he thought someone had already died. Thankfully, Sebastian was asleep.
‘I won’t get to see her before she dies,’ I said. ‘Not unless you get on a plane this week,’ she replied. We both knew that wasn’t possible. We had planned to see my Grandma while we were in Michigan in November. But we all got snowed in and there was no chance travelling was possible or safe. I had a feeling, that this was it. It would be my last chance. But I kept this thought to myself. Because my grandma has been around a long time and she has been healthier than both my grandparents. Her husband died eight years ago, while I was living in Saipan. I was unable to attend his funeral either.
My sadness is selfish. My grandma has led a long, full life. I know that she is ready. The summer before last we sat around her kitchen table going through old photos. One of which I have framed on our counter. She is sitting next to my grandpa. They are in their thirties or forties. It is a black and white photo and they look so hip and happy. She missed him so much. Every day she would wake up and sit on the edge of her bed looking at his photo.
This was the last summer my grandma was spending in her home. She would be moving in with her daughter in the Autumn. I took pictures of every room. Of every corner. Of the flowers and trees in the front yard and back. Of the wall paper in every room. Of the collectible figurines on the sink counter in the bathroom. Of the framed picture of her and my grandpa on the dresser in the ‘pink’ room. Of the view from the dining room table. I spent part of every summer growing up at her house ‘up North,’ and I was sad to see the end of this era.
I called her this evening. It was morning there, almost lunch time. I spoke to her daughter first, my (Great) Aunt Kay. When my grandma got on the phone, she could hardly speak, she was so overcome with emotion. Her words slurred as she tried to hold back the tears. She couldn’t believe it, ‘Kara’s calling from England? All the way from England?’ She doesn’t know that we live in Egypt. She was born in England. She likes knowing I was living there.
She immediately asked about me and the baby. ‘How is the baby doing?’ She’s always asking about us since Sebastian was born and spent time in the hospital. ‘Good Grandma,’ I said. ‘We are good. I miss you Grandma.’ She couldn’t talk anymore, it was too much for her.
Aunt Kay took the phone again and I thanked her for sending us the Christmas card my grandma had prepared. She included a 2 dollar bill in it for Sebastian. My great-grandma has been sending me birthday cards since birth, always with a crisp bill inside. She had this writing desk in the guest bedroom we slept in . We called it the pink room because both beds had pink comforters and the wallpaper was pink striped. I loved the writing desk. It was organised with envelopes. She has dozens of grandchildren. Great-grandchildren. Great-Great-Grandchildren (that would be Sebastian). She sends us birthday cards without fail every year. Even though her eyesight is failing her, she signs her cards each time and her daughter posts them.
My Aunt Kay and I talked about the 2 dollar bill and how it’s there but no one uses it. You can go to the bank to get one but you won’t be given it back for change in a shop. Isn’t that funny, we laughed. Silly, we said. We didn’t want to talk about my great-grandma’s, her mother’s, failing body.
When you live far away from your family, it’s like there are two worlds existing at the same time and they cannot converge and this is the hardest part. We must keep on living. We have our day to day things we do. We cannot stop this. We cannot afford to hop on a plane. I will not get to hug my grandma one last time. But I will call her again tomorrow and tell her I love her.