It’s been a rough week. Sometime in the last few months, my grandmother was diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer. About a week ago, she wanted to give up. She wasn’t eating enough or drinking enough. She didn’t want the (mild but still unpleasant) chemo treatments anymore. She didn’t want anything, or to see anyone. She just wanted to close her eyes and be gone.
My grandmother is one of my heroes. She’s generous to a fault, buying Costco chickens for a neighbor who likes them, and driving him to the senior center when he can no longer drive. She mothers everyone, instantly delights small children, charms people who meet her. She’s also a hell of a cook and a baker.
I didn’t know what to do. I sent her a Rosh Hashanah care package: a card I’d painted, some photos from the summer, some apples, some honey, a honey cake. I messed up the honey cake recipe (although don’t tell her; she actually told it to me wrong a few years ago), but I decided to send it anyway as a sign that she needed to stick around to help her granddaughter become a less incompetent baker. Even while telling me she liked the package and still felt terrible, she still paused to tell me I’d done the honey cake wrong and try to figure out what I’d messed up.
Finally, I flew down to LA to see her. This was a hard decision. She said she didn’t want visitors; I was going against her wishes. I’d stay somewhere else, drop in if she wanted me. She said she didn’t want me to cook for her; her (amazingly wonderful) home health nurse was doing that. She didn’t want me to bring her anything.
I saw her and at first she was negative. She didn’t want me to think of her as anything less than vital. But she’ll always be impressive to me, no matter what. This is the woman who just a few months ago, at 89, passed her driver’s test, was taking classes, was talking to vendors at her farmers’ market. She’s amazing, however long she lives, however physically strong or weak she feels.
After we’d sat for a few minutes, she started asking me about my new house, my community. She said she liked my dress. She laughed when I thought of funny things to tell her. She fussed over me. She said it was good to see me.
Before I left today, I stopped at the Santa Monica farmers’ market and picked up all her favorite produce. I stopped by her house to drop it off, made sure the tomatoes looked nice enough. They did. She thanked me for coming.
She’s feeling more positive again. Trying rehydration. Wanting food. Tentatively retrying chemo. I’m incredibly grateful. Things will be what they will be, but the better she feels and does, the happier I’ll be.
A lesson in all this. I show love through food, cooking for family, for beloveds, for dear friends, for strangers. Each of these is an act of love. I couldn’t cook for her here; I had to let go of that and just buy ingredients. But what a joy to pick out the most delicious peaches, the best tomatoes, the nicest head of lettuce for my grandmother, to tempt her while following her wishes and letting her be in charge. This is love.
Shanah tovah to those celebrating (and Eid Mubarak to those celebrating). Sweetness and health to you this year.
Thanks to Josh Liba for the flickr creative commons picture.