Being Strong For My Grandmother

The cancer has spread to her bones and several major organs now. We asked the doctor not to tell her, but we can’t do anything against his moral obligation to inform the patient. Either way, she doesn’t know how serious it is, whether it’s from shock and denial, or memory loss.

But she’s awake, and aware, and feeling no pain, which is good enough for me. The most we can do now is to try to make the rest of her life as enjoyable as possible.

She thinks she’s going to be fine. Keeps telling me that she’ll take me to a nearby park when she’s better. As much as it hurts me to know this won’t be possible anymore, it’s relieving to know she’s so oblivious. We don’t let ourselves cry around her, for fear that she may realize how bad it is.

Her face is more sallow, her fingers and legs emaciated, but she still has her thick, black hair1. Aside from a distended stomach, it’s hard to tell that she has such a grim prognosis.

But by far the hardest part is having to coddle her like a child to take her medication. Telling her she’s a good girl if she swallows her pills and rewarding her with ice-cream. That we’re only strict because we care about her. It tears me in half when she gives such a painful look of distaste with every pill we hand her, 18 a day.

She used to be so strong. Now we have to be strong for her.

  1. “I used to have even more”, she tells me. []

11 comments

  1. I am so sorry you are dealing with all this. I too have been where you are. Two years ago my dad died from throat cancer. When chemo and radiation and experimental drugs failed to stop it from growing he came to live with me the last few months he was alive. We made arrangements for in home hospice and they were there every step of the way. It was hard watching him those last few weeks as the pain was more than the morphine could handle but I wouldn’t trade a single day of the time spent with him for all the money in the world.

    You will get through this and its going to hurt like hell and you will be angry and wonder how this can happen to someone so good. But in the end it will make you a stronger person and you will forever remember being with your grandmother. My heart is with you :(

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with me. Knowing how much it’s worth it to be there, even when there’s so much pain, helps me deal with the situation. I’ll certainly never forget or regret the opportunity I have right now.

  2. Maybe she’s pretending she will be better soon to keep you from pain. I know of a few people who have done this and both sides were thinking the other side didn’t know and would be happy in their ignorance.

    • Hmmm…Even though she’s a remarkably tough and strong person, I don’t believe my grandmother is of sound mind enough to do this right now. I suppose that in either case, she’s happy, because she either truly doesn’t know how bad it is, or believes that she’s fooling us.

  3. I’m not good in dealing with situations like this, but your story reminded me of the last few days I’ve spent with my dad. You now have every opportunity to make her last days happy..
    It does hurt a lot seeing them in pain, but you will get though it. Not soon, but you will ..

    • I’m learning that I’m also terrible at dealing with these situations, because it’s the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like it. I know I’ll be a stronger person once I get through it.

  4. Don’t worry that anything you’re doing is not enough; my mother died of cancer, but I was able to spend a week or more with her before she was very sick, and it made all the difference. By the time she was actually sick, it would have made no difference to have me there – she wasn’t coherent. You’re doing the best thing you can do right now, giving her a great sense of security when she needs it.

    • I’m not worried at all about not doing enough actually. I think my grandmother already appreciates the fact that we flew here to see her, and that already says more to her than anything else.

  5. 18 pills a day, each as bitter as the last. Late life caregiving with a reluctant patience gives the heart a different kind of beating alright.

  6. I can empathize with you. My grandma currently lives in my house hold, waiting for nothing but Death. She was once a happy woman, who would cook her own meals from scratch, care for some of the neighborhood gardens, and could easily do a math problem in her head. But a few years ago, four I guess, her mental abilities started deteriorating from Alzheimer’s. Over those few years, grandma would forget to buy food, loose sleep on already paid bills, or fall asleep smoking. After a lot of kicking and screaming, she finlay moved in. Every morning and evening grandma has to take a lot of pills. One of the pills is an anti-depressant, but that doesn’t stop her for being sad. The image of a shallow, old woman popping in pills just to live is such a sharp contrast to the plump, happy woman I’m used to seeing as a kid. Us (meaning my family) try to take her out places, let her do what she wants with her room (it’s painted all purple), buy ice cream, or let have it her way with the flower garden, but that’s not what she wants. Grandma wants a place of her own, and her sound mind back, but that will never happen. I’d give my dominant hand for her wish.
    I pray for the very best for your grandmother and family.

    • That’s quite tragic. One thing I’m relieved about is that my grandma is still conscious, and that she’s surrounded by people who love her. It’s so sad when someone loses their independence if they want to keep it. It seems like such a harsh way to spend the end of one’s life, when it should be happy and carefree.

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