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. []


  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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