It was our annual pilgrimage to our home province, Quebec, and with it came our annual visit to the oldest members of our family.
I was particularly excited to see my grandmothers, whom I hadn't seen in a year: S, my maternal grandmother, who turned 95 in June, and G, my paternal grandmother, who turned 96 in May.
Up to now, both grandmothers had always been pretty healthy; in fact, I wonder if they have ever been sick!
Sadly, G's health has deteriorated over the past year. Her medical file is still pretty bare as she does not have any significant issues per se, but the years are slowly taking their toll. A recent move has left her exhausted and slightly confused. She is now bedridden and has lost a lot of weight.
Other family members who had seen her lately told me that she might not recognize me. I was also warned that she had changed a lot physically, and looked much older. The idea of seeing her in that vulnerable state, the idea that she's now - really - at the end of her life, and the idea that it might be difficult to communicate, all that made me sad and slightly apprehensive. How would she react to my presence? How would I react to hers? What should I bring, knowing that she can't really enjoy anything at all anymore, be it plants, books or even "regular food"? What kind of attitude should I adopt? What should I say?
During the 2-hour drive from my mother's house to G's nursing home, I juggled those questions, feeling increasingly uneasy and sad.
Then it suddenly hit me. There was only one possible answer. What I had to show up with was...
Yes, I was going to bring love. Just love! No expectations, no specific words or actions... simply love.
I felt that somehow, love would make its way to her, no matter what kind of state I would find her in.
Still, I was nervous as I approached her room, and what I saw when I walked toward her bed did nothing to reassure me. I gathered a calm, positive approach nonetheless, and put a smile on my face. I was not there to communicate anything but a loving presence, and I was resolute to achieve that even if I felt upset!
I said hi and added "it's Julie" in case she could not see me clearly. I talked to her softly but joyfully, because joyful is what I usually am. I took pauses to give her a chance to process and respond. She turned her head toward me, and gave a hint of a smile. That was enough for me! But she had more in store. Her eyes sparkled... and she talked! She struggled to articulate two or three sentences. It was difficult for both her and I. But my full attention was on her, and I understood what she was saying. It totally made sense!
After that, talking became even more difficult, and she seemed frustrated. I could see she was trying really hard. I didn't want her to think that she had to talk, so I simply said "I'm happy to see you".
From the sparkle in her eye, I knew that despite the communication challenges, and despite appearances, the person I had in front of me was G as I've always known her. I felt compelled to take her hand, and I did so. We stayed like that for a little while. I commented on the paintings on her walls, she looked at them. It was obvious that she understood everything I was saying even if she could barely move.
I was so grateful that we had managed to communicate, even if it was very limited!
After a little while, G looked tired, so I resolved to leave. I gave her a gentle hug and a kiss, and I delicately ran my fingers through her hair. I looked at her and what I felt was pure love.
I knew she needed me to leave so she could rest, even if I would have wanted to stay much longer. I said goodbye in a tone that implied I would be back. Deep down inside, what hit me that very moment was the fact that I only travel to Quebec once a year, and that next year is a long time from now...
I quickly blocked that thought in order to maintain my composure.
As I walked out of the room and made my way down the hallway, however, the emotion flow I had been so good at holding up got the best of me, and another kind of flow filled my eyes.
I don't know if this was my last goodbye to G, but I am very grateful that I went, and even more grateful that she was there in every sense of the word.
For more on both my wonderful grandmothers and their lessons in wisdom: