The last words I said to her was "Grandma, it's been a long time," and it had been.
When I saw her in the nursing home a couple weeks ago, she was unrecognizable. She had lost so much weight because she wasn't able to eat and was only hooked up to tubes. She couldn't speak, and she was so fatigued. I sought in her face the woman I had known as a kid, but this was a frail stranger.
It's hard to keep track of where I lived growing up because my parents moved often but I did have a short period where my family was in Atlanta as my mom's side of the family were all here. During this time I was closest to the youngest cousin on my mom's side, so I'd often go over to her place where my maternal grandma lived with my uncle, her only son (in Chinese culture the parents stay with their son as they age). My cousin and my grandma would argue about little things as part of their relationship, like a sitcom, and looking back I think my cousin only won those conversations because my grandma let her. Whenever I saw my grandma, she'd call me over in an assertive whisper and shove money into my palm, knowing our parents had trained us to fight her back.
I wasn't as close to my maternal grandma as I am to my paternal grandparents. My paternal grandparents essentially raised me since my dad was their only son so I just naturally spent more time with them compared to my mom's side. In the last few weeks, I emphasized this aloud and internally because I didn't want to fake that I was a wonderful granddaughter to her, especially when I hadn't seen her a lot since moving to Atlanta, where she lived. In a way, I think I felt that I didn't deserve to feel too much because I had rarely thought to visit her in the midst of my "busy" life in the past few years. But I feel the grief so deeply. Grief mixed with a lot of regret and guilt. I hadn't expected to burst into tears as many times as I have (and thank you to those who navigated that).
In 2019, we had seen her for Thanksgiving with the family. After she had some health issues, and then after having a couple bad falls, COVID hit, and then she wasn't able to attend three of her granddaughters' weddings and the birth of her great granddaughter.
Three years isn't a lot in our twenties, but it's a different story in our eighties, in our fifties, sixties. I forget how exponentially time wears on the body, snowballing the older we get. Even for us, the fact that we had all our weddings in the span of the three years shows how much can change quickly.
I've been reflective of family, with family coming in, and with my mom sharing more about her own grief, mixed with regret and guilt. The immigrant story is one that is universally sad, universally lonely. It physically splits families in half, in search for the American dream. It is a time warp of labor and sacrifice, one that lost time with both the newer generation and the older generation in order to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. One that had to be "tough" in order to survive. What if, what if, what if. It wasn't the perfect outcome, but we each did what we could with our capacity.
My grandma who shoved money into my hands, always told me to buy something nice to eat, to wear, to enjoy myself. She always sent me out to live my own life well, both of us never thinking for a second that I could use that money to spend time together.