I returned from my honeymoon three weeks ago with many voicemail messages. Some were funny and exciting, others ho-hum, but one message in particular was unexpected and uninvited news.
My grandmother (mother's side) had one of her legs amputated above the knee a little over a year ago, as there was a cancerous spot which was getting too close to the bone for doctors' comfort. The hope was to remove the cancer before it had a chance to spread elsewhere. It turns out that it was a hoped-for outcome that has not materialized. Medical tests show that the cancer spread before the amputation and has lodged in her lung, where it cannot be eradicated, and from where it will probably overtake her last working lung (and thus her) by the year's end.
Having heard this news, I've made it a point to try to visit my grandparents as much as possible over the next few months. This is somewhat difficult because 1) I have no car, having given it to my husband and 2) it is a 6+ hour trip one direction from my university location. Labor Day provided the perfect opportunity for my husband to ride with me into Iowa, visit my parents' house briefly, and then head up to my grandparents' house.
And so we did. Many family members (who I had last seen at the wedding) were in town and stopped by my parents' house on Saturday night, where we discussed jobs (ugh), school (ugh), and how quickly the kids were growing up (alas!, this must mean I really am getting older). The next day my husband, my sister and I jumped in the car to make the last 2.5 hour leg up to my grandparents'.
I will say it was odd and uncomfortable, yet reassuringly right to be there with them. As my mom showed me various tasks that still could be done to help out, I kept glancing at my grandmother, sitting fairly listless on a recliner in the living room. She has now been put on an oxygen line, as she was having trouble breathing with only one functional lung. She could not eat except for the softest food items, as her brief radiation treatments had burned parts of her esophagus. Later that night she broke down in tears when she could not swallow her pills due to the throat pains.
It was a sobering reminder of what it can be to grow old, to gradually have your body shut down on you, to be victorious to merely walk across the room and to stay awake for but a few hours of each day. I left their house, less than 24 hours after my arrival in order to get back to school, with a renewed appreciation for the days of my youth, where life can be smiles, full of walks around the neighborhood at sunset and cuddles at night. I know -- tangibly and terribly know -- that it will not last forever.