My mom has always said that tragedy brings out the worst or best in people, and (as in most things) my own experience seems to prove her right.
This time it involves my grandma Betty, who is stalwartly, although not effectively, fighting the mounting challenges of age. Her organs are tired and her immunity is like a balloon losing its helium — a feat and a wonder, but no real match for time or gravity.
Her 88-year-old life vessel is failing her, and it’s time for us to make some decisions about her care.
As her heart and lungs compromise, so does her cognition. It leaves her living in an unfamiliar world where the gaps in understanding are filled with a fear-induced reality that’s so far only quelled by the presence of her daughter Debby.
That’s my mama, the only remaining child in her family and now the primary caregiver for her own mom. That’s not an easy role to play — the hours are exhausting and when you add to that the weight of making life decisions for another human being, it’s nearly too much.
So last week, when Betty was released from her short pneumonia-inspired hospital stay even though it was clear she wasn’t able to take care of herself, my mom sent a message to the family saying she didn’t know what to do.
That admission accompanied by the sad-face-single-tear emoji set the rest of us in motion. I hit the road with my overnight bag packed, planned a video call with my sister and grabbed the puzzles I knew my mom and I would do into the wee hours of the morning to unwind.
This isn’t the first time I’ve lived through one of those moments — the ones you realize require all-hands-on-deck and that cue a hero soundtrack in the background because of the herculean efforts everyone will undertake to come together.
Cancel the plans and double the recipe, folks, because we have a family tragedy and it’s going to take unison, grace and a couple of stiff cocktails.
That night, as we talked about the things no family wants to discuss, I marveled at my sister’s ability to bring humor to a heavy moment (at the expense of my dad’s new mustache, but that thing sort of had it coming), at my mom’s endurance and compassion and my dad’s calm rationale and flexibility (he’s more than happy to adjust their travel plans and his facial hair for the cause).
An asteroid could have been hurling at Earth and the four of us could have stopped it. The power of our presence for one another could have fueled the Western Hemisphere for 72 hours. And the syncopated grace of our movement into uncharted familial waters would have landed us on “America’s Got Talent.” I don’t know that I can remember ever feeling so heartened and heartbroken at the same time.
But what better way to usher in my grandma’s final chapter of life than to personify the power of the love and unity she helped create?
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.