It was a surreal moment this evening.
My great grandmother, Concepcion (I usually call her ‘Conch’ for short. Like the sea-shell) was in the hospital. Or so I had just been told. From what I was able to piece together given what others had told me, she suffered a ‘cystitic attack’ due to an advanced bacterial infection of the bladder. Her kidneys were beginning to fail her.
I was on my way over to see her. I would meet Conch’s youngest sister there. It had been well over a year, perhaps even close to two years, since I had last seen the old woman. She had recently turned 95 years old and although her mind was, as always, strong and coherent, her body was getting more and more frail. She had once been able to still move freely, although with effort, and do her own cooking. But lately, she could not even feed herself without the kind and gentle aid of her nursemaid.
I recalled to myself how much I had let my respect for my parents and some of my extended satellite family dwindle a bit. A lot, actually. ‘Family values’ never applied much to me. For reasons too unrelated to think about right now. But Conch was the woman who would give birth to the lady that would become one of my grandparents, along with her husband. The grandparents who I -did- have that much respect for. And in turn, favored those three very much so.
After getting stuck in a broken hospital elevator for a couple minutes, I entered Conch’s assigned room. Her sister was already there.
She looked so much smaller and even more frail than I had remembered her. The bones of her forearms could be made out underneath her soft, but thin skin. A slight bruising around the wrists from where she had fallen. She had no medical equipment hooked up to her for the moment. Her mind was coherent. She was speaking with her sister–and recognized me when I had entered, despite the long absence since the last time she had seen me. Before anything else–I knelt down on the hospital bed next to her.
Up past her small, withered, wrinkled body–I could see the striking, distinguished features of her face. Not weathered and tough, but worn and serene. Her thin, unkempt hair frazzled about, giving her a baroque appearance. But those eyes…
Unsquinted, untarnished eyes that gazes out at a world with such strength…They were eyes that reflected nearly an entire century’s worth of experience. Of knowledge and responsibility.
Conch knew English. But everybody–her friends (the ones who hadn’t already died), her family and children (the ones she hadn’t already outlived), all swear by the fact that she never speaks it. And stand by the claim that they have never heard her speak it in all her years. Preferring instead, her native Spanish. Is it pride? Or is it stubbornness?
I didn’t know Spanish. Which had always made communication difficult with her in the past.
I greeted her. I did so by kneeling down on her bed close to her–holding her hand gently–then giving her a hug–and a kiss on her lips.
She then greeted me.
She did so by saying ‘Thank you.’