It was a sweltering summer afternoon in Taipei, and my cousin Erica took me on the MRT to a corner of the city I rarely visited in my childhood. The hospice center was clean and dim, its main room occupied by elderly patients in wheelchairs watching some television drama. A middle-aged caretaker guided us through a maze of partitions to where my grandmother lay strapped to a bed.
|"Just for once, let me look on you with my own eyes."|
He explained that she could no longer move, see, or speak, and her hearing had deteriorated. We had come at a good time, however, as she was often awake in the afternoon. He put a hand on her shoulder and shook her gently, saying her grandchildren had come to see her, then left us.
Erica had to nudge me forward. Finally, I took my grandmother's rigid, claw-like hand, leaned close to her ear, and said I was back. I told her I had graduated high school, and would be going to college soon. I told her she raised me well, and did not need to worry about me. I told her I was sorry I did not get to see her earlier.
Her eyes did not focus on me, but as I spoke she started to cry. Erica told me that it happened sometimes, that it meant she knew I was there. She had no other means of communicating.
We stayed with her for a while, and she wept until she drifted off to sleep. I followed Erica back out into the sun-baked street. I felt like I was underwater, as if everything came to me from a great distance. Even the heat and humidity of a Taipei summer could not banish the sense of disconnect. It was the first time I felt the vast numbness that passes for my grief, but it would not be the last.
Because the progression of Parkingson's Disease had been frightfully quick for my grandmother, I do not think that either she or her doctors thought she would hang on for so long, forlorn and cut off from the world. I will never know if she wished for death in her final years of darkness. If we could have known then what she wanted, we would have done it; but she could only cry.