Monday, August 7, 2017

The visitor

Just seeing her made my heart ache- Rosalbita Frias, my maternal grandmother. "This can't be a dream... she seems so real," I kept thinking. And yet still I knew I was only dreaming.

I sat in the galeria, sunlight streaming through the huge windows that looked out to the garden. She sat next to me at the round table next to the TV- the same table where I've spent so many hours talking and laughing. It was covered with a flowered table cloth, just like it always has been, with a dainty crystal vase and colorful floral arrangement. I could see the wood paneling with our pictures on the wall behind her- the greenery that so abundantly filled the room.

The lines on her face, the way her silver hair swept across her forehead, the pearl earrings, and those eyes- so beautiful and brown and vacant. I saw her as I last remembered her, tiny and frail with her mind a million miles away- tucked several decades ago in the past. Stolen by the grip of Alzheimer's.

I looked down at her hands and realized how deeply I had missed seeing them. Her hands... they told the story of her life- thick and calloused, laced in the lovely wrinkles that one only earns after several decades of life. They told of the sacrifices she had made for her small family, of the triumphs and of the heartaches. How many times I had seen those hands expertly craft hundreds of empanadas. How many times they had cradled the animals she so tenderly cared for. She rubbed my arms as I talked, the way she always had, her eyes staring off in the distance.

I wept as I talked to her, knowing by the vacancy in her eyes that she didn't understand what I was saying. I didn't care. I just needed to talk to her. 

"Ritita," she called out to no one in particular. Throughout the years after she lost her memory, I had always wished she was calling for me when she said that, but I knew it was for her sister whom I was named after. I pretended she was calling for me.

I told her about everything that had been hard for me lately, about how inadequate I felt to face the challenges that lay before me, about how much I had missed her. I wept as I talked, just needing to free myself of the weight. She responded in confused and jumbled words. I didn't expect anything else.

But slowly a change began to come across her face. It started with the crease between her eyebrows softening- the same worried crease that had deepened as her memory was taken from her. Her hair began to darken and the hollowness in her face began to fill out. Her jaws regained their natural teeth and within moments I was looking at the face of the grandmother I remembered when we had moved to Chile when I was 7 years old.

She looked at me differently now. Her eyes finally seeing me. She was radiant and healthy, the way she looked in the years before my grandfather passed away. She spoke clearly, fully in the moment. She talked to me for sometime. She had always been a talker. I just listened, and listened... and listened, the way I had done so many times as a child as I watched her work. I don't remember anything she said, and somehow it didn't matter. Just knowing she was talking to me was enough.

After sometime, she hugged me in the firm embrace I had always remembered and my heart felt like it was going to burst. Her wonderful grandmotherly scent, so familiar and sweet, filling me up. All too soon, the dream was over and I awoke, aching for her to stay near.

My grandmother had come to visit me, of that I have no doubt. It had been too vivid of a dream for it to have been simply a reorganization of thoughts, the way our minds do when we are asleep.

I've thought of her a lot lately and I'm not sure why. Perhaps she experienced some of the same challenges I've been experiencing, though I've never been told if she had. Perhaps our thoughts are drawn to those deceased family members who experienced the same things we're going through as they quietly help us along. 

Our time together that night, though brief and fleeting, was precious to me. She had come to remind me that despite the veil of mortality that lies between us, she is there for me, rooting for me and helping me along the way, as are my other grandparents and loved ones who've gone before me.