Beauty in Winter (Tita Carmen)

November 24, 2012 will be 2 years since my grandmother Carmen Elida Prince passed. The following is a meditation by my daughter Carmen Elida Mason that rings true to the impact my grandmother also had on me:

“I learned how to love deeply and fully through my Tita Carmen. I don’t think I fully realized the impact she had on me until she passed away. In fact, I don’t think anyone did. Her energy could move people. She was the type of person who enjoyed watching novelas and occasionally gossiping on the phone. And that’s okay…she didn’t have to be or do anything else. Her love was so strong, that no statistics or theories or revolution could replicate it’s power.”

It was this love that my grandmother radiated, that filled even her difficult journey with cancer with so many blessings.  And it was her love that encouraged me to see all these blessings even in the midst of my grief.

LUNG CANCER  (August 25, 2010)

What the fuck is that!?  Are the words I want to utter after grandma tells me the doctor needs to do a bronchoscopy to diagnose the developmental stage of her cancer.  An abyss of fear, of abandonment emptied my stomach.  Nausea overwhelmed my emotions because I couldn’t handle feeling anything else.  I surrendered myself to that moment because I was no longer in control and I took in all the love I had ever received from my grandmother – I took it in because I was faced with the possibility of loosing her.  All I could say to her, because I know her spirit, was that she would not stop living until the last day of her life – no matter what the outcome.

It wasn’t her physical death that I feared; it was the possibility of her suffering.  So there I was thinking how not to think about it.  I decided to numb myself until the day of her test.

The Day of the Bronchoscopy   (September 3, 2010)

In the midst of tragedy, one must continue to recognize the gifts from God – for this is the way in which he answers our prayers.

First Gift from God – Stephan:   A warm dispositioned lab technician with a cute French accent in English and Spanish, gently and nurturing, sat right next to Grandma and held her hand as he introduced himself and gave her an initial explanation of the process.  I saw in his eyes that he was fulfilling his purpose in life, and cared deeply for the service he gave.

Second Gift from God:  How fortunate my grandmother is to have health insurance, so that she is able to receive the necessary medical attention as her material body transitions to its season of Fall.  How many people endure ailments and painful physical conditions without dreaming of the possibility of a dignified healthcare system?  How many die each year of preventable illnesses and diseases?  How many more live with chronic illnesses without the proper care?

That she has health insurance is an accident of birth – geography and economic status.  That we are grateful for the care she is receiving is a gift from God.

Third Gift from God – TOM:  A lab technician, Tom, came to the waiting room to inform me that Grandma was ready to be discharged.  As I walked out of the waiting room and proceeded to the hallway, he inquired if I was Carmen’s daughter or granddaughter.  He then said, “I love your grandmother; she has such a beautiful spirit; I just want to take her home with me.”  He proceeded to describe how well the procedure went and how much everyone had enjoyed my grandmother.

As he helped her out of the wheelchair and into the car, he hugged her and in his broken Spanish whispered in her ear, “Que Dios Te Bendiga.”  Grandma embraced him and he kissed her softly on the cheek.

This is the kind of immediate impact Grandma has on people.  My Gift – I have experienced her beautiful spirit my entire life.

Fourth Gift from God: Temperate Breeze, Blue Sky, Tender Sun, flirtatious leaves on the trees, the color purple.

Visit to Dr. Mercandetti (September 8, 2010)

Fifth Gift from God:  Before this visit, I had already read the pet scan result – with words like MOTASTISIS, MASS, and TUMOR stabbing at my amateur understanding of cancer. But my Grandmother hadn’t.  “Today” was the day she would have to face her truth.  Like jagged glass intertwined in Dr. Mercandetti’s tongue, the cancerous syllables cut through Grandma’s hope.  Dr. Mercandetti patiently drew an anatomical sketch of Grandma’s lung and gently explained the location of the tumor and why she was having trouble breathing.  He assured her that science would do its part to try and save her life, but her will to live and the love of her family would extend her life far beyond any medical expectations.  He personally made the appointment with the oncologist he was referring my Grandmother to, and told us Dr. Stanton would take wonderful care of her.   In the soil of pain and turmoil, compassion and love bloom.

Visit to Dr. Stanton (September 14, 2010)

Sixth Gift from  God: As we walked into the Scripp’s Cancer Center, we were greeted by Sandra’s radiant smile and gleaming honey-almond eyes.  The recessed lighting reflected off her scalp creating a caramel-orange  aura that matched her African patterned dress.  A crystal award that read “Values in Action” sat to the right of her desk with her name etched in silver.  She assured me we would love Dr. Staton. 

Seventh Gift From God: Dr. Stanton – “The treatment of serious illness demands a devotion to science and a commitment to the art of medicine.  One flows from evidence.  The other is grounded in respect for the goals of each patient.” 

One can’t deny when a profound metaphysical connection occurs between beings; an inexplicable bond.  I had expected a compassionate maybe even gentle doctor, but what I experienced was a spiritual interconnectedness in which I could no longer distinguish a physical separation between myself, my grandmother, and Dr. Stanton.   He began by explaining, declaring, his patient care philosophy – one of respect for the patient’s beliefs and culture and one, which gives dignity and honor to the patient throughout the entire process.  He allowed himself to share the same emotional space that both my Grandmother and I shared – experiencing my grandmother’s fear and pain.  The glossiness of his eyes made him human.  He spent the first part of our encounter listening to my grandmother’s story – learning the heart of this woman who would entrust her life to his.  When the time came for me to translate the difficult decisions that lay ahead for Grandmother, with solidarity, he reached for his guitar and began to play music resonant of  “Cantares del Alma” (Songs of the Soul) by the great classical guitarist ,  Carlos Bonilla Chavez.

Occupying the space between life and death (November 18, 2010)

21 Radiation sessions later, tonight, my grandmother has asked me not to take her to radiation anymore.   I asked her if she knew what she was requesting, and she nodded her head quietly, in surrender. She has lost 22 pounds since September 14th when she weighed 162 1bs.  She doesn’t eat or drink much anymore, and she has resigned her body to the limitations of her bed.  Her body is withering, and I desperately am trying to discover the peaceful beauty in this process – learning how to occupy the uncomfortable space between life and death.

Beauty in Winter (November 22, 2012)

After Carmen and I bathed her for the last time, I watched her as she lay in bed.  Her face had lost it’s rounded vivaciousness, her skin was more pale and waxy in appearance, and the veins of her feet and hands were boldly blue.  Even in her journey toward death, she radiated love.

Even as the Cypress trees morph into the shadow

Of fragile pewter limbs

And the frigid air burns the warmth of the moon

I find beauty in your stillness

And peace in your silence

Even as the bitter wind covets the

Indigo summer breeze

And the rosy crimson hues on your flesh

Become opaque and sallow

I find strength in your existence

And resilience in your process

Even as the snow conceals the

Tapestry of your spring

And the ashen sky

Covers heavy

I find contentment in your inevitability

And harmony in your restfulness

Your serene landscape feels me

With love and compassion


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