My dad called a few days ago while I was getting Bear ready for bed. My husband answered the phone and brought it to me as I struggled to force kicking legs into pajama bottoms. I tried to listen to my dad as I worked on Bear, but the reception was not clear and Bear was not compliant. I could tell that Dad’s voice had an edge of concern that he was attempting to hide. I had heard this tone before, and it had only brought bad news to me.

I left Bear with my husband so I could focus on my dad’s message. He had gone to visit my grandmother at the hospital where she was recovering from a broken hip, and when he arrived, he could tell that something was not right. Grandma could tell it too.

He didn’t offer much in terms of details, but he said that he was following the ambulance carrying my grandmother as it raced her to a larger city hospital about an hour away.

Five years ago, he called me in this same manner to tell me that they were rushing my mother to this same hospital after she began coughing up blood and having heart problems related to what we later learned was a systematic strep infection. At the time, he told me that the trip to the city was precautionary. I think that was trying to convince himself that this was true.

Fortunately, unlike with my mother, my father’s concern turned out to be justified but resolvable. My grandmother is doing as well as can be expected. She had two small strokes that were likely related to the fact that doctors had decreased the amount of blood-thinning medication she was taking due to her recent hip surgery. I have not yet been able to talk with her, but I have been assured that she is quickly returning to her stubborn, spit-fire self.

I worry, however, that the events of the past several years are beginning to break my grandmother’s resolve to keep fighting. Four and half years ago, my grandfather died. He and my grandmother nearly had been life-long loves, and for the last five years of his life, she was his primary caregiver as he struggled through the throes of dementia that robbed him of his memory and eventually his life. Before he became sick, she waited on his every need and desire, as was characteristic of many women of her generation.

After he was gone, Grandma didn’t seem to know what to do with herself. She struggled to find an identity independent of him. Even as she told my father that he needed to stop grieving my mother and move on – a sentiment that, as much as I love my grandmother, didn’t surprise me since she had never warmed to my mother’s independent personality – she could not do the same for herself. I once pointed out this discrepancy to her, as she shared her thoughts that my dad should leave my mother’s memory behind, but she could not – or would not – see the parallel.

We are all human. My mother was human. I am human. Certainly, my grandmother is human. And, as her granddaughter, I love her for who she is, and sometimes, in spite of herself.

A year and a half ago, my grandmother began experiencing severe back pain. Doctors told her that her only hope of recovery was to undergo a painful spine surgery. She had the surgery in April of 2010 and then spent the rest of the summer with an open wound. Several days before she was slated to go home, she fell in the middle of the night and broke her arm. This injury required more weeks in the hospital.

When she finally moved back to the small, farming community where I grew up, my father convinced her to move into an assisted living facility. Although reluctant to give up her perceived independence, she agreed and after several months, she seemed to revert back to her old self.

A few weeks ago, I traveled with Bear to my hometown, and my grandmother seemed sharp and healthy. She still struggled with mobility, but otherwise, she seemed well. The day after we left, she decided to sweep her own floor and broke her hip with the twisting motion required by the sweeper.

And now, strokes. My grandmother is clearly human, and her body is frail. Each illness and injury seems to lead to another. I hope and pray that she can pull herself out of this down-spiral and right herself to recovery.

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