‘Dysfunction,”miracle’ words with nuances
Last week I had to fly to Chicago to say good-bye to my grandmother, who had three successive heart attacks, kidney failure and an infection raging through her body.When my sister, father and I walked into her hospital room, we wondered if we’d wandered into someone else’s room.Anyone who has seen the television show “ER” knows what a sick old person looks like, but it’s different when it’s your grandmother.I’d never seen her without teeth, but the doctors took her teeth out and taped her upper lip to her check so a huge blue tube could run through her mouth.Her mouth was shriveled and white. It reminded me of a fresh cut that’s been soaked in warm water or a slug that’s been doused with salt.She couldn’t talk, so I just dove into my memory bank and babbled.I reminded Granny how she made me a bagel with cream cheese and strawberry jelly before kindergarten while we watched “The Young and the Restless.”Not the most conventional memory, but it made her happy.Not long after we arrived, the doctor handed my dad my grandmother’s personal affects including her only ring. She wears the ring – which has all four of her son’s birthstones in it – in place of a wedding ring.I haven’t seen my grandmother for about five years, and neither had my father. With the exception of monthly phone calls, my grandmother cut ties with my family when she left Colorado.The reason my family doesn’t visit Chicago is because it’s a cesspool of bad memories for my mother and father.I don’t have the documentation to prove it, but it’s well-accepted among my extended family that my dad’s dad is a descendent of Hitler. He beat his sons so badly they plotted to kill him. Lucky for him, and unfortunately for his son’s mental health, my grandfather left the boys alone the night my uncle Tom harvested a gun beneath his pillow with a voracious intent to kill.I often hold my breath when people nonchalantly throw around the term “dysfunctional” when referring to their families.Dysfunction is not an adjective, it’s a way of life, and it takes strict discipline and mental instability to be a dysfunction devotee.For the first time in 12 years, my uncles Tom and Matt and my father rendezvoused, and all it took was an imminent death threat.The only uncle that didn’t show up was John. He’s the oldest son and blames my grandmother for not stopping her husband’s brutality. Being dysfunctional, John hasn’t talked to anyone in the family for 15 years except for my grandfather, the perpetuator of brutality.For three days we watched my grandmother suffer with no sign of John. I got so desperate to end her suffering either by death or health, that I prayed.I’ve been to church no more than five times in my life, so my prayer was somewhat of a crapshoot. I threw it into the air, hoping it would strike someone or something before news that I, Ivy Vogel, actually prayed – for I feared this news alone would paralyze whatever’s supposed to help me.On the third day, my grandmother motioned to three of her sons that she was ready and willing to die.They called in her pastor and he read her final rites while her sons circled her bed. When a daughter sees her father cry without shame, it feels like the end of the world is near.The end of the world must have been close because my uncle John showed up. He seemed somewhat normal. I knew he was a Vogel because all of their eyes are weighed down by a sadness that develops when one’s raped of their childhood.After John’s visit we got on the plane headed west, expecting to return for a funeral in two or three days.The next day, my mom called and said that Granny was eating real food, sitting up and talking.I’ve never used the word “miracle” unless referring to a narrow escape with a speeding ticket, but anyone who saw this woman, the woman with a 30 percent chance of surviving, might be tempted to mutter the m-word.Once my lonely Granny realized she had someone to live for and that her life was worth living, she decided to stick around for a while.My family will always be dysfunctional, and I probably won’t see my uncles for another 10 years, but I did see what a little love can do for someone’s soul.Contact Ivy Vogel: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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