The Woman Who Went to Every Country

By Alison Agosti

hall main.jpgboliston/flickr

There are two things you need to know right off the bat: Yesterday I ate a huge burrito for lunch, and my family is not very close. We're not unclose, I guess. It's just that we have better things to do, and I'd be willing to guess we all register somewhere in the Asperger's spectrum.

So when I got a text message from my mom today telling me not only that my grandmother was on life support, but that they were, in fact, removing it, please understand that it was not that outlandish. My mom got married a few years ago and didn't tell me until like a week later. 

"Bob and I got married on a boat last Thursday."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Oh, I didn't think you'd be interested."

My mom and I have a very odd relationship. We love each other, but it is odd.

I knew that my grandmother was in a serious car accident a few weeks ago, about which I had been told in a phone call. I was not really told the extent of the accident -- that she had been cut out of her car with the Jaws of Life, or that there was little to no chance of her fully recovering. My grandmother had also banned all of her grandchildren from visiting her in the ICU.

"You can come visit me once I'm better," she told me. "Once I've had some time to clean up."

She did not get better. In fact, her small 87-year-old body had put up a very good fight, considering the severity of the accident. But after two weeks of surgeries and pain and begging for it to be over, she finally got them to take out her breathing tube.

By the end she couldn't even talk, although she could type out messages to my mom and her brothers. The messages ranged from "I don't want to live like this," to "Give me control," to "SHOOT ME." She was a strong, dignified lady, and she never wanted to be a burden on anyone.

I drove an hour to the hospital, speeding all the way. Once they remove that tube, apparently the end can come at any time. My CD player is broken, leaving me only with the radio, and even though I had listened to "Call Me Maybe" at least three times on the drive down, instead of sprinting inside, I sat in my car long after I had parked in the hospital's massive structure to allow Carly Rae Jepsen to finish. And then I sat some more, watching a cat dart under parked cars.

The walk up to the front doors was pretty okay, and hugging my mom in the lobby felt fine, but once we got in that elevator, man. I wanted to pry open the doors and run out of there.

You know who didn't get well? Dinosaurs.

"She's not in any pain," my mom said. She had the tone of a woman talking to a small child, and I was totally fine with that. She held my hand as we walked into her room and there she was. My grandmother was named Lenora. She was an accountant, and later a teacher, and she could play piano and tap dance. She had a big funny laugh and was a genuinely kind person, and now she was in hospital bed; tiny and crumpled and connected to a million machines, all beeping.

I was already crying, but it was soft and delicate and ladylike until a nurse came over and asked, "Are you close with your grandmother?" Because, no. I'm not. We're just not that kind of family.

The nurse, whose name I've already forgotten, was one of those people who is warm and instantly feels like home. She gave me a big hug and led me over to the bed.

"She's not in any pain," she told me in that same tone my mom used. "You can hold her hand and talk to her." She put my hand in hers. It was surprisingly warm, and I just stood there and sobbed, feeling so sorry for every email forward she had sent me that I hadn't replied to, for my surly teen years, for stealing a bracelet from Claire's when I was 13 that she couldn't possibly know about. She was a good, good, good person; and I stood there with her warm hand, feeling sorry for being so inferior.

My mom came and stood next to me at some point, I don't remember how long it had been. She leaned over the bed to my grandmother's ear and said, "MOM. ALISON IS HERE."

"Jesus, Mom."

"Honey, she's hard of hearing."

Now, I truly do believe that people in her state can hear you. But as loud as my mom was shouting, everyone on that floor could hear.

"Do you want to talk to her? Why don't you tell her about your sketch comedy team? Or how you're liking Glendale?"

I just stared at my mother with tears streaming down my face. And then I started to laugh. Because she is accidentally the funniest person I know.

"What? How are you liking your new place? Why haven't you invited me out there yet?"

"Can we not?" And then she kind of got it, and snapped back to the reality that she was losing her mother. 

She was sleep-deprived. I think she'd been camped in that hospital room for the last week. We stood there for another indeterminate amount of time, and I think she and I realized that, at some point, we would have to do this again, playing different roles. She held me and we cried, and I feel like a lot of the problems between the two of us washed away right there, if only temporarily.

We started talking again, just about her life and our memories of her. She and my grandfather, to whom she was married to for forty years. I made a joke about how how impossible that seemed and my mother replied, "You have to stop dating men in LA, they're all narcissists." And I had to give her another look to quit it.

We talked about all of her charity work, all of her projects and friends and how much she loved to travel.

"She went to every country."

"Mom, Grandma did NOT go to every country."

"Alison, yes she did!"

"Really? The Republic of Congo? She spent time in the Republic of Congo?" This continued, but I'll spare you.

It was about this time, when my burrito from earlier decided to make itself known.

I farted. I farted at my grandmother's deathbed.

I farted several more times over the next few hours, and as I was getting ready to leave, I asked my mom to give me time alone with her. I hadn't really said anything to her, yet.

I looked around, not really sure what to do. There was a cheerful "Get well soon!" balloon floating near the window, I don't know how I'd missed it that whole time. I could get into a whole thing about how insensitive the phrase "Get well soon" is. One: "Soon" is subjective; and two: It feels like nine times out of ten it just ends up ironic. This one especially, because it had dinosaurs on it. I can't think of an animal less appropriate. You know who didn't get well? Dinosaurs.

I ran my hands through her coarse hair and kissed her warm forehead and thanked her for letting me know her. I told her that I loved her and that I would miss her very much. All the things you say. I apologized for the farts and the surly teen years.

And I kissed her forehead again and walked out, leaving behind a huge part of me. She has been a part of my life for my whole life and now she isn't. My mom called the next morning to say she'd gone. That it was peaceful. All the things you say. And that was that.

Goodbye, Lenora Summerford. You will be greatly missed.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/08/the-woman-who-went-to-every-country/260653/