When my paternal grandfather got sick and everyone was expecting him to die, I made a commitment to visit him and my grandmother once a year for as long as they lived. It was a promise I enjoyed keeping, even though it was financially difficult at times. My grandparents live in the Caribbean, on a beautiful island called Grenada. It is a place I grew up visiting every summer, and so in addition to visiting my beloved grandparents, travelling there means touching parts of my past to my present. It is a scenic treasure trove of memories for me.
My grandfather passed away more than ten years ago. It was a death we were all expecting. In two years I made two trips to see him “for the last time” before I made the trip for his funeral. There’s nothing quite like telling someone you have to go to the Caribbean for a funeral. You can see their inner confusion as they try to express sympathy while keeping their jealousy from leaking out. It is hard to pity someone on their way to a tropical paradise, even if they’re going there to mourn.
At present, both of my grandmothers live in Grenada. My maternal grandmother, who never married, moved there inadvertently. She left Grenada without looking back or going back for more than forty years. Then she accompanied me on one of my yearly visits. I can’t remember if she had planned to stay for three weeks or three months, but six years have passed and she’s still living there now.
With two aging grandmothers in Grenada, I continue to visit every year. I no longer travel alone; my husband accompanies me now. Much more has changed—mostly due to the fact that my grandmothers have aged. My paternal grandmother had a stroke five years ago and hasn’t stood, let alone walked, since. It took months of physical therapy for her to relearn how to sit up and feed herself. Her entire existence is limited to the confines of her bed. My maternal grandmother is similarly limited. She can stand with assistance, but walking is an excruciating endeavor for her now. Unless someone is there to help her, she is effectively bed-ridden as well.
Every year that I visit my grandmothers I have to face aging and mortality. When I was young, they looked ageless to me—frozen in time in my mind as simply being old to a grandparental degree. Now I can measure their decline by sight. Strokes and age have greatly altered them. Their hair and their bodies have thinned. Their limbs and their eyes have grown weaker. I can see parts of who they used to be disappearing.
Visiting my grandmothers is always bittersweet. It is good to see them. It is good to reminisce and laugh. It brings me joy to bring them joy just by visiting. But it is also hard to see them—to see them so changed from how I remember them being. Their bodies have betrayed them. Old age has abused them. Life is leaving them like an ice cube in a glass of warm water that can’t help but keep on melting. Each year I visit them I know it might be the last time I see them alive. This knowledge adds an extra weight of emotion to each “I love you” and hug goodbye.