My Oma is my grandmother and she is 97. She is that vital woman who argued with me about myths and religion and politics; who, when I was a teenager, made me trot to keep up with her as we explored New York City together. Alongside her, I picked potsful of blackberries and raspberries that she lovingly tended, and planted seeds and tubers she had brought to Colombia from Europe to create her rainbow-colored garden. We spent silent hours bent over games of Solitaire, which we played together, and even more hours recording stories and impressions of her childhood in Vienna, of her arrival in Colombia, of the members of her extended family (the former for my erstwhile novel, the latter for our family tree). She baked brownies, famous among her friends, from secret recipes that she wouldn’t ever fully share. She also made (need I say: from scratch?) the richest Eistorte, a loaf of icecream on a crust of ladyfingers.
It’s been a long time since she was in the kitchen to make her old favorites. We talk via Skype (that amazing computer software that lets us see and hear each other for free, even though I am in Chicago and she is in Bogota), but it had become increasingly difficult to communicate with her and I had begun calling her less and less frequently.
When I talked with her last, she had aged decades in a few weeks. Instead of walking slowly into the room, she was wheeled into it in a chair, wrapped tight in a blanket, with her eyes closed. She never once opened them. She never acknowledged my presence. She made no sounds, except to wail, plaintively, distressingly, from time to time.
It hurt. I couldn’t help the tears running down my cheek. It’s no surprise that she’s old and frail, at 97. But after such a rich and full life, it hurts to see that she is not comfortable, that she is not peaceful, and that there is little that her companions, much less myself, at this distance, can do to bring her comfort.
I wish I could find something hopeful here, see something uplifting, inspiring. But I won’t stretch that far; right now, I can’t. I only know that she has been happy, vibrant, lively… before.
I am comforted by the thought that her present state is temporary.
As is my own.