Re-post from June- 2009
When the caller ID showed the number– I knew something was wrong. I was right. My grandmother was in the hospital.. and it was the “you need to come visit now,” kind of call.
I didn’t know what to do, so I did what I could, and what i always do. I made a care pkg of love.
This weekend- I had tried my hand at making jam. It had actually turned out, so I thought I’d bring some up to her. My grandmother ALWAYS made home made jam in the summer. It is part of our family story. I remember prying out the carefully poured parafin to find an amazing elixir of liquid summer. I can feel the cool jelly jar in my had even now and taste the sweet-tar fruit on toast with butter. My grandmother was born in Wales, so I added fresh scones and clotted cream, along with a box of tea bags to the little care package. Tea time is a daily tradition and is something we’ve always enjoyed together. All I could think- was grandma needs tea, and hospital tea won’t do. Packing up tea was something I could DO to help.
We made the drive to the hospital in quiet. When we arrived, we had to look hard to find the outline of her tiny frail body in the hospital bed. She had trouble speaking, but tears came to her eyes when she saw me. I smiled. It was worse than I’d thought.
I did not know is that she hadn’t eaten in days, and that scones would be out of the question. Still, I wondered if a bit of jam and cream would be good. I asked the nurse and with her approval..I asked grandma if she wanted a taste. I offered her a bit of jam and cream on a spoon, Grandma nodded her regal approval. . That was enough.
My grandmother’s mouth and throat are parched from dehydration and diminished use. Every swallow is obviously painful, a sponge to wet her mouth has been on the bedside. But honestly- it just didn’t seem right. Her regalness- sucking a sponge was wrong, and while compassionate care.. it wasn’t what she needed to improve.
The idea that grandma needed tea, would not leave my mind. Tea, makes everything bearable, if not better. Our family has had pots of tea during wakes, during wedding planning, on lazy afternoons and after every holiday meal..(even the fourth of July.) the kettle has NEVER been anywhere other than the stove top. Like the Rock of Gibraltar, it doesn’t move. I decided to try to get her to take a bit the next day.
Shortly after arriving, I asked if she wanted a bit of tea. “That would be wonderful” . Was her answer. It was more words in a row than we’d heard in days. I grinned. “YOU got it grandma.” I was quickly reminded of this: My Grandmother doesn’t drink tea through a straw, nor from a styrofoam cup. “That would be disgusting” grandma would say.
Standing in the hospital room, I longed for the kettle. I longed for the teapot and limoges cups she’d served me from. I wracked my brain for how to accomplish tea in this place. The gift shop held the answer. a pretty blue china cup. I washed it in the bathroom and ran back to grandma’s room.
With warm water from the cafeteria, we brewed up a fresh cuppa. My aunt raised it to her parched lips. Grandma wanted more. A few minutes later.. she COMPLAINED. It wasn’t hot enough. We laughed. “We don’t want to burn you!” Grandma reprimanded: “Don’t be ridiculous.” We promised the next cup would be warmer.
And it was.
Something shifted in Grandma with those cups of tea. A spark of herself ignited. It couldn’t have been caffeine. It was decaf.. It was a spark of her dignity.
Dignity is an even more fragile thing than my grandmother. (She tips the scale at a childs weight.) My grandmother is a proud and proper woman, dignity is her MO. Being bedridden and immobile is a type of hell for her. She cannot care for herself, she cries when “certain of her needs” require the help of others. Those china cups of tea helped make her feel like herself.
I don’t know what the future holds for my grandmother. We know that at nearly 90, time is short. Her prognosis is guarded at best. But I know this.. a tea cups worth of dignity can make a difference in this moment.
I hope that today- if you’re confronted with an overwhelming situation- one that leaves you feeling like there’s nothing you can do, that you will do what you can. Sometimes just being there is enough. Sometimes a smile.. or an offered cup of cold water- or a hot tea. There is something.. however small that you can do to make a difference in this moment, for someone. Do it.
A timely re-post from this summer