The supreme irony of life

December 31, 2009
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The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive
Robert A. Heinlein


The universe can be highly ironic at times. It was the day after Thanksgiving and this was the thought that entered my head, as the person I was most thankful for was lying in the ICU wing technically dead.

I spent much of my childhood at the hospital with my grandmother. She was always ‘on her death bed’ one week and yelling out the answers while watching Jeopardy at her house the next. The whole situation played our hearts like cheap plastic yo-yos.
There was never a time that I recall my grandma being as happy and healthy as all of my friends’ grandmas, but I spent my time with her at the hospital as any kid in that situation with energy to spare would. I explored my surroundings and learned things no one else my age knew. The worst diseases and how to treat them floated around my small head, as did what they do to the human body and how they affected the family members of the ill. I also knew every bathroom on every floor and at what time the nice snack man would come to restock the vending machines. On days that I was extra nice, he would slip me a free candy bar and I would eat it at the end of my grandma’s hospital bed while the adults talked of new complex procedures and hope for a bright future.
Only a week before Thanksgiving my grandmother’s old home was sold and all of her worldly possessions were distributed amongst her three melancholy children. A week ago death had come and slowly drained my grandma’s life force dry, and left her an empty body with no soul. We all knew that this time there was going to be no miraculous recovery, no celebratory dinner at her favorite restaurant, K&W. Although we knew there was no chance of her pulling through, a small part of us wanted to be proven wrong so we could go back to the way things had once been.

But on that dreadful day there was no talking, no funny jokes being told for the eighth time, like a broken record, by a forgetful grandmother just trying to make it all a little easier. I didn’t receive my customary hello smile or her usual offer of two quarters so I could ‘buy something nice for myself’. As years rolled by the two coins bought less and less, but my love for her never waned.

The walls of this new room held no pictures of flowerpots or boats sailing on either rough seas or tranquil lakes. No vending machine sat in a corner, whirling away while keeping a mounted TV stuck on a news channel no one watched high on the wall company. The nurses and janitors weren’t the ones I knew and loved, but the ones who had grown cold and callous working in an environment where few survived and you heard the moans of mourners more than once a day. No animals frolicked on their uniforms; instead they were the same dull gray of the walls which were far from the hopeful blues of the fourth floor or the calm green of the second floor. The windows didn’t look out onto the memorial park or penny wishing fountains; instead they showed the old dirty and abused parking lot. No singing balloons slowly swayed in the corner and no ‘get well soon’ cards placed like obedient soldiers guarded the window; but most notably of all, no lucky red and white sewing blanket kept her frail legs warm on nights when it was cold and lonely.

She had always looked beyond her years due to the terrible habit of chain smoking and constantly being ill. The fluorescent light above her didn’t help to preserve her youth at all. I crept close to her side while holding my breath, terrified that if I came too close or breathed too hard she would simply collapse upon herself.

I gazed down at her closed eyelids and wished I had taken the time to commit her eye color to memory. Were they the golden green of my own or the forest brown of my father’s? I would sadly never know.

My gaze then drifted to her lips. Thin and cracked, they supported a clear breathing tube lodged in her throat. Her lips were a pale pinkish gray color, far from the ostentatious ruby red that she always wore. The lipstick would always smudge on napkins, cups, her teeth, and even my face, causing much embarrassment in public. But at that moment, my only desire was to ransack the room in search of that one black and gold tube of lipstick so she would look at least a little like the grandmother I once loved.

I gathered all of my courage together and threw thoughts of her disintegrating at my benign touch away and did just that. Slowly I put my finger on her upturned palm. I felt the cold dry skin that was a far cry from her warm soft hands that used to caress my hair and pat my back during a warm hug.

I let my finger trace a never-ending circle on her palm as I took in her appearance. Her white hair had gotten thinner where it hadn’t already fallen out. Her face was heavy with wrinkles, complete with crows feet and bags under her eyes. Her light blue nightgown hung from her malnourished body like an old abused potato sack would hang from a pole. Her arms were rainbows of colors they shouldn’t have been. Green, blue, purple, and yellow all wove in and out of each other while a dot of red here and there recalled where a needle had once been, and where some still were.

I was so caught up in the moment that I was stunned when the real world came crashing back in. The young man in the next room was screaming again due to another drug induced nightmare. He made a racket swearing and jerking on the restraints that kept him to his bed. A woman down the hall had finally let go and a high pitched beep filled her room. The sound slithered out into the hallway, infecting anyone it came near with despair and gloom. Her family mourned her loss loudly as the stoic doctor wrote down yet another time of death. Nurses feverishly worked the desk, answering phone calls, yelling directions, and buzzing in the cops to handle the man next door.

My brother lightly pushed me to the side, indicating that my time was up. He engulfed her in a bone-crushing hug. He wasn’t afraid that she would crumble away; he knew that she couldn’t feel a thing. A single tear slipped through his dark eyelashes and rolled down his now pale face.

A completely misplaced emotion over took my senses. I was jealous that he could cry and not be the least bit embarrassed. But I soon foolishly scoffed at that thought. Didn’t I prove to be stronger by not crying? Soon a mighty guilt over took me when I realized my own mistake. But it was too late to rectify the situation, our parents were ushering us out of the room, for it was 4:30 and the doctors were ready to let my most beloved grandmother cross over to the other side.
With the radio off and words escaping us, my brother and I drove home in silence. One thought circled my mind like a ravenous buzzard. Would my grandmother hate me for not hugging her goodbye? After all she had been the one to painstakingly teach me better. Once again the universe had dealt me the irony card.





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