Saturday, August 20, 2011

Crying and Cooking

On Wednesday night, my grandmother finally finished her agonizing 5-month battle with bronchoalveolar carcinoma, (a rare and rapidly spreading form of lung cancer).  I was her main caretaker for the last 3 months.  I gave up my summer to care for her and my grandfather and to help my family.  At the beginning, I thought it would be a slow, easy summer at home before my last busy year of college.  I could never have been more wrong.  Every day was a new challenge, both mentally and physically, for everyone involved.  I cooked, cleaned, gave meds, ran errands, did laundry, mowed the lawn, helped Hospice, and changed diapers.  I was there seven days a week, 14 hours a day.  The days ran into one another, and then so did the weeks.  All of a sudden it's the end of summer, I go back to school in two weeks, and I can't figure out where summer went.

Well, I think I have an idea.  My summer was spent caring for the woman that raised me while my mother worked long hours.  It was spent being there for the people that loved me most when they most needed me.  This summer, I learned things I never knew about my grandparents' marriage, my family's past, and myself.  I discovered that there was so much more to these two people than just being "Gram and Grampie".  I became my grandmother's best friend.  She would refuse to talk to other members of my family, and wouldn't trust another soul with her medications.  Whenever I would try to sneak away for a day, she would sob hysterically and yell, "I want my Hannah."  I always was "her Hannah".  I was a grandma's girl from day one.

This summer definitely tested our relationship and my sanity.  As the cancer filled her lungs, it also strangled her spirit.  She became mean, ornery, and anxious.  She wanted it over with, and she was angry with us for not making it end faster.  As the cancer spread to her brain, she hallucinated bees in her room, thinking we were trying to kill her, and would cry about how she just wanted to go home.  I wasn't always strong enough to swallow her emotional outbursts.  I cried on the phone to my friends, called her some pretty strong names, and ran miles a day to release my frustrations.

I was there almost every single day for three months.  Then on Wednesday night, I left for ten minutes to get a toothbrush and a change of clothes, and she passed.  Her passing was something out of a romance movie.  Before I left she opened her eyes for the first time all day and looked at me.  When I left, she opened them again and stared at my mother for the first time probably all summer.  Then she started moving her eyes to the side as if she were looking for someone.  My mom told my grandfather to come to the other side of the bed.  He hobbled over, they locked eyes for a few seconds, he kissed her, and she went peacefully to sleep.

I am ok with death.  I do not fear it nor resent it.  I accept death as an end to peoples' suffering.  Death does not make me cry.  It is seeing other people cry that I cannot handle.  If someone dies in a movie, I am fine until I see another character mourning.  If I'm watching a sad movie, I won't blink until the person I'm watching it with starts to cry.  I didn't cry when I got the phone call from my mom, or when I went up to her room and we all sat silently around her bed.  It was when my stoic grandfather, who rarely smiled or spoke for the 21 years I'd known him, broke down into tears that did me in.  The look on his face was that of his heart shattering as he stared into the face of the woman he fell in love with 61 years ago.  All I could think of was my grandma retelling the story of how they met.  "I was 13 and he was 17..."

The past two days have been spent reminiscing and looking through old photos, listening to my grandfather tell the stories that go along with them.  Not all our memories of Gram are happy ones, but this time together remembering those times has been.  I leave tomorrow to lock myself up in my friend's apartment to study for the GRE, Rochelle leaves to go back home to Rochester, and our cousin, Cy, leaves for another cow show.  Yesterday Rochelle and I decided to cook and bake to leave enough food for everyone for a while after we're gone.  We made "squash stuff", stuffed zucchini, and Gram's famous saucepan brownies.  In order to spread her memory, I'd like to share her recipe with all of you. 

Patricia Conard's Saucepan Brownies

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
Handful of chopped walnuts

Melt butter and cocoa together in a large saucepan over low heat.
When mixture is smooth, remove from heat.
Add sugar.  Don't worry.  It will look crystallized and gross.
Add eggs and vanilla.
Stir in flour.
Fold in walnuts.
Pour into a greased 9x13" pan and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes.
Top with a semi-sweet chocolate buttercream.
They didn't turn out exactly like Gram's, but I'm going to make them again and again until I get them right.  My grandmother was a phenomenal baker, known especially for her pies and brownies.  I seem to be the only one in the family to have inherited her baking gene, so it is up to me to carry on her legacy in the kitchen.

We'll eat our brownies, raise our glasses of milk, and cheer, "here's to you, Gram".

Love and cookies,

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