Three years ago, when I came back to Austria for good it was partly because I learnt that summer that my grandma had cancer. My world trembled, I felt lost and scared. I wanted to call my grandma but I didn’t know how to, I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t want to do this over the phone so I started to research, I googled my eyes out, wrote down all the information and tried everything to convince myself that there was a cure for her. That after the first chemo, she would be all better and that it all was just a big scare. I prayed for it so much, I hoped my prayers would be heard and that it all was just a bad nightmare.
Of course when I saw here right after I arrived at the airport, I knew that this wasn’t the case. I wished for it so bad, but something in me already knew then. Over the months she lost her hair, she lost weight, she lost the spirit and the optimism, she was sad, she was broken and with her, so were we. I remember sitting next to her, holding her hand and trying to comfort her. Trying to wipe her tears away, I tried to be strong for her, because this was the only thing I could do, the only thing I knew how to do.
I quickly realized that no matter what I did, I couldn’t help her and surely, she went through all the stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
The first stage – denial: For the longest time she didn’t acknowledge the sickness, she thought everything she used to do, she was still able to do and so she did. She pretended not to need help, everyone that wanted to help, she shooed away and she put her brave face on. When you’d asked her how she was doing, she’d say, ‘the usual’. Instead of looking out for herself, she made sure her husband, her kids and her grand-kids all were in good hands, she made sure that our lives didn’t stop because of this.
The second stage – anger: She got so angry at the world, at anything and at everybody. She wondered why her? Why not someone else? Why did she had to go through it and why won’t we let her be? Why do we insist on helping her, why? She was not done with her life, there was still so much she wanted to do, to see, to experience. She wanted to be at my wedding, she wanted to hold my kids, watch them grow up and so did I – but she got angry, because she feared, that none of this would ever happen – and sadly she was right.
The third stage – bargaining: She said she would change everything, she would turn everything around, she would do all the chemo sessions, she would do anything in her power, to get better. She said, that there must be a doctor, a nurse, a magician, someone who could help her, if she just changed a little bit, if she promised to never smoke again, if she damned the first cigarette she ever smoked. As well all know, this didn’t help.
The fourth stage – depression: Over the months, she got quiet. She kept many thoughts to herself, she got very sad and depressed, I know she tried her best to hide it, but even the strongest person couldn’t hide the sadness she was feeling. She was broken inside, we all knew it and we all tried to help her, but none of us knew how to.
The fifth stage – acceptance: This must have been the hardest part. Now still, it is the hardest part for me and my family to accept, that she is not with us anymore. But for her? I believe she knew that there was not much time left, I believe she felt it long before we saw it coming. I believe that when I last called her on a cold and rainy Sunday in November on my way to the airport, heading back to Oslo, that she already knew then that this very phone call was the last one we would ever have. I guess she suspected that this was the last time she would ever hear my voice. I believe she knew because she started crying, she said that she loved me very much and that she’d be thinking about me. She said to stay save and that she would always be there for me. And then she hung up.
Through three years of her suffering it wasn’t my family who stood next to her, it wasn’t my brothers or me, not my uncles, my aunts, my cousins, none of us. It always has been my grandpa – he not once questioned his being, not once raised his voice, not once got angry, not once thought about leaving her. Every day he would get up and take care of her, every night he would make sure she was laying comfortably. Towards the end, he laid awake most of the night, watching her sleep – that’s what he told me. I don’t know if she ever told him, what she told me once. I don’t know if he ever knew but I am sure he felt it.
She told me that after years and years being with my grandpa, she still loved him like nothing else. She would still get excited, when he would come home and she would hear him turning his key at the door. Her heartbeat would go up, she would get all giddy and happy. Truly happy. She said, that sometimes she can’t believe how after so many years she would still have butterflies just because she got to see him, walk with him, be with him. I hope one day – mind in far future – they get to be together again, having butterflies together, or maybe be them?