My mother was using Dr. Spock’s cry it out method when I was born, but my grandmother was from the old country and she rushed to comfort. For as long as I can remember, and until her stroke, her hands that lifted me under my armpits smelled of garlic and ham hock and hope.
The ride to the hospital to see her after she collapsed was two hours. We piled into the tan Ford station wagon and my heart became a wingless bird, soaked in grief. When we arrived, she was in a coma and three men were crying at the foot of her bed.
Each man thinking he was the only one.
When the doctors told my mother she likely would never come out of the coma, I lost my ability to fill my lungs with air.
The next day we went again to the hospital and now there was only one man sitting at the foot of her bed. We called him The Captain because he owned a large sailing ship and wore a captain’s hat. He told us he and my grandmother had been planning to sail around the world.
The Captain and I sat vigil with her. Together we prayed, stroked her hair and sang her lullabies she used to sing to me…. and we waited.
As the days wore on, the Captain began checking my homework, helping me with my essays and drying my tear soaked pages, while she lay still, like an angel motionless in white sheets.
And I swear to God love and prayers brought her back to us.
She came back as a little girl trapped in an aging woman’s body, not remembering my name or my mother’s or my brother’s, but fully recognizing us, not remembering the Captain at all, but she’d giggle when he kissed her cheek and cluck her tongue.
Months of rehabilitation started in a facility two hours from our home, where the gardens were extraordinary, life blooming all around her. It’s here she had to learn to walk again, to talk and try to weave fragments of her past together. And she dragged her left leg behind her.
The Captain came every day. He asked my mother if he could take care of her. For the rest of her life, he said. He would take her around the world on his boat like they had been planning, he said.
My mother and her sisters discussed it, over pots of Lipton Tea in my Aunt Dee’s kitchen, like a judicial court. And I remember their judgment of her having more than one lover, and because they didn’t know anything about The Captain, they told him he could not have her.
She moved in with us and became the sixth member of our family.
And when The Captain left to sail the world, I grieved him for her.
I tried to teach my grandmother how to read again from the books she read to me as a little girl. I unbuttoned her massive bra every night, thirty-two tiny hooks and watched the weight of motherhood fall.
For a year postcards came from The Captain smelling like the sea and night air – with photos of tropical flowers and the gentle, feminine curves of coastlines. I read those postcards to her at night, like an unfinished bed time story.
And then the postcards stopped coming.
And if you are not in a romantic relationship and feeling unloved, and even if you are in a romantic relationship, don’t forget love so often transcends the physical, it’s doesn’t always come in the form we might crave.
When my hands smell of onion and garlic and lentils are boiling on the stove, I know for sure we are cooking together and that I am loved. I pick up my grandson when he is crying – rushing to hold him until he is calm, remembering she taught me how.
Shhhhh, shhhhhh, shhhhhhh, I say into his ear.
I am certain from my grandmother Bessie I learned to love the act of loving just as much as being loved.
Author Henri Nouwen wrote “the more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. As you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”