by Arame Ndiaye
The summer of 2009— July 27, to be exact—was the last time I saw my grandmother. She passed away December 10, 2009. I remember I was in the kitchen with my mother when we received a terrible phone call from my aunt. I heard her voice through the phone, distraught and crying. My mother tried to hide the news from me, but I already knew.
My grandmother had had a pre-stroke right after we left from our vacation in Senegal, but she had recovered as if nothing had happened. She had been back to her normal activities again. Then around the end of August, she had a major stroke. She recovered from that, too, but with major consequences. She could not speak anymore, and her whole left side was paralyzed. Worst of all, she could not open her eyes, and she did not recognize anyone’s voice. She could barely move and could only make noises occasionally. Terrified, my mother immediately traveled back to Senegal by herself. As soon as my mother saw my grandmother, she instantly started crying because my grandmother looked so thin. She had to fight to breathe. When she was frustrated, tears came rolling down her face, but she still could not open her eyes. My mom started sobbing because the thought of my grandmother fighting for her life was unbearable.
My mom took care of her, bathed her, changed her clothes, and combed her hair, but she still couldn’t open her eyes. Around the beginning of November, my mother came back to New York with no hope at all. I just kept telling her that things were going to get better; we just had to trust in Allah. In fact, miracles began happening, and my grandmother opened her eyes, but she still could not recognize people, not even my aunt. She could not speak, but she made sounds when she wanted something.
My grandmother was discharged from the hospital, and she went home with my aunt. All her life my grandmother had been a strong woman who fought to provide a better future for her kids who didn’t have much, but now she had to rely on my aunt. I knew my grandmother hated to be dependent on people, but at least she was alive. We thought that everything was going to be perfectly fine. We did not know that her life was going to end so soon.
Looking back, I think that my grandmother knew that she was going to leave us because when the summer of 2009 came she forced us to come visit her in Senegal. At first, we weren’t going to go since the tickets cost at least $1,000 a piece, and there were eight of us, including my two older sisters and brother. But price did not matter to my grandmother, so she collected all of her money and bought tickets for me and my younger sisters; my older sisters and brother paid for their own. She said that we had to come visit her that summer.
The day we were packing up to go back to New York, my grandmother started crying. I had never seen her cry before. She used to tell us, “I will see you next summer,” and give us a big hug. But this time she didn’t say that. Instead, she gave me a long lecture. Since I was the oldest that lived with my parents, she told me to look after my little sisters. She told me to listen to my mom and to take care of her. She told me to be respectful to everyone since I was becoming a young lady. I started crying too because before I had always known that I was going to see my grandmother the following summer. This time it was different.
My grandmother gave me fifty dollars so that my sister and I could get something to eat on our way to the airport. I guess it was her way of saying goodbye.