I paced up and down the grocery flower section as if it were my life that depended on it. They had to be purple. Her favourite colour was lilac. They didn’t have actual lilacs. I reached for a bouquet of tulips. Did she like tulips? Were tulips too Easter? I turned to look at the potted plants. Could I bring a potted plant? Did it have to be a whole bouquet? If I brought a bouquet, would I have to bring the vase too?
“Hey, it’s been almost an hour,” Ant reminded me softly. “Maybe we should just pick one and head over.”
I knew he was right. But I needed the flowers to be perfect. What if I brought the wrong flowers and then…
“Do you think she’d like an orchid?” I asked picking up a beautiful white pot with a gorgeous fuchsia flower.
“I don’t,” I said peaking under the base at the price sticker. “It’s too fancy. I mean, she’d love it for herself, or for me, but she’d be really upset if I spent $40 on a single flower for her.”
“What about these?” Ant asked pointing at a bouquet of pink and white peonies I’d already ruled out earlier.
“If there were some purple ones, they’d be perfect,” I explained. “She actually used to have fake ones just like these in a soft violet colour. They even had these plastic water drops that I used to peel off of them when she wasn’t looking..”
“But these won’t work?”
“No.” I shook my head. “They look like a wedding bouquet.”
“One day, ojalá, if I live long enough,” her voice bloomed in my mind, “I’ll get to see you get married.”
I flushed out my lungs and announced, “no bouquets. Bouquets die. We need to get her a plant that can be watered, that she can take home with her.”
Ant looked at me skeptically, but he didn’t comment. One of the descriptions on one of the pots of flowers read, “heat, drought and disease-resistant. These zinnias will be around for a long time!” And I knew I’d found my flowers.
When we entered her hospital room, I nearly dropped the pot on the floor. She lay in the middle of this huge bed, connected to all sorts of tubes, her eyes closed as she slept. It felt like someone had sucked all the air out of me. She looked so small, so frail. My grandmother. The fierce matriarch who’d moved her entire family across the world for a better life. My confidant. My first friend.
“Hi,” my mom greeted us in a low voice, looking up at us over her romance novel. She sat alone beside the hospital bed.
I blinked back tears and swallowed hard, reminding myself how to breathe. First inhale, then exhale. I added my flowers to the group of them on the shelf in front of her bed. I asked, “how is she?”
“Better. She was just dehydrated with a bladder infection.” On top of her existing dementia and Parkinson’s.
After we sent Ant away on a hospital coffee run, my mom turned to me and said conspiratorially, “the nurses told me I should start preparing for..”
She didn’t say it, but the tears rushed back regardless. I nodded to show I understood because I couldn’t speak.
“That’s ridiculous!” My mom exclaimed. “I told them, ‘is she dead yet!? No!’ She’ll be fine.”
My heart broke for my poor, delusional mum. She clearly wasn’t taking this well. Losing her mom was going to hit her so hard.
“Michael says we can buy a hospital bed just like this one for her bedroom,” my mom continued. “We’ll get a full wheelchair, we’ll puree all her foods. We can get nurses and PSWs to come in several times a day. She’ll be fine.”
I nodded along, finding it hard to believe that my grandmother would ever be leaving the hospital. I knew my mom was stubborn, but I didn’t think she could out-stubborn death.
My grandmother was discharged 2 weeks later, with a prognosis of 6 more months at most.
That was two years ago. My mom did all the things she described and more. My grandmother turns 86 at the end of the month. She still eats and laughs and watches TV. Even our family doctor was shocked to see my grandmother was actually putting on weight.
Like those zinnias, my grandmother and my mother are fighters.