Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about precious. No, not the ring, but a person who just can’t seem do you wrong. This one actually took me a little while to figure out, because I recognize that no one is infallible. People aren’t perfect; perspectives are subjective, so even the very definition of “perfection” makes it inherently impossible. It really boils down to what’s perfect for each individual. For me, it’s my grandmother.
Now, this isn’t because of spoiling me as a child or anything like that. Quite the opposite, in fact; she’s a tough, but fair old woman that values hard work and discipline. She’s lived nearly a century, 2/3rds of which she spent in various houses in the Philippines. She worked as a seamstress, and made clothes for her family for years. She married young to an up-and-coming church minister, and she had at least twelve children. There may be a few more; information from her early days has always been kind of hazy. Not because she’s forgotten any of it – she’s still as sharp as steel trap – but because she barely speaks English. She’s been here in the United States since the 70s, but never fully adapted. Her Tagalog is terse, but her voice is crystal clear. She’s pretty stoic at a glance, so her hearty laughs and twinkling eyes can catch you off guard in the best way.
When you first meet, it’s easy to underestimate her. She looks like a 4’9″ mass of wrinkles and bones. At 95 years, she seems frail, like an old porcelain doll. But if you stay around long enough, you’ll realize she’s the toughest person in the room. By far. Witness this little old lady getting up at the crack of dawn and taking her dogs for a walk. She used to do miles every morning, but now she settles for laps around the garage. Not long after, she’s in the kitchen, making breakfast for everyone. Her homemade lumpia is legendary. She’ll ask for help if you happen to be awake, but only for reaching something on a high shelf. Once the food is served and and she’s done eating, she’ll don a gardening hat and some gloves and go to work in the backyard. That old porcelain doll you met? She’s hauling dirt, pushing pottery, and looming over flower beds. She might ask you to carry a shovel for her. She works slowly and steadily, coming in only around lunch time with a fine layer of sweat on her forehead. A meal and a couple hours of napping later, she’s up for another round.
…At least, that’s how things used to be.
Earlier this year, my grandmother had a couple of bad falls. That’s not good news for anyone, especially when you’re 95. A few of her ribs cracked, and one of her arms was rendered useless. She could’ve had surgery, but the procedure and its fallout ran a high risk of killing her. Her spirit was strong, but her body was just too old. So she turned it down. Despite the advice and warnings of the doctors and the pleadings of her children, she accepted the inevitable. She went home with her busted arm cradled against her body as if it a handbag. She couldn’t even lay down to sleep anymore. When the wheelchair was delivered to the house, she dismissed it with a single line:
“I will not be using that.”
When the doctors tried to explain how to use the oxygen tanks:
“If I cannot breathe, I will die. It is that simple.”
When we tried to reassure her by saying that she’d live to be a hundred, she practically facepalmed.
“I do not WANT to live to that long! Being old is very hard!”
She put on a brave face, but it felt so terrible. Within a few months, she admitted that she probably wouldn’t live much longer and asked for my mother and I to visit. We brought her a whole cooler full of seafood and bags of homegrown fruit to cheer her up. To our amazement, this crippled old woman grabbed a huge fish and began preparing it literally single-handedly. Having a useless arm and chest pains didn’t seem to slow her down in the slightest; her grip on the knife was firm. However, she did ask for more help than she used to. As the three of us ate fish with rice and steamed vegetables, she nodded to a row of flower bushes outside a window.
“I work on those every day. Without them, I would be dead by now.”
It’s heartbreaking to think of her. She’s still alive – I’ll be seeing her at New Year’s – but how long she can hold out is anyone’s guess. It’s hard to see someone so tenacious, so tough, so utterly full of life be brought down because her body can’t keep up with her spirit. While I recognize that her pride keeps her from accepting help, her determination in the face of death and not succumbing to despair is admirable. If this 95 year old woman with a crippled arm and ribs can rise every morning to tend her flowers and still cook delicious fish, then I have to do better. She deserves it.