Kids are hard–they drive you crazy and break your heart–whereas grandchildren make you feel great about life, and yourself, and your ability to love someone unconditionally, finally, after all these years.
―Anne Lamott, Some Assembly Required
July 23, 2012
The day my life changed forever. In every way. I became a Grandma at 47.
I had decided I was not going to be a traditional Grandma. I was going to be a “Mimi.” I was going to be fun, fabulous, and always down for adventure.
The parents, my son and his wife, were going to the hospital to induce labor at 5:00 am on the day my grandchild was born. I beat the parents to the hospital. Excited, me? I was about to burst. Where ARE they? The heir is arriving today! And arrive she did.
I remember when I first held her. I immediately burst out crying. I wasn’t sad. I felt such a great, new happiness. I had a light again. A renewed sense of purpose. I had someone to love and I wanted to be her favorite. I tried my best to make this true.
I would make the long drive trip as often as I could, to bring her to my home. I could not get enough of her. My nickname for her was Chunka Chunk. After a few months, I dropped the Chunk and she became my Chunka.
When I asked her what her name was, she replied, “Chunka.”
There was no end to the activities I planned for my Chunka. Birthday parties, holiday parties, and tea parties. My life was filled with light and happiness. That little girl changed my life in every way. I looked forward to everything. I was rarely in a bad mood or ill. I had a shining light―my beloved Chunka.
People often told me how much she looked like me. Being a young Mimi, that was just fine by me. Cashiers would comment on how cute my baby was. “Thank you,” I proudly smiled.
Since the time she was very small, Chunka and I shared a tradition. Tutus. I would have handmade tutus sewn for Chunka for every possible occasion and she rocked them like a mini–ballerina. It was hard to find a photo without Chunka in her darling tutus. I’m surprised she didn’t ask me to wear one, too.
Chunka’s second birthday party was on July 23 of that year. This was the party where she wore her infamous leopard patterned tutu.
June 2, 2016
Before I begin this tragic story, I want to share a poignant moment.
I dropped in to see my Chunka and later her mom called me. She wanted me to know that Chunka had told her, “It was the highlight of her day.” It then became the highlight of my day, and sadly, a forever memory.
Who would ever have known this would be the last day I would be with my beloved Chunka?
Almost three years old, and she’s made more of an impact on my life than anyone. I think of her every damn day. I get up determined to be and do better for HER. To be that Mimi. We shopped, we ate, we played, we did it all. I think she liked shopping best―she inherited the shopping diva gene from me.
July 9, 2016
At approximately 11:30 pm, Chunka was in a car accident with her Daddy. I got the 2:00 am call.
“It’s bad.” They told me.
I drove for three hours and when I arrived I immediately drove back and this is why. A nurse was talking to me as we rounded the corner to the ICU. When I entered, I let out a scream and began sobbing uncontrollably. It was a horrific sight where Chunka was unrecognizable with tubes, wires, breathing apparatus, machines, and more. Her face was bruised beyond recognition. Her baby hands lay still.
On social media, well–meaning people posted photos of this nightmarish sight with the word pray. Almost as if a smiling photo of my beloved granddaughter would not have grabbed attention. The social media went viral on a GoFundMe and became tortuous for me to endure. I died a little each time I saw the posts. People I did not even know would pass around these ungodly photos and have the bad manners to tag me, with no thought for my feelings or emotions. This is an example of the down side of social media. Or people. I don’t know which. It became a whole new level of vile for me. I had to leave it and just read messages. What else could I do?
The doctors showed us an MRI and told us she wasn’t getting any positive blood flow to the brain due to swelling. She did have good things happen in the first few days, but I never lost sight of the trauma doctor telling us, “The first 72 hours are most critical due to brain swelling. I think everyone else understood this and believe me, I desperately wanted to believe.
Curiously, in the first few days, she turned over and moved a bit. One day she hummed for 24 hours. The doctors explained that what we were seeing was the body’s way of comforting itself. It did make sense to me. Sometimes I hum when I’m overwhelmed without even realizing I’m doing it. Whatever the medical explanation was, to me it meant hope. But you cannot see brain swelling and so many things could not be done due to head trauma.
This is where the proverbial rock and the hard place hit in between in every way.
Her brain did swell. Almost to 80 (on a scale of not good). Normal is appropriately 5-9. They could not “bolt” her brain due to skull fractures, and so it became a waiting game. The wait was excruciating.
I wanted to bargain with God.
How could he let this happen?
And to my sweet Chunka,of all people. Yet, I stayed the path. I never doubted. Something would happen. I mean, this is God, for fuck’s sake.
We got nothing.
She was brain dead. If she had awakened at that moment, she would have been in a vegetative state. They told us she was gone.
I had to get out of there. I went outside to the parking garage and began walking. Smoking. Not even caring if I got caught in the smoke-free zone.
I probably got cancer that day.
I hoped that she knew she took my heart with her that day.
Over and over and over.
My sister came looking for me and walked with me for a bit.
My heart was shattered.
My beloved Chunka.
My light had gone out.
Her parents were treated respectfully by having the choice of when the life support machines would be turned off. But the thing is–could you make this decision for your three-year-old child? Neither could they. A few days went by which were heart-wrenching for me. Despite hearing the doctor’s words, this Mimi still held on to hope.
I knew that little girl. She was as tough as whitleather. Full of life. Always up for shenanigans, especially with her Mimi.
I still held on to hope. Those doctors were not taking that away from me. No one was.
The doctors performed another brain activity test, using physical stimuli for a reaction. Water in the ear, hot, cold–tests. Then they disconnected the ventilator. I felt myself tense up. I thought, BREATHE, SHOW THEM!
Eight of the longest minutes went by. The hospital staff reconnected her to the ventilator because they plan the “end of life” with a child only when their parents are present.
I was touched by this act of kindness in a nightmarish situation.
July 20, 2016
Today they let Chunka go, three days before her third birthday. She was wearing the last tutu I had made for her. I was so relieved because the longer it dragged out, I felt she was being disrespected. My heart shattered despite knowing it was coming.
I did not get the miracle I wanted. The miracle I believed in. I’m not angry at God and I still believe in miracles. This one was not possible. I have seen too much in my 50 years not to believe in God and miracles. Miracles come in different forms. Sometimes my beloved Chunka was a miracle. The love we had was a miracle. The fact we had her as long as we did was a miracle. If love could have saved her–it would have. Never doubt it.
As for me, I don’t know what or how I’m going to move forward.
She did, figuratively, take my heart with her.
It was hers.
My light? It’s gone.
What’s next? I have no idea. How will I deal this pain and loss?
Not call her?
Not go to the toy departments?
The little girl clothes?
Who will I spend my money on now? Who will call me and say, “I wanna come to yow house.”
I hope to be okay one day. But I can guarantee, not one day will go by that I don’t think of my baby. My Chunka. Gone.