As I boarded the ferry last week, I knew the purpose of my trip to Vancouver was to say good-bye to my grandmother. Upon arriving at the intensive care unit at Vancouver General Hospital, I learned my family had been presented with some not so-encouraging news about my grandma's condition. However, some of us remained optimistic because we had seen her recover from serious illness many times before.
My grandma, for whom I was named, was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder back in the 1960s. At that time she was told she would have to travel to Switzerland to receive specialized treatment for her illness; otherwise, she would not survive more than three months. Maria would spend a year at that clinic before returning home to her family in Hamilton, Ont. Her illness had gone into remission and she was once again able to enjoy her three passions in life, hairdressing, dancing and painting. It wasn't until Maria moved to Vancouver in the late 1970s that she would find herself hospitalized again. This time the disease had come back with a vengeance, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. But Maria was a fighter and she told us she would soon walk again.
It was during this period of my grandma's life that I have my earliest memories of her. Even though she was bound to a wheelchair, I remember how she never once complained. She developed a deeper appreciation for cooking and decided to try every new recipe she could get her hands on. Most times she would find these recipes in her favorite magazine, the National Enquirer. My cousins and I could often be found poring over those magazines, not for the recipes, but to see the gorgeous fashions and learn the latest secrets about our favourite celebrities.
Maria also wanted to keep up her hairdressing skills, so she would often request that she be the one to cut my family's hair. I remember crouching down in front of her wheelchair while she cut my hair. Sometimes she would experiment a little, leaving me with a very sophisticated hairstyle for a third-grader.
True to her word, Maria entered rehabilitation and tried to walk again with the aid of a walker. Each day she would walk around the perimeter of the downstairs floor of her house.
Because of her determination and will to survive, she would surpass her life expectancy by 35 years, living long enough to watch her grandchildren grow into adulthood.
Despite her condition, the weekly medical appointments and the 30 pills she had to take each day to stay alive, Maria never became pessimistic about the quality of her life. Four weeks ago she began fighting the biggest medical battle of her life. Maria's illness had spread to the top of her spinal cord and she was quickly losing her motor skills. After she spent two weeks in a coma with no signs of improvement, my family decided she had fought long enough and she passed away.
It was hard for us to say good-bye, but I have many special memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.