Tuesday, March 01, 2011

So, how did my great-grandmother die?

My sister's daughter Alexis Cecilia
and my daughter Cecilia Grace
It’s not unusual for second-graders to break into a breathless string of questions at any given time. This morning, Cecilia wanted to know everything about my Mammy. Cecilia, 8, is the namesake of Cecilia Brooks, my grandmother.

I could easily go on and on about her because I’ve always been impressed with my grandmother's strength, her faith and her strong sense of family. I told Cecilia that I am only taking care of one child, but my grandmother raised eight children and one was not hers, but she loved and took care of her just like she was her own.

Life was hard for share croppers, but she made yummy treats and meals by hand. I had to mention the luscious cornbread topped with Steen Syrup because Cecilia is fond of homemade cornbread (no boxes, please).

Mammy made all the food from scratch and made clothes and quilts by hand. “If your great-grandmother Cecilia wanted to cook chicken for lunch, she went out into the yard and picked out one, swung it around by the neck and then boiled it and took the feathers off before cooking lunch,” I explained.

“She did?” Cecilia squealed like I was describing a famous folk hero.

“She was such an awesome person that your great-grandfather Lucious, even though he was her husband, never called her ‘Cecilia,’” I said. “He called her Miss Tela because he loved and respected her so much.”

“So, how did my great-grandmother die?”

It hit me like a ton of bricks because it’s heavy breakfast conversation and it made me see the sobering facts about life, death and poverty that a little girl’s memories will easily omit decades later.

“She had a bad heart,” I said. “She was sick for a long, long time. One day she said a massive stroke and a little while after that, she died.”

Cecilia skipped off to class when the car stopped to the front of her school and didn’t seem shattered, but I had to pause to think about the harsh realities of living with heart disease almost four decades ago. My grandmother had a pacemaker in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  Pacemakers were fragile, troublesome devices back then and her zipper-like scar always seemed evident sticking out from the top of her simple, homemade house dresses. She worked really hard, but she always seemed tired and in pain. I never heard a complaint, but that scar just seemed like it was attached to a great deal of suffering.

The last few years of her life were spent in the big city with us so when the stroke dealt the final blow, she was attached to a respirator in the same hospital where my mother and godmother worked. I spent a lot of time in that hospital and near the end, I found myself alone with my dying grandmother as the machines hummed and hissed forcing her lungs to breathe and her heart to pump. I believed God worked miracles so I closed my eyes and spoke the most earnest prayer a little girl could muster. I even imagined the excitement on the faces of the rest of the family when they returned to see her awake and talking.

I opened my eyes and she remained still except for the forced movement of the respirator. I kept my disappointment to myself so the humming and hissing machine wouldn’t mock me.

'Dr. Cece' and her Nanny Kathy,
a super sister and awesome nurse.
In the dark of the night the day before the Christmas Eve of my tenth year, my big sister Kathy and I sat alone by the light of the Christmas tree crying after the phone call came from my parents saying even the humming-hissing machine couldn’t force her tired heart to work any more.

When scarred by the tragedies of life, we can become victims of the memories or we can be moved to action. My sister Kathy and her first-born son became nurses. They care for the sick and urge preventative health measures.

I’ve had some health scares before and after bringing home Cecilia, my first surviving baby after four losses. Getting healthy and protecting my heart has meant changing lifestyles, eating right and losing more than 130 pounds since the year Cecilia was born.

Raising awareness and research funds, my Cecilia and I will walk on March 26 in the Heart Walk. “Dr. Rani” says every step we take extends our life and both Cecilia and I believe in the small steps to a long life.

If you would like to join us on March 26, click HERE to join Team H2D. Your support of our efforts will also be greatly appreciated. The banner below will take you to the donation page for my “Little Cecilia,” but it is in honor of the fight started by her great-grandmother Cecilia. This battle is definitely not over.

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