Last Friday we received the worst news ever from The Rock. A’s grandmother had suffered from a stroke, and was in a rather critical condition. Even though A’s father resisted having her sent to hospital for as long as he knew was possible and best for her, eventually on Sunday morning he had to do exactly that, and she has been there ever since. Fighting for her life, just as she has been doing for as long as I have known her and much longer before that.
She is a 94 year old fighter. Life has not given her the best deal of cards. She lost her husband when her son was just nine months old in the saddest of circumstances. She continued working as a teacher even though at that time it was hard to do so, since in Malta once married, a woman would give up her job. She told me of how she would walk to the various villages in Gozo where she taught, sometimes with her son in tow, and do her job. How when her son went to university, she would catch the only ferry trip that worked all day, and would visit him to cook and clean for him, all after a day’s work. She supported him in any way she could, and did so with the utmost discipline she could. For she is all about discipline. She hates waste, excess vanity and lets her voice be heard. She is not one who lets a situation pass by without voicing her opinion. In fact, if you do not know her, you might be offended by her blunt comments. I remember her telling me when I had a fringe, that it was not practical at all because it would get in the way of my eyes and eventually bother me. When I was growing out the fringe, she told me that it must have had bothered me at the end, just as she had said. When A and I got married, I went along with A’s sister to buy her an outfit for the occasion. After choosing and buying it, she went back to the shop, on her own, and tried changing it for another one she had seen and liked. She did not get it only because the store did not have it in her size. We also learnt that she had gone to a beautician close to her home by herself and had her nails done for the wedding. I laughed so much when she was once given a glass of expensive wine, and when asked whether she liked it, she answered “It’s okay, but Tapie’s wine is much better”. Tapie’s Bar in Victoria sells the worst wine (if you can call it wine. It’s more a concoction of chemicals), at the cheapest prices ever. But that’s just her.
Her memory is precise. she remembers things from her teaching years that just astound me. She taught in my village for a couple of years and always asks me about people who she taught there, and what happened to them and whether they are still alive. She narrates certain episodes which took place decades ago with a fresh spirit that make each story sound as interesting as ever. Ex-students still treat her and talk about her with the utmost of respect and that is just a testimony of the strong character she has.
She has a house in Malta which she absolutely loves, for some strange reason, since it is unpractical for a woman her age to live in (it has three sets of stairs and no telephone). Yet up until a couple of years ago, she would go, by herself and spend weekends there. This summer A’s dad had to take her up to Malta three times because she was adamant about staying there. And when she stays there, it is not resting time for her. She cleans the place, washes the whole set of plates, trims the trees in the garden, changes the curtains and repairs anything that may be broken. She does not accept any help from anyone, except if she absolutely has to. She is stubborn and may get on your nerves at time, but is respected for such. When Cesca was born, she gave me a set of towels and face-clothes for her, all in white, because according to her, irrespective of the sex, you were to use white-coloured items of clothing only for babies. She then proceeded to tell me that naming the baby after St. George was a sound choice, because Giorgia or Georgine was a ‘classic’ name. We only got out of that one when we told her that Cesca was short for Francesca, and she happens to be a big devotee of St. Francis.
The Sunday before last, just before we left Malta, A went to pick her up for Sunday lunch. And found her standing on a chair, wiping clean a shelf she has hanging. He had to wait for her to finish before taking her home. May I repeat that she is 94 years old. She is just that type of person.
Which is why the news of her stroke just took us all by surprise. We could not imagine her laying down helpless on a hospital bed and not being able to communicate with the outside world. And while on Sunday the whole family was slowly accepting the fact that her life was hanging by a thread, yesterday she managed to talk to her son, asking him when she was going home to cook.
Now that is what I call fighting spirit.
Her life is still in a critical condition. She is still in hospital and we know that we can still, at any time, receive The Dreaded Call. A is heart-broken for she is his sole family from his father’s side, she lives with them and even though she sometimes made him angry, he can not imagine life without her strong presence in it. His mother’s family all live in Malta and she is his sole grand-parent, which makes her more and more special.
So I ask you to spare a small prayer for this remarkable woman, without whom life would be that bit less interesting and sparkling. After that, it’s all in God’s hands.