Tales From The East

January 2, 2020
May 2015 - January 2016
a picture of me and my grandmother from May 10, 2015.
Mass Transit Honchkrow

I didn't give my grandmother's past the attention it deserved during my first Capital Region residency. Too often, I talked about me and didn't ask enough about her. For the next seven months, I sought to learn as much as I could about her.
Tragically, on January 12, 2016, my grandmother passed away from Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, discovered when she was admitted to Staten Island University Hospital on September 14, 2015.
Shortly after I cleared the air with my grandmother about what she was told by my aunt, I quickly made plans to make up for lost time. Grandma wanted to know how I was doing in spite of my circumstances, and it really felt great to be in the presence of a family member who would not judge me or beg me for money. My grandmother explained to me how she, too, wrongly put her trust in her younger sister in the hopes that she would be more understanding. Instead, she wound up losing custody of her own children and had her heart and her teeth broken by a man who was more obsessed with striking oil in Guyana than he was about his marriage. I obtained an update that my grandfather, Edward Anthony Shields, passed away in Fall 2019.
By 1986, my grandmother felt very defeated about all this, and having no one to confide these concerns in, her life slowly lost its meaning. Life is about having something to live for, and once that goes, you're not far behind. She felt purpose in keeping my great-grandmother company, shortly after I was relieved from her custody in 1994 due to her advanced glaucoma, which was aggravated by faulty advice given by (you guessed it) Eleanor. Lasik surgery permanently alters the cornea's surface, making some vision problems happen sooner had the cornea not been violated.
Between 1997 and 2001, I visited them both with the aid of my then-foster mother, [#a6l10m]. We shared stories, went through old photo albums, and drank mango juice in a can. We talked about my education, the issues at Archer Street, and "Eric, can you sit on my lap" moments so my great-grandmother could gauge my growth. After the falling out with [#a6l10m], I didn't resume visits with my grandmother and great-grandmother until late 2002.
October 21, 2004 was the last day I saw my great-grandmother alive. By then, she literally had to feel my face to gauge my growth. I appreciated being called handsome by a blind person. It meant everything to me given the horrible things I had done to that date. I only hoped that I could redeem myself in this new place so far from where everything started. I found out shortly after Thanksgiving that my great-grandmother was brain-dead after a stroke she suffered, rendering her unable to breathe on her own. My great-grandmother's niece, [#a2v38l], requested that the plug be pulled on December 3, 2004. My great-grandmother died the next day. She remarked during the funeral that she was the most colorful thing in the hospital, even in death.
I wasn't able to stay the whole funeral, but I used that time to exchange contact information with my grandmother and [#a2v38l], whose numbers were added to my call sheet when I got back. About five hours prior, I was in a facedown after I had attempted to physically attack one of my peers, [#p3j88d], for hurling an insult at me as I grieved. He was the only person in Team Beta at the time who was not here for sexually abusive behavior (remember, I said that we served both the sexually abusive and firesetters), so he acted like he was on a pedestal often, and perenially rubbed it in our faces. Of course, he got discharged a few months later.
Like me, my grandmother valued her independence. I even heared she interned for the NAACP Brooklyn chapter before she lost custody of my mom. She felt like an afterthought to other family members, and she tried everything she could to preserve herself. Watching the deterioration of my grandmother was the most heartbreaking thing I have had to witness (besides seeing victims of the opioid crisis up close). Her story formed one third of the justification I provided to my then-psychiatrist [#a0o54g], as to why I feared remaining on my pills. But that's best explained in another story.
I then continued to see my grandmother, who had moved back to her old apartment about five minutes away. On March 27, 2007, my grandmother's flannel nightgown caught fire as she tried reaching for an ingredient with the gas stove still on. She called [#a2v38l] for help, who then called paramedics. My grandmother's burns destroyed so much of the upper left side of her body that she had to have her leg tissue grafted on to it during her time in the ICU at Staten Island Care Center. She expressed a desire to move back to her apartment, but because no one wanted to stay with her, she never got to leave. Sounds familiar...
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