In January, I finally visited Abuelita after having postponed visits for nearly a year due to Covid. We stayed up until 2am, singing and laughing, listening to vintage Mexican music, and of course she asked me to bellydance. I danced baladi progression, drum and Kawleeya. She always loved it all. My most vocal and demanding fan.
In February she fell and broke a hip. We spent March and April struggling to be there for her despite rehabilitation center restrictions. Through her dementia, it was hard for her to understand what had happened. I danced outside her window.
In mid-April, the paperwork finally went through so she could return to her dusty farmhouse amid vineyards, rows of hops, and cherry tree orchards. Those of us who could, planned to take evening and weekend shifts, helping her through recovery.
What we were actually entering was her end-of-life journey. The medical professionals had used language to indicate that's where she was at, but it's not where we were at. And then suddenly we were.
While hospice help was at Abuelita's home during the day, it took all of us to help with care and keeping her comfortable. The plan for taking shifts dissolved immediately, and those of us who could, came and stayed to help as much as we could to pitch in. There were imperfections in what hospice could do... they couldn't administer medication... they were short-staffed and had sent one brave person, newly hired with no training... we stepped in. And even then, there were times it seemed we couldn't do enough to ease lighten the weight of this journey.
I played Vicente Fernandez for her, & danced, & her eyes lit up. And cousins & aunts & uncles came & sat with her & shared memories & laughs & love. And her eyes lit up. And then a priest came. And she passed. And the wind was sucked out of us all.
In a moment somewhere in the middle of it all, I was helping to shift her aching body. We came face to face as she said, "Que esta pasando a mi?" I can still her. I can still see her. Her frightened eyes searched mine imploringly. I was a deer in headlights. I wanted so badly... I want so badly to go back to 2am some night in Jan & stay & stay & sing & dance... and maybe that fall won't happen...
I am not along. I'm not the only one playing the "if only" track over & over in my mind.
In the days following her passing, I didn't know how I could ever dance again. But I knew I wouldn't be allowed to swear off or walk away from it either. While my heart aches, crushed in this new way, "bellydance" seems too joyous for the times... but there wasn't a single visit that she let me leave without dancing for her. She was a singer.
She knew I was/am a dancer. My dance career began on tractor trailer beds and the gas tank platform that once stood in her gravel drive.
And so I begin to dance again... raqs sharqi. Enticed by tarab... saltanah... the muscles begin to reenergize. For Abuela. For my students. For myself & community & wellness. For joy. From the heart.