This weekend I visited my Nana in Arizona. We went to a Catholic healing ceremony, hoping for a miracle.
My Nana has health problems. She takes lots of brightly colored pills twice a day. She has a hard time breathing. She is blind. She has anxiety and an enlarged aorta. Her hearing is going. Lately I've noticed she can't find certain words. She grasps for them, trying to pull them down from the clouds. I can see her frustration turning to despair. Overall, however, she remains lighthearted, grateful, and optimistic. (But most of all, harsh and demanding, which to my memory is always how she has been.)
She lives in an active retirement community and loves it. She goes to cocktail hour with friends and plays bocce ball. She lives near the golf course.
"Sammy, sometimes there are so many geese sitting on the golf course, they just line up! Oh wait, I think I see one now...or maybe that was just a pile of rocks. What do I know."
She can't see worth a damn, but somehow she always notices my pimples and still beats me in scrabble.
We planned to visit Dr. Nemeh, the healer, so he could pray over my Nana. Dr. Nemeh is an actual MD, an anesthesiologist, but in recent years has only been practicing acupuncture and non-traditional medicine. He was on Dr. Oz in 2011, and that's how my Nana learned about his healing powers. Dr. Nemeh claims that only God heals, he is merely the humble donkey on Palm Sunday, bringing Jesus closer to the people. This is the third time Nana would attend one of his services. The last time she was able to see again for four whole days.
We arrived early to the Crown Plaza Hotel near the Phoenix airport. It was the furthest place you would expect to witness a healing miracle, dingy and poorly lit, but I was trying to not be judgmental. Supposedly Jesus healed people in less viable conditions, right? Regardless, I longed to be in a chapel with stained-glass windows, the only part of churches I intimately appreciate.
My whole body was sweaty and cold from driving with the AC on and my Nana having a near panic attack worrying that we would be late. She was having a hard time breathing, taking a puff of her inhaler every 10 minutes. We took three breaks walking from the elevator to the hotel ballroom. Still, we arrived with time to spare. I was able to triage the other audience members, overhearing bits of conversation and testimony from Dr. Nemeh's devout followers. There were people with cancer, a woman who had been in a car accident, even a couple families with young children. About 60 people total, all hoping for a miracle. I was by far the youngest in the room.
Nana was still coughing when the Dr. Nemeh started his sermon. It’s a wheezing, wet, type of cough. I imagined the corroded air sacks in her lung tissue and her inflamed, mucous-flled airway desperately trying to do their job, to fill with air, to breathe. I overheard two women in front of me discussing whether someone should bring her a glass of water to calm her cough. She doesn't need a fucking glass of water, you idiots, she has a lung disease. We're here for a goddamn healing miracle, aren't you too?
I was also probably the least pious person in the room.
I took Nana’s purse away from her so she would stop sticking her hands into all the pockets and feeling around for her phone or glasses. Inside I found a prayer book and picture of the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague, her favorite version of Jesus. I laid it on her lap. The coughing eventually subsided.
We waited five hours for Dr. Nemeh's prayer. I saw several attendees praying the whole time. I read the New Yorker and ate all the free cookies. I wondered how Dr. Nemeh had any healing energy left to give after five hours.
Nana didn't experience any immediate healing miracles this time. Everything was still blurry, she said, but maybe the sun was brighter. She remained optimistic. Maybe her breathing improved. Maybe the mass in her lungs had shrunk. Maybe she could stop taking her anxiety medication. I know how much one less pill would mean to her. I started to blame myself. I wasn't the right person to go to the healing with her. I'm too skeptical. I don't pray properly. I'm not even Catholic. She should have brought someone else, one of my more devout cousins or one of her daughters. But this wasn't about me. I'm always making things about me when they very clearly aren't.
My Nana lived a hard life. When she was only 20 years old she gave birth to twins who died 36 hours later. She drank too much and smoked a million cigarettes.
"I did it to myself so I shouldn't be complaining," she says as she fusses with her pills, trying to differentiate one small white one from another. I try my best to help, but even for someone who isn't blind it's hard to figure out which is which.
She got on my nerves at least once each day, usually after asking ten thousand questions about whether or not I washed my hair or need anything else to eat after she already fed me a oatmeal and a smoothie and a boiled egg.
"Do you want some cereal? How about some toast with butter?"
"No, no thank you," I reply.
"You don't eat enough, Sammy. You're too skinny."
She tries to flatten my hair; tells me to put on baby oil instead of sunscreen; refuses to turn off CNN; asks me when I am going to give her a grandchild. This interaction between grandparent and grandchild, I'm sure, could be part of the MoMA.
Nana tells me she always feels better when I'm around, but I can't help wishing we had gotten a real miracle from Dr. Nemeh. We did have a nice weekend. We laughed about the black shiny birds that take baths in the pool and steal sugar packets off the patio tables. We drove around in the golf cart. I met her friends, but not her real friends because they never invite her shopping. We watched scary movies on Lifetime, her favorite, and Shark Tank, my favorite. She called me Sammy over and over and I helped read her text messages.
One night she got hyper and started singing a made-up song about chamomile tea. I told her she was crazy, and she agreed. I recognized so much of myself in her in that moment. A surge in energy evoking a bizarre need to sing (poorly), even scream, at the top of our lungs about chores and pets and chamomile tea. She made us both a cup before dozing off peacefully on the couch.
I prayed that night, for the first time in a long time. I prayed for more time to make memories with my Nana. I prayed for a goddamn healing miracle.