Fulfilling my grandma’s dream from the other side

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I never would have thought that I would want to risk my status as a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, by leaving this country, unable to return. But a phone call from my sister last year changed everything.

It was Dec. 11, 2017 and I’d just completed three consecutive all-nighters, juggling to write final papers and study for exams. I knew that if I can just make it through this week, I could go into a much-needed hibernation until spring semester.

As I waited for my bus, a notification appeared on my phone screen with a message from my sister stating “Call me — I have some news.” I was eager to call her, hoping for a pleasant or funny conversation to distract me.

Unfortunately for me, this was not the type of news I wanted to receive during finals week or — for that matter — any other week.

After talking to my sister on the phone, she explained that my grandmother — who lives in Mexico — had to be rushed to the hospital over the weekend because of complications.

My grandmother is 80 years old and has suffered from diabetes for several years. She has had her leg amputated. Her eyesight has been compromised. She is losing her hearing. She has encountered kidney problems. And more recently, she’s begun to experience panic attacks. Some of her health issues are related directly to diabetes, but others are side effects of the medications she has to take to treat this illness.

That Monday, I stood at the intersection of Oxford and Addison streets, waiting for the bus and processing the fact that my grandma nearly died over the weekend. She had a panic attack and was unable to control her breathing, causing her to turn purple.

It was mere luck that this episode happened during the daytime, while she was under the supervision of her caretaker, who witnessed the whole event and saved her life by rushing her to the hospital.

At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be able to drop everything and book a flight directly to Mexico to care for her. But, just like all the other times that she fell ill, that was not an option.

DACA used to offer the opportunity to apply for an advance parole document through the I-131 form, which grants permission for international travel and a lawful return. But the advance parole program under DACA was rescinded a few months ago in September 2017. And even if the program was still active, visiting my grandma doesn’t count as “necessary,” according to the strict conditions under which petitions are accepted.

If the advance parole program had still been in effect at the time, in order to be granted the opportunity to see my grandma, I would have had to submit an I-131 form and include supporting documents stating that my travel is justifiable for humanitarian reasons — meaning that she would have to be deemed terminally ill. This is something I hope never happens, even if it would offer me the chance to see her once more.

I squeezed my eyes tight, suppressing any tears, as I listened to my sister recounting the incident. While I had spent all weekend complaining about finals, ranting about the length of papers and cursing school in general, my grandma was nearly 2,000 miles away fighting death.

Before, when my grandma had been ill, my immediate desire was to call her, ask how she was doing and hear her voice. Now, even thinking about hearing her cheerful warm tone on the other line telling me, “Soñé con ustedes anoche; las veía de la casa jugando como cuando estaban chiquitas (I dreamt of you guys last night; I watched you from the house playing the way you used to when you were little),” made me want to burst into tears right there at the bus stop.

But I had to maintain composure and push through the week. I had finals to keep in mind and a GPA to uphold. My grandma has always hoped that school will be my gateway to permanent residency, and I’d like to believe her dream could come true.

This was the first time that I felt that I was truly going to lose my grandma forever. She was no longer that physically strong woman from my memories. While my mind was intent on preserving her as the young woman from my childhood, in reality, she is growing older and sicker.

If I’m being honest with myself, the chances of me ever being able to see my grandma alive again are minimal. But it’s too difficult to accept that I won’t have the chance to say goodbye. I keep my hopes high that she’ll be able to see us once more in real life, and until then, we’ll continue to meet in her dreams.

Gladys Torres Avalos writes the Monday column on being a DACA recipient. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @gtorres_avalos.