Creating virtual grandparents in the Playstation Sims video game sounds strange, sad, or just twisted. What kind of crazy person deals with death and loss by designing video game avatars of dying people?
March 2006 Grandma lay in hospice. Mom and I took turns visiting her, knowing that soon Grandma would succumb to heart failure, a stroke, or maybe just the morphine. Tuesday morning I sat in my Miami apartment staring at my husband’s old Playstation 2 video game console. The night before my sister visiting from Ohio had said her last goodbyes to Abuela, and I felt numb.
I popped in the Playstation Sims video game and clicked on Create a New Character. Gender: Female. I chose her hair: Black. Hairstyle: Grandma always wore her hair curly and short. Clothing: very conservative. Personality: as sweet as I could make it with a dash of bad temper (Grandma was Cuban, after all).
I created other Sims video game characters: An elderly Cuban male Sim, balding with a gray hair and a pudgy belly, and two young girls with brown hair who had a tendency to argue. I chose a Sims neighborhood and began construction on a dilapidated old trailer with a rose garden in the front. I placed the grandparents and grandkids in their new home and watched the interaction play out on my Playstation.
Grandpa Sims watched his television and read his old Spanish cowboy novels. The two Sims girls played, and fought, over a Barbie dollhouse. Grandma Sims cooked arroz con frijoles in her tiny sunflower-spotted kitchen. I watched the small video game dramas play out. One Sims girl refused to go to bed and fell asleep on the floor, and the Sims grandparents had a short argument about some miniscule issue. Grandpa and Grandma Sims snuck in a kiss outside while the girls slept. Night passed, the virtual sun rose, and another Sims day began.
Wednesday, armed with a large photo album and delicious comida from Pollo Tropical I visited Abuela at hospice. The morphine had paralyzed her. I sat by her side for several hours. I talked with her, read from her Biblia, and unsuccessfully held back tears. The fried plantains and pork got cold. I held her hand. I said goodbye. I did not give her a hug. She could wake up tomorrow, maybe, or lay like this for a week. I thought I had time. I turned the television to relaxing music and pleasant waterfalls, gave her a besito on her cheek, and drove the hour and half home to Calle Ocho.
Thursday morning while I sat in my graduate arts class, Abuela died. No one had been at her side. I prayed that she knew we loved her. I turned on the Playstation 2 and opened the Sims game. The two young girls gave Grandma Sims a hug. Grandma Sims gave them a kiss. Grandma Sims left and met with Grandpa Sims in the garden. They embraced, together again.