I don’t think on that day I quite realized the gravity of the situation. Or maybe I did. Grams had had a hemorrhagic brain bleed on the cerebellar cortex, which sits just above the brain stem. She had some motor issues and speech problems, but she was still her sassy little self… sort of. Unfortunately, the area where her brain was bleeding had affected her ability to swallow. We had a hard choice to make, in order to honor her very clear wishes to 1.) never have to live in a home and 2.) die in peace. So we took her to a hospice care center, and waited for her body to shut down.
In the midst of all of this remains my own personal family dynamic and plans. Brief synopsis for those who have (understandably) lost track of all moving parts: Hubs graduates course in Alabama, we visit Utah as first leg (extra week…whoo!), we pick up his 3 children in Washington, and I escort them back to Germany (Hubs on a separate departure schedule, to meet in Germany, due to Military travel crap.)
All of this was a great plan until my Grams lie upon her deathbed… then it felt like my own personal torture chamber. These particular familial obligations, escorting the children, could not be put off or avoided… at least not on our modest budget. I also couldn’t conceive of not being there with her, my best good friend, to comfort and love her as she transitioned. But I had no choice.
I have an ongoing silent prayer in my heart that I can grow older with her kind of grace. I have so much fear that these “obligations” which robbed me of being with my grandmother, my best friend, will eventually sour my entire spirit with resentment towards my husband and children; for I was not there. Because I had to take them. I wanted to be but I couldn’t because I had to take care of them. It isn’t fair. And I’m so broken and mad about it, though it isn’t fair to be.
Monday, July 25th, 2016 was the worst day of my life. I walked into the Hospice center that morning knowing it would be the last time I saw my hero alive. Planes were booked, bags were packed. There was no altering the schedule. She had been sleeping, mostly. Her body growing weaker every day. I sat, heartbroken, at her bedside. She knew, too. She’d open her eyes briefly and ask so quietly, “When does your plane leave?” “Couple of hours,” I’d tell her through staggered breath and twisted features. “Don’t cry. I’ll be here when you get back.” She’d say. I shook my head in disagreement, “No, you won’t. Not this time. I’m not coming back.” I said, broken. “I’ll be here.” I didn’t and still don’t know what she meant by that. I hate to think of it.”I’m crying, too. You can’t tell, but I’m crying all the time.” This confession broke my heart. She was so uncomfortable, so frustrated and ready to die. She was literally begging the Lord to take her for days. I think by Monday (day 5) she had figured the Lord didn’t want her, and in that case, I guess she’d just come to differing levels of acceptance at her new impaired ‘life.’
20 minutes or so would go by while she rested, and then she’d stir again, “When are you going to get the children?” she had been asking all week, but the time seemed to blur for her. She never forgot or stopped being concerned about our little family and welfare. “Soon, Grams. I have to go soon. Is that okay? I really don’t want to, and I’ll find a way to stay if you need. Do you want me to stay?” She lifted her right hand, the one unaffected by the stroke, and waved it off as if to dismiss me. Her voice was so soft, barely a whisper… I tried to read her lips but could not make out what she was saying. I had to ask her to repeat herself. “You’re. all. I’ve. got.” She said, intentionally clear and slow for me. Naturally, I lost it there. “No I’m not. What about Dad and (Uncles), (Grandkids) and (relatives)? They’ve been in here with you all the time.” Her eyes were closed and her head bobbed up and down one time, “Oh yah, they’ve been pretty good.” I didn’t say it, but I knew what she meant. I held her hand and wept openly, not prepared but obligated to say my final words and goodbyes. I told her how much I loved her, had always loved her. I asked that she not forget me, be present with me when it comes time for me to have my babies, and gave her permission to close her eyes and feel free to let go at any time. “We always were the best of friends, weren’t we?” She asked, gripping my hands tighter. We certainly were. I kissed her on the head, reiterated to her how very much I loved her, and was sorry that I had to go.
My husband also had a sweet and private goodbye. I wasn’t near enough to make out the conversation, but it was so tender how they were together. He promised to take care of me, “You better!” She had said. “She’s always been my favorite. We’ve just been so close.” These are all things I knew already, but beautiful to know that she wanted to communicate them while saying goodbyes on her death bed.
Grams passed away on Friday, July 29th, 2016 around 12:15 pm. I was able to speak to her on the phone that morning, though she hadn’t actually spoken or been coherent for a day or two. I am told she was “aware” of my voice and speaking, as her eyes were moving and responsive. I just said hello and goodbye. She’s free to go at peace and know how deeply she is loved. And then she did.
As Theodore Roosevelt said in his short journal entry on the day both his mother and wife passed away, “The light has gone out of my life.”
Funny little anecdote… I asked her one day while in hospice care, while she was awake and fidgety, “So Grams. Do you have any famous last words?”
We laughed and laughed. I love her so. I am not sure how I will stay afloat in this lifetime without her to lean on and gravitate towards, but I guess I’ll just have to try. I am better for knowing her; for every minute I spent in her presence. I sure hope I can be an okay person without her.