Grandma has always been a bit sickly, and also a bit of a hypochondriac. Sometimes it was difficult to see what was what, and to get the truth of the situation. She had a rocky relationship with her two sons, and wasn't always the kindest to my mother, but we got along well. I always sent her notes and letters and postcards, would bring her pastries whenever I stopped by, called her a few times a week. As she grew older, her hearing became more and more terrible, and we couldn't talk on the phone quite as much.
This story begins back in December, the story I'm about to share about the end of her life.
|our last photo together|
I invited my parents to come over to dinner - Wayne and I would make manicotti, garlic bread, veggies, some cranberry cake. We had some wine. I asked them to bring my grandparents. It could be stressful when my grandma came, because she struggled with my stairs, she complained it was such a long drive (30-60 minutes, depending upon traffic), and she drove my father crazy at times. She came. We had a nice time, and Grandma missed a lot of the conversation. She seemed to enjoy the food (She's Italian, so she appreciated the manicotti.) and seemed like she had a nice night. She really struggled going up the stairs, and I had a feeling it would be the last time she would be coming over. I noticed how she struggled when she got up to the furniture, grabbing onto pieces of furniture, using her walker. I said to Wayne, "She's gotten a lot worse."
I called my mother about our plans that Friday, and said I wanted to incorporate a visit to grandma's. She said okay. The morning of, while I was working at home, I received a text that she fell but seemed okay and that my mom was going to take her to the doctor. I was worried. When I arrived, my mom and my grandma were in the car at the train station. Grandma seemed very out of it and was not holding a conversation very well. She had a bandage.
We got to my grandma's house. I was shocked at the amount of blood EVERYWHERE. All of the living room floor, kitchen floor, paper towels in the sink covered with blood, in the bathroom. I couldn't believe it. My grandma's hands shook a lot, so I could see why there was such a huge mess. I was shaking and seeing how fragile my grandma was, I felt ill. She kept trying to get me to eat, and I couldn't. I felt like I was going to throw up.
I made my grandma a grilled cheese sandwich. I kind of burnt it, and grandma pronounced it delicious anyway. I had brought over some of my chocolate mint brownies, and she ate them, saying how good they were. Considering how picky she is, and how good of a baker she is, I was grateful for the compliment.
My mom cleaned up. I tried to cheer my grandma up.
After my mom and I left, I went back to my mom's house nearly in tears. My mom made me a grilled cheese sandwich, same as what I had made my grandma. I tried to explain that I couldn't eat there. All the blood....
My grandma spent that night at my mom's house. My parents spent Christmas with her (I was in the Galapagos.). I was worried about my grandma. I didn't call her because I had terrible internet connections all over Ecuador. When I got back, after hibernating for a day, I took a car2go and went out to visit my grandma. She was pleased I was visiting her, asked about the car. I brought her pastries from the best bakery, Fortunato Brothers. She loved the pastries. We ate the dough bows and creamy pastries with flaky crusts. She offered to get me tea; I told her I was okay. She told me she fell again that morning, even with her new part-time aide there. She was scared of falling. I gave her a magnet from Ecuador - she loved the magnets I brought her.
I left after two hours, because I paid for the car by the hour and I didn't want to get home too late. She was glad I came, and gave me money to take Wayne out to lunch (as she said) and kissed me and told me she loved me.
Two weeks later, she went into the hospital. She wasn't eating, and she felt weak and tired. It seemed like a bit of hypochrondria with how she was talking ("I must have tumors because I fell.") but my mom took her to the hospital. They tested her and my mom and I talked about how she wanted her to go to rehab before anything else. After a day in the hospital, my grandma began begging to go home, asked the nurse to call her a cab, asked my dad to take her home, called her friends to pick her up. She got mad and nasty at people.
I heard about it and wanted to go. "Don't. She'll yell at you. She's not right."
My mom left on Thursday, to go visit my sister. I decided I would go visit her on Friday. She was awful. I mean, I've never seen her looking quite so terribly. Her skin had some weird dark marks, and the skin in her face was puffy and saggy in a way it had never been. She was slurring her speech. She said she wanted to die. She said no one should have to live like that. She said that no one loved her, that no one cared about her, except me. I told her that wasn't true, that mommy just spent 5 days with her in the hospital. She said why was my father in Florida. She said that my father and his brother wanted her to die. I told her that wasn't true. I was crying. I kept telling her we all loved her, that I loved her. I told her a little about going to Panama, but she didn't seem interested. I tried to give her cake. She literally ate a crumb. She spit up the second crumb I tried to give her. I told her to eat it, that I baked it for her. She begged for ice water. I brought a Styrofoam cup (Who still uses Styrofoam cups?) of ice water with a straw to her lips and she drank greedily. "Why am I so thirsty?" She asked me to get the nurse and get a bedpan. The nurse and I chatted; she didn't give any horribly terrible news. My grandma kept saying, "They say you don't get out of her alive." I told her that wasn't true; she had been in St. Francis Hospital several times before. She said she wanted to go home. I said she needed to get better, go to rehab. She didn't care. "I just want to go home." I pointed out that she couldn't walk to go to the bathroom or get food, so she couldn't go on like this. She needed to get stronger first. I held her hand, kissed her cheek, told her I loved her. She asked when my daddy was coming. I showed her photos of the kitties, but she wasn't that interested. She seemed lethargic and unable to engage in a way I hadn't seen before.
Saturday my aunt, a nurse, visited her. She is my mom's sister, so not related to my grandma. She talked to the doctor. My grandma had elevated levels of one of her heart medications in her blood - that was making her lethargic. Once she was stabilized, she would be stronger. "On Monday, she'll go to a rehab center." The plan was for my mom to fly up on Monday and help her move, and my dad to come on Tuesday or Wednesday.
I was relieved. It was going to get better. She was suffering, but we could figure it out.
I went over to my friend Beth's. I was in a bit of a distracted mood, upset. We went to another party. I drank cocktails and was distracted and tried to have conversations with people, but pretty much failed. My sister called. I figured I'd call her when I left. When I got out of there, distracted and upset around 11, I texted my sister in the cab. She immediately wrote back, "Grandma is doing worse. She went to the cardiac care unit."
I called her and began bawling as soon as she began sharing information. Grandma's blood pressure suddenly dropped. The doctor was concerned because of her age; she might not be able to bounce back. My parents were flying back the following morning. That told me it was really bad. I called Wayne after I got off and asked if he'd take me to the hospital in the morning. My cabbie offered his condolences, and we chatted as I bawled. Nice guy. He told me about his grandmother giving me couscous and goat milk when he was younger. He said he still misses her and she died 20 years ago.
I called the hospital and they said I could come after 10 a.m. I figured I wouldn't set an alarm because I'd wake up on time. I put out a nice outfit - a cashmere sweater (Grandma loves cashmere.), a nice pleated skirts, cute tights, boots. We went to bed.
I woke up at 9a.m. Wow. Late for me. I went into the kitchen, and began making pancakes. Wayne and I ate and chatted.
As I was about to hop into the shower, my mom called. "The hospital called your uncle. They think it might only be a few hours."
I jumped into speedy mode. I took a 3 minute shower, threw on clothes, and dragged Wayne out the door. He was looking for his gloves, and I was like, "USE MINE WE NEED TO GO."
In the hospital, my parents weren't yet there. I saw the nurse and thought maybe she already died. Her room looked empty. The nurse said she was in there. She was so small I didn't notice the lumps on the blankets. She said to go in. She was honest. "We are treating this as aggressively as we can, but she's doing terrible. We're doing everything we can." I asked if I could go in. "Yes. She's not responsive, but I believe she will hear you. You can talk to her."
I went in and I stopped. I began immediately crying. "She didn't look like this on Friday. Oh my god. Grandma..."
The nurse nodded. She knew what had happened.
I went in. With tears in my throat, with Wayne behind me, I touched her shoulder. Her eyes were closed. There was blood rimming her nose, around her lips. A tear was stuck to the side of her face. Her hair was flat and smaller. Her skin was darker; splotches. She seemed struggling. I held her shoulder. The nurse said, "Her hands are so cold," and gently put mittens around her hands. Tears streamed down. I talked about Wayne, about the cats, about my sister, about her babies, about anything and everything. I was desperately hoping she'd respond.
Someone came in to test the pacemaker. We chatted a little, but I tried to keep talking to Grandma. I cried a lot. My parents came in. I immediately ran into the arms, crying. I told them to talk to grandma, that she could hear, and I gave all the information that the nurse had given me. My dad went over. "Hi, ma, it's me. Kenny. I came from Florida to visit you."
As my father began stammering as tears poured out of his eyes, I could see something change in my grandma. Relaxing. She knew he was there. She was at peace. I tried to continue to talking to her, and the nurse and my mom talked. My mom came back in, and gestured wildly to my dad and I and my brother. The nurse had asked her if she wanted DNR, that it was the humane thing to do. I knew what my grandma wanted, but I let my dad answer. He agreed. But then the machines began beeping, and someone said, "She's coding." I didn't know what it meant, but I did. The doctor came running in. Somehow we were talking with him, and my uncle was put on speaker phone. My uncle said, "She hasn't been eating. She's anorexic, that's why she's here--" and my mom interrupted him, "Yeah, but right now. Right now." My dad and my uncle agreed.
We said goodbye. We told her we loved her. I thanked her. We said goodbye from the animals, and my sister and her kids and Brian, and told her we all loved her. I squeezed her shoulder, and then went into the hallway.
We all hugged each other. We were crying. I called my sister and told her the sad news. I texted a few people. I cried. My knees grew weak. I cried. I cried. I cried.
The doctors and nurses were so nice and compassionate.
My dad and brother and Wayne left; my mom and I would talk to the nurses. The nurse was like, "Do you want to see her?" I shook my head and cried. "Am I a bad person if I don't?" My mother said, "Of course not," and went in. Then she came out. "Cher, I think you should see her. She looks much better."
I went in. She did. She looked at peace. I was glad I saw her like this. I wasn't aware of how much she was struggling and how she was in pain.
I'm glad she's not in pain, but I'm not glad she is gone. It hurts so bad. I miss her so terribly. She never did eat the cakes I brought her. I'm sad that she'll never try another dessert of mine, or give me a kiss, or listen to a story, or anything. She had a sharp decline. She lived alone, her entire life. I'm happy she has as good of a life as she could. I miss you, grandma.