Thursday, April 7, 2011
My Grandmother... An Epilouge
Today's subject is very dear to my heart and is still a gaping wound with jagged edges. The chances of my being able to write this without weeping are small, but with keeping to the letters of the alphabet for April there is no other I would do for "G". I hope I do it justice.
My Grandmother (maternal) was the stereotypical image of a grandmother: short, plump, and white-haired. She had dimples that stretched for miles and a heart bigger than any ocean. She loved her children and her children's children (and even, at the end, children's children's children) beyond all sense and sensibility, regardless of flaws of character or lack of mind. We adored her.
Growing up as a typical female teenager who fought her own inner demons, I naturally ignored any advice given by my mother and father. I was "misunderstood" and they "hated" me--as any good, self-respecting parent does to their child. The person I turned to? My Grandmother. She gave me the same advice as my parents did, mind you. I just listened to her more.
When I was eleven, my grandfather passed away. Even then I could see the depth of loss Grandma felt, especially at the holidays. Therefore I concocted the most brilliant plan ever: every year, on New Year's Eve, I would spend the night with Grandma and we would "toast" (non-alcoholics that we are) in the New Year together. Grandma and I enjoyed our time together; she bought pineapple cream cheese for crackers, mini wieners in barbeque, pizza rolls, and many other types of snack foods, along with raspberry ginger ale for the grand toast. We began stuffing ourselves at 10pm and did not stop until the ball dropped and Dick Clark wished everyone a good night.
Grandma and I became pen pals when I went to college. After my sophomore year, it became harder to continue our tradition as I took more and more classes earlier each year (some even starting on January 2nd!) and went to a university 338 miles away from her. I missed a few years, to my great regret. She never voiced a complaint, instead focusing on the time we did spend together at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and some in the summer break.
Time passed. I got married, and Grandma was beaming (and crying) next to my mother. Three years after changing my last name, I gave birth to a beautiful and precious baby girl--the first great-grandchild. I had a hard pregnancy (more on that in "P"s blog) and Grandma offered advice and consolation. It was wonderful seeing four generations sitting together on the same couch (see the picture at beginning of the blog--I'm the one holding the startled-looking child). I blindly believed it would always be this way.
April 2010 came and with it certain expectations--it is my birthday month, after all. I visited my parents and as part of the celebration my mother invited several family members to come. Grandma, of course, came as well. We laughed, we talked, we enjoyed our time together...and then it was time for Grandma to leave.
I will never know what prompted me to say it, but as I watched her walk away from me, I suddenly blurted, "Take care of yourself, Grandma."
She turned around and gave me her usual smile. "I am," she assured me.
Something dark clutched at my heart and I peered at her closely. Slowly, I told her, "Don't lie to me. You need to take care of yourself. You've got great-grandchildren to think of now."
She came back to me and we hugged, squishing said great-grandchild between us as we did so. Then she pulled back, patted my cheek, told me she loved me, and was gone.
Mother's Day came and was a Sunday. My husband took me to eat at a Chinese restaurant (a very big deal, since he hates Chinese) and I got a mother's pendant that I wanted very badly (there are some perks to having a husband who works in jewelry). The day was winding down and we were about to put our child to bed when my mother called.
My world ended that day.
Grandma had a massive heart attack and had been rushed to CCU at the best hospital in the state. They were to perform a quadruple-bypass surgery and attempt to save her life.
I was in Georgia (family in tow) five hours later.
Family gathered in the CCU waiting room. None slept. (Okay, the small child slept, but we barely got a wink.) Tense hours passed. We tried not to think the worse, and tried to bolster each other's spirits as best as we were able. Even the janitorial staff who entered to clean were kind and listened to us trade stories and memories.
Monday dawned and we finally had word: Grandma had, in all attempts and purposes, survived the surgery, but there were several problems that put her future in doubt. She would not wake up from the surgery, she was lost for "a while" on the operating table before being revived, and the youngest doctor attending to her had performed a new medical procedure on her heart that had not been tried more than five times in the entire country (he had had to connect living heart tissue to dead heart tissue to try to keep her heart in one piece--that is how massive of a mardicardio infraction she had had).
Monday afternoon, when I was allowed to visit her, she twitched her hand. We were elated. Surely this meant she would wake soon!
In vain, we waited. For nearly a week, we waited.
Thursday afternoon a neurological specialist was called in to assess her brain waves. Then we got the horrible news: the twitching she had shown off and on was not, like we had hoped, her waking, but rather an involuntary muscle spam that typically occurred when someone was brain dead. Now her three surviving children had to decide: what to do? Thankfully, Grandma had a Living Will that stated she did not want to be attached to artifical life machines. After much family discussion, my mother, aunt, and uncle decided to honor her decision, and told the doctors so.
Grandma had always been a fighter. She fought for nearly 24 hours. It was agony for us as we took our turns every few hours to visit with her, knowing she was really gone and we were seeing only her shell.
By Friday evening, just about all the family had left to go home and rest. The only ones left in the CCU room were my uncle and myself, and I was waiting for my husband and child to arrive so I could get something to eat. Since Grandma was so critical and near death, my family did not have to abide by the set visiting hours--we were allowed to see her (two at a time) anytime we wished. I called for the nurse and was allowed into Grandma's room. For the first time since Grandma's heart attack we were alone, excepting the lone nurse still removing the last tubes. I assisted her and helped her brush Grandma's hair, and then the nurse respectfully moved to a back corner of the small room so I could talk to my grandmother in relative privacy. I watched her heart rate and breathing lower a few more digits and knew the words she should hear; they were the same ones she had told my ailing grandfather years ago when he was clinging to life and suffering for it. I stroked her hair and her cooling cheek.
Trying not to cry so she would not pick up on my sorrow, I said the hardest words of my entire life. "Grandma, it's time to let go," I urged her. "If you are worried about us, we'll be fine. If you want to fight for you, then fight. But if you are fighting for us, we have each other. We'll watch out for each other--you don't have to do it anymore. We love you. It's okay to let go."
She gave no sign that she heard me, no dramatic change in her vitals, no fluttering of the eyelids. There was no Hollywood music that swelled, no miracle that offered to save her at the last possible second. Tears in my eyes, I kissed her cheek, squeezed her hand gently, and turned to leave. The nurse also had tears in her eyes as she nodded to me...and I fled.
When I returned to the waiting room, my husband and daughter were waiting for me. We left and traveled just down the street to Chick-fil-A for dinner. Almost forty minutes had passed when we piled back into the car and were debating returning to CCU or going back to my parents' house so I could get some rest.
My mother called. Grandma had just passed away.
I sobbed so hard I couldn't breathe. My last words played back to my mind, and even now I believe Grandma had heard me in that room. If it was coincidence, it was a very close one.
The next few days were a blur. I tried to be a support to my mother, who was devastated, and uphold my promise to my grandmother. I supported my mother as she met with her sister and brother at the funeral home to make final arrangements; I supported her as she traveled to Grandma's house to pick what she would be buried in; I was there for her as she cried as if all the sorrows of the world were laid on her shoulders. It wasn't until the actual viewing and funeral that I completely lost control, and then I cried until I felt as if I could fill the ocean.
It is now nearly a year later. My family has survived our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without our matriarch. I had a harder time getting through New Year's Eve, especially when I went shopping beforehand with my family for groceries and I spotted the pineapple cream cheese. Grandma's birthday has come and gone, as has mine. The next major battle will be Mother's Day. A year since she suffered her heart attack is approaching.
What makes it harder to bear is that the doctors said with the amount of blockage she had in her arteries that Grandma had to have been in pain for the last few months of her life. None of us knew it because she did not allow us to. She could have changed her diet, been put on a medication, and had her life extended. She choose not to.
She was not even eighty years old.
I miss her every day. I still feel my heart aching to hear her voice, have her tell me what I do not want to hear, see her smiling face. I run across her handwriting sometimes in old cards and recipes she handed down to me--it's a shock to the system to see it.
You see, most of the time I stay comfortably in denial. Grandma is simply living in her home in the middle of nowhere and hadn't had time to write or call. It's the only way I get through most of my days.
Yet as a year approaches, I am forced more and more to confront the awful truth: she is gone and not coming back to me.
I would write more, but I fear I cannot see the keyboard.
I love you, Grandma, and miss you more than words could ever possibly say. You will always be missed.