Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The final goodbye

I am writing this in the early hours of March 27th after having said my final goodbye to my grandma a few hours ago.  I was given the news about a week into March that she was declining and the hospice nurse said anyone wanting to say their goodbyes that needed to travel should probably be called.  Her sister flew in from the Carolinas and fed her, talked to her and had the last sister time with her she would ever get.  My mom told me it was up to me if I wanted to see her but that she was losing weight and understood if I didn't want to see her that way.  I cried, we talked and I thanked her for letting me know.  I decided I was at peace with not seeing her before she died.  I'd gone to great lengths not to look at her much as she declined except for the quick glances I'd give when I said hello and focused instead on talking to others around me while touching her shoulder or hand.  Even when I saw her at Christmas it was in a state I was trying not to remember because she'd lost a little weight since Thanksgiving but never opened her eyes.  I knew when things got really bad, mom would likely call me and I could either go see her or be told God took her.  I began going over the eulogy I've had written for almost four years and tweaked it to my current feelings and things I wanted to make sure people remembered.

The evening of the 26th, we were walking around the neighborhood for our workout.  When we got home, we stretched and rolled and I had a lot of it to do since the legs were in bad shape.  That meant the Mr went upstairs before I did.  As I rolled my legs into temporary submission, I had the thought "I wonder when I'll get the voicemail from mom."  I knew she would say something like "I don't want to tell you this over the phone but Grandma is gone."  It had been two weeks but the recent invite of getting together for Easter told me that perhaps she wasn't as bad off as the hospice nurse had let on.  I came upstairs and went to start dinner.  As I set the oven temperature, the Mr said: "there's a voicemail from your mom, do you want me to read it?"

My heart dropped.


It started "Hey and I don't wanna really tell you this on my phone but grandma is still here now but the hospice nurse says it's only a matter of hours or a few days..."  She went on to say she looked very bad and she understood if I didn't want to see her that way and the decision was up to me but she wanted to give me the option.

As he finished reading the message (we get emailed with poorly translated text of our voicemails), I calmly said, "I'll make dinner and we'll go over."  We watched our usual show during dinner and I started getting somewhat presentable while the Mr rinsed off the dishes.  I opened the bag of Easter treats I bought over the weekend for the platter she did as a centerpiece when I was a kid and grabbed the maple cream egg I bought for her.

I went to the bathroom in a zombie-like state and came down to clean my glasses and the Mr saw the egg on the table and said, "are you bringing her maple cream egg?"  I nodded yes and lost it.  We hugged and I composed myself because I didn't want a cry headache yet.  We got in the car and rode the longest mile down the road.  I couldn't help but feel something similar to what I thought when we were driving back to Kona from Volcano to make arrangements to fly home early for my FIL's funeral.  "Why don't these people stop what they're doing?  Our world has stopped turning but they have smiles on their faces and sunglasses on heading to the beach."  Every car we passed on the way to Grandma's, I just wanted to scream "do you know what we are going through!?  This is the last time I will see my grandma!  Why do you get to go on living life as usual!?"  It will make me think as we pass others on the street now.  The person we are beside in traffic could be going through something traumatic.  We should all be a little kinder to those we share road space with because one day, it will be us going through something traumatic as the rest of the world spins and is business as usual.  As we pulled up, there were five cars there and we parked in the available spot and headed into the garage.  I took a deep breath before we went in and as I entered the kitchen, I looked in and made eye contact with my cousin I'm closest to.  It was just the cousins, her husband, and my uncle.  My youngest cousin moved Grandma's wheelchair as I approached which was beside her bed and hugged me.

I looked down at Grandma and nothing in this world could've prepared me for what I saw.  If I could've run out of the door, I would have but I was frozen in horror.  This woman.  This beautiful woman who babysat me so her daughter could finish school, who taught me to be smart with money, who was the only one who could get away with calling me by my full name without getting side eye was unrecognizable to me.  She was emaciated, mouth agape, labored breathing (nearing stages of the death rattle), and her beautifully coiffed hair was thin to the point she was almost bald and matted to her scalp.  Her organs were failing and due to that, the bad breath was overwhelming.  I don't think as long as I live I will forget that smelled like death and I couldn't run from it anymore.  Just typing it all, brings a pit in my stomach because I remember what my grandpa (her ex-husband) looked like in his casket and it looked nothing like him even though he wasn't emaciated at the end.  I can never get that image out of my head.  The image of her I have worked so carefully to preserve was shot out of the water as if to say "sorry sister, you may not have been in the trenches all these years but even you don't get to opt out."  I could have, of course.  I have no doubt my mom would've been perfectly okay with me choosing not to come because she knows I have never been able to see her being anything other than the woman I have known and loved my whole life.  But since she said all of the cousins were coming, I didn't want to be the only one that didn't show up.  I wanted to be there for my family.

As I looked down at her, trying not to let this reality penetrate, I burst into tears while the Mr talked to her husband who was more than happy to tell one more person the gory details.  I instantly tuned him out and hugged her and told her that I loved her, I kept my promise to her and will always remember her the way she was.  I told her several times I loved her as I sobbed.  My middle cousin came over and hugged me and told me she loved me and I was joined a moment later by her mother giving me a hug.  I took the maple cream egg out of my pocket and put it on her bedside table and whispered "I brought your maple egg, Grandma in case you get a burst of energy and want to eat it.  I know they're your favorite" and started crying again.   The cousin I locked eyes with upon entry came up behind me and hugged me and said he loved me and I said the same.  I heard my mom come out and she put her arm around me.  They had been in the guest room reminiscing about trips they took together and picked out what they were going to bury her in.  I pointed to the maple egg and mom smiled and said: "that was her favorite, if she could eat it, she would."  I cried and she was strong for me and said she was glad I came but said it would've been fine if I didn't because no one should have to see her the way she's looking.  Her decline over the previous four days was rapid and devastating.  Each day she looked thinner and worse.

Mom asked if I wanted to see the outfit they chose for her so the Mr and I followed her back there and it is a beautiful spring outfit.  A nice light teal jacket with a teal and blue floral shirt on a white background and I think khaki pants but I can't remember.  I cried when I saw it because I knew she would look beautiful in it.  She told me about the casket Grandma picked and apparently it's pink on the outside and white on the inside.  I was like "what!??!  I didn't know she liked pink that much!"  We kind of laughed as we looked around the pink room we were sitting in but it's not like it was a prominent color scheme for her.  I said, "so with the pink and white casket and her teal outfit and yellow roses for the top, it's going to look like an Easter basket??"  She smiled and said, "kinda, huh?"  We sat and talked a bit and my aunt and her son shuffled in and of course, the Mr got roped into fixing the laptop.  I had to giggle to myself on that one because even in the face of imminent death, nothing changes when the computer man is in da house.  We made it back into the living room and talked with my cousin and I gave Grandma one final I love you before going into the outstretched arms of my uncle.  He's always been a quiet man in our presence and kind of this silent pillar of strength in a weird way.  He said she fought a long hard battle and it was time for her to rest, she deserved peace, God would take her and she'd be okay.  I agree.  We felt that way many years ago but seeing the deterioration with someone who goes through it for a long time chips away at you in a way you can't quite describe.

We drove home and the Mr said he didn't know how I could stand over her for so long, he could barely look at her in her current state.  He said he was proud of me and glad I got to say my final goodbye to her even though it was gut-wrenching.   I had a pretty wicked cry headache and he got me some aspirin before heading off to bed after chatting for a little bit.  I fully expected that I would wake up to a message that she was gone and prepared for that as best I could.

But first, I had work to do.

To be continued...

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  1. It doesn't matter how long you watch someone go through this horrible disease. Nothing prepares you for this final stretch. I am proud of you for how you are handling everything and know you are not alone in this.

  2. My sister sent me a picture of my Dad in his last days. I will never be able to un-see it but choose to remember him healthy and happy.

  3. You and your grandma have been in my thoughts and I send you and the Mister all the hugs and comfort I can over the airwaves and digital means.

  4. I know it was so hard for you, but you needed to go. I wish I had words to ease your pain, but there just are none.

  5. Anele I'm sending you massive hugs...I know how hard this is for you (and the Mr). You and your family are in my prayers.

  6. It is absolutely gut-wrenching to see them in their final stages, but such a gift to them that we stand there and acknowledge them for who they are and all they've meant to us. Even though we want to run (and keep on running far far away) we stand and stay because it's about them in that moment and we're able to express that love to them in a very tangible way. I am so thankful you had that time with her and were there for her in the end just as she was there for you in the beginning. You gave her the greatest gift. My heart just breaks for you and I know you've dreaded this for a long, long time. You are in my thoughts, prayers, and heart. Peace and Comfort to you, my friends. xoxoxo


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