That first night was a doozy.
I severely underestimated the effect being there with my grandmother would have on me.
When we got to the hospice door we were locked out. I had a mini moment of panic that I wouldn’t be able to get in to see her, but after a few phone calls inside a security guard finally came and let us in.
It was oddly empowering really, to be the one to hold her shit together and put a smile on her face. I felt like I was helping everyone around me, their smiles less feeble as the minutes wore on. All except my brother, who was very obviously hurting so very much.
When we got off of the elevator on the hospice floor I allowed everyone to continue on except for him and I pulled him to the side.
“Look at me,” I said. And he looked into my face like he had done so many times before when we were little and I was the sun and moon that taught him how the whole world worked. He was much taller this time, of course, but I knew in this moment I needed to be his big sister. “When we go in there, you have to remember that it isn’t her. This isn’t our grandmother that we know and love. When we walk in there you flood your mind with every good memory you have of her and hold those really close. It isn’t going to be pretty, you will never forget this, but you have to let the good times outweigh this.”
I think I was more trying to convince myself than him.
The hospice ward was really a very peaceful place. Surreal almost as you walked by each door knowing the person inside the room would soon be dead. We got to her room, and honestly it was probably the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen.
My grandmother has always been a jolly person. Full of life and happiness. Her eye sparkled (I say eye because one of her eyes underwent a bad lasik surgery and was covered by a glass eye.) and her cheeks were always full of color.
But the woman laying in that bed was not like this at all. Her mouth was hanging open, a breathing tube tightly wrapped around her to keep it in place below her nostrils. Her glass eye refused to close no matter how often you tried to make it. I’ve had dreams more clear than this moment.
I’m not sure why or what overcame me, but as my brother broke down beside her bed I began to talk. I kissed her forehead, smiled and told her I had made it. I thanked her for hanging on until I got there. They had placed in her a medically induced coma, so it wasn’t that she could respond. But I just felt that she could hear.
After a few moments my mother and our friend came into the room. I made a few jokes, we recited a few memories. We caught up a little with her there in the room. Hoping to ease her spirits some. My grandfather was exhausted and declared that he was heading home, and it was about this time that I had made my final decision: I was staying the night. There was no way I was leaving her side. I just remember thinking, what if she dies and no one is here?
It was probably about 2 am when my mother, brother and family friend left to get some sleep. I went to find the nurse so he could administer one more round of pain meds before she and I settled in for the night.
My grandmother had apnea, so her breathing was very sporadic. She would only take a breath every 30 seconds and it would always be a sudden gasp followed by a groan. After first, it was legitimately the most disconcerting sound I’d ever heard. I hated it, it was the sound of nightmares.
But as the night wore on, I found myself constantly making sure she was still breathing. If she didn’t gasp regularly I’d start to panic. I sat there, holding her hand, clinging to every memory of her I could think of. I didn’t beg her to stay. I knew she had been hanging on for so long, fighting the inevitable. I knew it was her time and that there was nothing to be done. Her body was shutting down. All I could do was tell her I loved her and tell her that she was welcome to let go when she felt she was ready.
I knew my words were right, but it still feels, honestly painful, to tell your grandmother that it’s okay to die.
By morning I was sick with stress and grief. I had gotten to the point that I was freaked out and emotionally exhausted and just kept thinking about what would happen if she died while I was by myself there. I was angry that I hadn’t made more time for her and angry that I felt the need to keep it together and be “super strong” for my family. I had called my husband and my best friend a few times. The bestie answered around 2. The husband did not (he is a heavy sleeper).
Finally around 6-6:30 I texted my mom and basically begged her to come back and get me. I wanted a shower and I wanted sleep and I felt like I needed to step away from the situation, which made me feel so guilty, as the situation was my dying grandmother.
By the time my mother got there I was shaking, I had thrown up and I had stressed myself into a fever. I bawled my eyes out when she walked in the room. I’d spent my whole night terrified to leave my grandmother’s side, yet terrified to watch her die.
Death is an interesting adventure for everyone involved…