I am not an easy person to get to know. That’s something I’ve known about myself for a very long time. I guess you could say it’s one of my flaws. So to people who know me as a friend, this is probably coming out of left field for a lot of you (I’ve only told a handful of people about it). I’m sorry about that. Please understand that it is not a reflection on you. I’ve never been comfortable talking about things like this. In a way, I just don’t want to drag other people down with my own personal drama.
This past weekend was one of the longest in my entire life. Last Thursday, my grandma Marjorie was given 72 hours left by the doctors. Now, as of this writing and as far as I know, she’s still here. She was always a stubborn person. She won’t pass on anyone’s terms but her own.
I debated with myself for a long time before writing this. I didn’t want to seem like I was doing this for attention or sympathy. But, in the end, I knew I had to do it.
This is my process…
This is my catharsis…
To begin, let’s step back in time. It was about two years ago. We had just finished moving my grandmother out of the house she had lived in for decades into a condo. The job being done, we left and I headed back up to Duluth to go back to the daily grind of my job. It wasn’t long after that, maybe even only a matter of a week or two, when she took a bad fall. After being taken to the hospital, she was put into physical rehabilitation for a time. A short time later, she was released and was able to go back to her condo under the condition that she continue her physical exercises.
But one thing led to another. And, after a bad flu, she found herself back in the hospital again.
What followed was a long period of back and forth with physical rehabilitation that I can’t even begin to fathom, being distant from it all. My mom kept me updated on what was going on, but still…I cannot truly understand the exhaustion she must have felt. Month after month went by, and things were just a constant struggle. Eventually, she told my parents she was tired of it all. And I cannot blame her…not in the slightest.
But things started to get better. Just a couple of weeks ago, she moved out of the rehab facility and back into a retirement community. She was getting better…
Then, the Monday before last, I got an email from my mom. They had moved her into hospice care.
It was the beginning of the end. That Thursday, the doctor’s diagnosis came down like a court verdict. 72 hours…
So this past weekend, I went home. And on Saturday, I went down to visit her. I thought I was ready for it. I thought I had steeled myself for what was to come.
Nothing prepares you. Nothing can. Walking into that hospital room was one of the hardest damn things I’ve ever done in my life.
And the moment, the moment I stepped in there I knew it wasn’t going to be okay. I knew I wasn’t going to keep it together. All of the things I thought about saying…all of my composure…it all just went flying out the window.
I remember when my grandpa passed away back in 2001. We went to visit him in the hospital shortly before he died. He had suffered a stroke at the time. It was strange…he looked like he was afraid…or stressed at the very least. By contrast, Grandma didn’t looked scared or anything. She just looked tired…worn out…exhausted.
It shook me…more than I care to admit. I lasted about two minutes before I couldn’t help it anymore. I pulled off my glasses, buried my head in my hands, and cried.
Boys don’t cry, right? What a load of crap.
The whole time I was sitting there, I kept thinking to myself “I’m just making her feel worse”. Which then made me feel worse. It was a vicious feedback loop.
I talked to her in the end, after I managed to regain some semblance of control. She wasn’t fully unconscious. She could open her eyes and look at me, which she did a couple of times. But all that stuff I thought about saying…it all suddenly sounded so stupid. And yet, I talked anyways. Because I wanted to…because I needed to.
I left the room a little later and buried myself in the photo albums. Everyone else that was there had already had time to cope with what was happening…to accept it. I hadn’t. And I didn’t realize it until the moment I stepped through that door. As I looked through the albums, everyone else was sharing good stories about Grandma and the things they remembered about her.
Me? I just wanted to leave. But I was afraid to say anything for fear that I would break down crying again. And I couldn’t handle the thought of being the only person there drowning themselves in tears.
In the end, we left…my dad and me. My last words to my grandma were “see you later”…so stupid.
Nothing ever prepares you…
The following days passed by slowly. The reality of it is that, as the old cliché goes, life isn’t like the movies. There are no grand epiphanies or soul-searching walks through the rain while listening to “Dust in the Wind”. Coping is a process…one that I’m still working through. We still don’t even know exactly what happened…and it’s doubtful we’ll ever know. Besides, knowing why wouldn’t make anything better. It still happened.
But regardless, in the spirit of healing, I want to share a story with you…one that has been on my mind since all this began.
It was a while ago and I was much younger…I think still in high school at that point. Anyways, grandma was driving up from the Twin Cities to pay us a visit. She called and asked to talk to me. She offered to buy me a video game, whatever one I wanted. And, like an excited kid, I gave my answer without much thought. It was only later after someone pointed it out that I realized what a tactless choice it was.
I asked for a video game about zombies…and my grandma worked in a funeral home.
Yeah…good job me. But I was just a stupid kid who was excited to get a game. I didn’t think about it that much. Regardless, I called her back up and changed my choice.
In the end, she bought me both games. I didn’t even ask her to, but that’s what she did. Because that’s just who she was…that was her spirit of giving. She always sent me and my brother money at Christmas and on our birthdays. She would even send us money for other occasions, even something like earning a driver’s license. And you couldn’t change her mind about it either. Once she was set on something, she was going to do it. Because again…that’s just who she was.
Her grandchildren, myself included, can attest to the fact that she was always proud of you. Even if you weren’t proud of yourself, she’d feel enough pride for the both of you.
In the end, we don’t always get to say the things we want to say. We might find that we’ve just run out of time. We might find that we’re just unable to say them because we’re locked up in our emotions. That’s just…life. But if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to take a moment to say the things I wasn’t able to say when I was there in that room.
I love you Grandma. I always have and I always will. You never stopped believing in me or being proud of me. It was like everything I did was a cause for celebration in your eyes…and that’s something I am eternally grateful for.
Rest. You deserve it…
Update: my grandmother passed away the afternoon of July 7th, 2017. She is finally at peace…