I love my grandmother. She epitomizes unconditional love. Two weeks ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to drop everything, ship my children off to anyone who would take them since Michael was in California on business and go to Massachusetts to help care for her in her final days. She had a tumor in her lung that we are all assuming was lung cancer. Assuming, because she wasn't in good health and didn't want a biopsy or treatment of any kind. She simply wanted to go home and be allowed to die where she was safe and comfortable with her family caring for her.
She was a very strong woman who seldom complained. Once she knew that we would honor her wishes regarding her death, she very quickly deteriorated, seemingly overnight. Monday she was fine. Nine days later she was gone. I know that not everyone that wanted to be with her, to help care for her, was able to be. I'm extremely grateful that I had the chance. That said, it was hard. It was physically and emotionally draining. At times, it was scarey. Sometimes lonely although there was always at least one other person with me. We bathed her and gave her the meds that kept her comfortable. We counted respirations to gauge whether she was in pain. We held her hand to comfort her, or maybe just to comfort ourselves. We all took our turns telling her good-bye. Reassuring her that when she was ready, it was ok for her to go.
The morning she died, we all gathered around her bed. We held her hands and told her we loved her. With each breath, you could hear the morphine gurgle in her throat. In surreally Hollywood fashion, I kissed her on the forehead and said, "Each time you've gotten sick, we've asked you to fight and get better and each time you have. You've fought a good fight. But now, you're body is tired and it's ok to rest now. It's ok to go. We love you." She took one last breath and let it out and out and out. I put my head to her chest and her heart was still beating. After a minute or so, I did it again and there was no sound.
We all bathed her and dressed her. We said our final good-byes. My cousin and I helped lift her into the bodybag. She said that she didn't want to be alone and we were with her until we had to let her go.
The hospice nurse and aid were a wonderful support but the vast majority of her care fell to my 2 cousins, my sister for the time that she was able to be there, my aunt and myself. My cousins have been like angels for her for the past 15-20 years, possibly more. They were always there for her for the day to day things like grocery shopping and paying bills, caring for her when she was sick and simple companionship when she didn't need anything else. Both of them have jobs and families but they found a way to make time for our grandmother too. My aunt was such a rock. Last winter, during treatment for a serious health condition, she learned that she also had breast cancer. Then in May, completely unexpectedly, her husband passed away. She'd just completed her chemo treatments and by all rights should have been at home in Florida with someone taking care of her, but there she was right in the mix with us doing everything she could for her mother and supporting my cousins, sister and I. My sister is working and going to school along with being a wife and mother but she also forced a hole into her schedule and came to spend all the time she could spare.
Because of our age gap, our busy lives and being scattered across the country, I've never really gotten to know my cousins or my aunt well. We've always had that, "I love you cause we're family," thing but not much beyond that. Through the anguish of watching a woman we all cherish pass-away, I think we have formed an impenetrable bond. Not only have we gotten to know each other in a way that we never had before, but we shared an experience that can't be put into words. Several years ago, my grandmother had an aneurysm. My cousin and I talked about how my grandmother was the glue that held the families of her two children together. We both worried about what would happen once she was gone. Neither of us wanted the distance to grow further but it's hard when you live such seperate, and demanding, lives. Now, we are faced with not only losing our grandmother but both of my grandmother's children have cancer as well.
At one point, I wondered if when she made her decision regarding her death, Gram had any idea what that would mean for those of us that would have to care for her and carry out her wish. Did she really have any idea of the demands it would put on us on so many different levels? Now, in reflection, I still don't have an answer to that question. One thing I do know is that her decision has hopefully cemented her family together in a way that I couldn't have predicted.