Today is a day of goodbyes.
In the intricacies of life, there are nuances of delight and sorrow. No longer numbing my existence, I feel them all and am grateful for them. Friday night, Pete and I went up to NY with my daughter to stay with my aunt and uncle in Brooklyn. We had a relaxed, pleasant time eating real Brooklyn pizza (there is no substitute) and talking, with plans on Saturday to go out to my grandmother’s house in Rockaway. That evening, her companion for the past 15 or so years phoned to tell us she had gone to the ER with severe stomach pain. She has been in and out of the hospital a lot over the past two years, and always rallied; always bounced back. She had just been released from the hospital not two days earlier after hurting her leg with a shopping cart. Before that it was a fainting spell and a cut head. At 93 years old, she was a marvel of independence, still living on her own and managing her finances well. Her brain was clear (as much as we kidded about her sanity sometimes).
Saturday in the early morning hours my daughter woke me up to tell me she felt nauseous. She began throwing up about 30 seconds later when I provided a trashcan, and threw up every couple of hours after that. We took our time that morning and rested up, then drove out in two cars to the hospital, with my kid puking once more in the parking lot for good measure. She had no fever, and was generally in good spirits, just tired, so in we went. I knew it would be good for my grandmother to get a glimpse of her, and then I would have Pete take her back to the lobby to wait.
As soon as we entered the room, I realized too late that I was utterly unprepared. Every other time we had visited her in this hospital we found her sitting up and talking, bitching about the nurses and doctors and ordering us around. Often she looked better than she had the last time we saw her at home. Not this time. This time I saw her looking frailer than I had ever seen her in my life, sweltering with a fever and a room that was far too hot, panting for breath because her oxygen mask was not on, and with a NG tube through her nose into her stomach. It was very hard for her to speak with the tube and how dry her mouth was, so it was difficult to understand her. Her hearing had been bad, but in the past few months is seemed to get dramatically worse, so that we could no longer speak with her on the phone. She just couldn’t hear us. Her faculties were about her, she knew we were there and was glad to see us. She grabbed my aunt’s hand and said, clearly, “Don’t leave me.” Then she asked for orange juice, not understanding that she could not have any liquids because of the tube in her stomach, draining the bile that had started to collect there—the reason she was in such pain the night before.
I won’t go into any more details of the how’s and why’s of her hospital stay, but as soon as I saw her I knew she was ready to leave us. She has been saying as much for the past year. What I am grateful for is that I was there, able to hold her hand and stroke her forehead, to kiss her and tell her I love her. She saw my daughter and waved to her. She saw Pete and smiled. I was grateful to be with my aunt and uncle, to assure my aunt that calling my dad and telling him he should drive up to NY was okay. I was grateful to have the presence of mind and heart to know that I should stay until my parents arrived, that my plans back in Philly didn’t matter. Later that evening, after my parents were there, my great aunt arrived, my grandmother’s older sister, teary-eyed and angry saying how they had to go in order and it was her turn next, not my grandma’s. We spent time together in the lobby while no visitors were allowed in the CCU for another hour. I went up alone to see my grandmother, to say goodbye, and told her I loved her one more time…she told me the same, to take care of myself, and kissed me through her oxygen mask.
As much as I wanted her to pull through and be at my wedding, I knew I wouldn’t see her again. At the time I left the hospital, around 8:30pm, we knew that her kidneys had stopped functioning. She was a rigorous believer of her DNR; no heroic measures were to be taken. Today the doctor authorized morphine to make her more comfortable, and my father said she was unable to communicate anymore. She died sometime after 9pm tonight, and my family is grateful she did not suffer more than necessary.
Last night, Pete and I said goodbye to everyone and decided it was best to take my kid back home. My parents stayed over and came home this afternoon. Last night we had the most wonderful time together—I have never felt so loved, never trusted it so much. I was so glad he was with me because having him around makes every part of my life just…easier. Better. We stayed up until after 3am, knowing it was our last night together for a while…I had to take him to the airport this evening to go back to France. Our time together gets more and more wonderful; we feel more like husband and wife as each day passes.
Tonight, coming back home to my house without him in it, getting the call that my grandmother is gone, I am still thankful. I am melancholy and of course I am going to miss my grandmother’s generosity of spirit and love very much, but I am so blessed to have had her for so long, so blessed to have found Pete, and have sat here thinking instead about how life can be so many things; how death can bring a family together, how it can make you appreciate the people that make up your life each day that much more, and how those we find joy with are who get us through the many other facets of living—good and bad and everything in between.