Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Grandma, 1929-2015

My grandmother died almost four weeks ago. I'm finally writing about it now.

For the last two years or so, she hasn't felt great. Not dying and invalid unwell, but just but bubbling right under the weather sick. She had troubles with her teeth and gums, had cataract surgery, and had been prone to dizzy spells for days at a time. Nothing to suggest the end was near.

The last few months, she'd been feeling more under the weather. I know my mother was somewhat worried, but nothing definitive was ever diagnosed. About three weeks before she passed, she suddenly had trouble speaking. Not being coherent, but her voice was affected. She went to the doctor who mentioned that the x-ray might be showing something on her lung pushing against her vocal chords.

This news sent my grandmother into what you could call a death spiral. She muddled through the next week, refusing to go back to the doctor to get bad news, barely being able to talk. I called her on a Wednesday and talked briefly to see how she was doing. She asked for us to pray for her.

That was the last time I talked to her. Ten days later, she was gone. The next week after our phone call, she had a lot of trouble breathing, and finally, she went back to the doctor. An MRI discovered a tumor the size of a peach on her lung. It was pushing on her vocal chords and also hampering her breathing. It's amazing she lived as long as she did with this thing in her chest. But it did explain her weight loss (down to 85 pounds) and the dizziness. Perhaps if it had been caught a couple years ago, there would have been something that could have been done (not that stubborn Grandma would have submitted to more doctor's appointments). Not this late. The tumor was confirmed on a Tuesday, she died in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

Grandma at least died in her own home. She was on morphine and not coherent for the last two days. The hospice nurse had told my mother that it seemed Grandma was waiting for something before passing on. Mom was going to have me call on Saturday morning to talk with her -- was it me she was waiting for? I don't think so. She had been resting with her hands behind my head, but when my mom found her passed that morning, one arm was extended out, as if she reached out her hand to someone. Maybe Grandpa, or one of her parents (her mom died when she was in grade school), or Uncle Tommy (her brother) or Aunt Stephy (her sister-in-law and good friend who had died last year), or even Jesus -- though she wasn't going-to-church religious, she believed.

Mom called me that Saturday morning to tell me Grandma was gone. I was taking the dog out when I got the call. I walked back inside and told Lori and the boys. After a little while, I walked to church about three blocks away to light some candles in Grandma's memory. I'm not that devout, but it just felt right. I was so sad, as I had been all week, knowing the end was near. As I knelt in front of the statue of Mary, I could hear a few people saying a rosary near the front of the church. It was oddly cathartic -- by the time I left, most of the sadness had washed away. I still felt bad, but not as achingly bad.

That was more than three weeks ago. I still get pings of major sadness that Grandma died. And I'm still going to write about her in this blog in the coming weeks. I picked out a star for her, something I can look at to remind me of her. It's going to drift out of the sky as summer rolls around, but I already am thinking about a constellation for Grandpa -- I'll have one of them year round. The tough part for me is that I didn't have time to prepare. Cancer patients might not die for years. Grandma wasn't feeling good for a while, but it suddenly got bad, the cause was discovered, and she was dead a few days later. In three weeks, she went from functioning to dying. It was all too quick.

When thinking about who she was waiting for, I hope it was my grandfather. They used to have a affectionate banter in which Grandma would ask if he wanted something, and he'd reply "I'm waiting." My sisters used to think Grandpa was so bossy, but in reality, it was something endearing for them, kind of a joke. They were married 28 years (he's our step-grandfather), but he died 10 years ago. I want to think he finally came for her and said "I'm waiting," which was what she needed to hear to let go and for them to be together again.

I'm tearing up typing this because, although her pain is gone, and she's back with Grandpa, I miss her. I hadn't seen her in two years, and I still feel guilty about that. The last time we visited, Ben declared how much he loved Grandma's spaghetti, and she gushed so much about it that she made it again for him two days later before we went home to Utah. I was her baby 40 years ago, and Ben looks so much like that me it must have meant a lot for her to cook for him. Her legacy lives on, in our hearts in the sauce Lori wants to make once a month, in the joy of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and, especially, in the eyes of Ben -- the same brown eyes she had, her daughter has, and I have.

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