Thursday, July 10, 2008

Long walk down the hallway

It was in April when Grandma was told her cancer had returned, moved from her colon into the liver. She only had months to live. Mom and Gram came by my office to tell me on the way back from the hospital. I cried in the parking lot. That was the beginning a three month goodbye.

That Sunday in church, she stood up and told the entire congregation the diagnosis and said she was “ready to go home,” meaning Heaven. She wanted to see her mother, father, brothers, sisters – all those dear to her that had gone on before. Gram knew she would miss us or, more accurately, us miss her, and that made her want to hang on just a bit longer. My mother, who lost my Pop just the year before, was her best friend. Gram didn’t want Mom to suffer another loss so soon, but she was tired from years of horrible pain in her knees -- bone on bone -- and declining health.

I was at her house just about every night after work. Kindly, sweetly, lovingly, she left her home to me, the first grandchild, a fact which, nine years later makes me simultaneously immensely proud and tremendously guilty. What had I done to deserve that? She laid it out for me but, still, I know I hadn’t earned it. Those next few months I spent time with her and cleaning her home and yard. It would be dishonest to say that I wasn’t doing those things for myself. Everyone
knew I would be moving in after she was gone. But I did want her to see and enjoy a clean yard and spruced up home. Was that understood by her or others?

For the first month or so, the decline seemed gradual. Gram could eat and get around the house with help. It changed suddenly one night. That night, which I hadn’t thought of in nine years, came storming back to memory tonight while watching Grey’s Anatomy. I know that sounds ridiculous, but something in that show opened the floodgates. Regardless of what brought it to mind, I was transported back to that evening. Gram was tired and wanted to go to bed. Luckily my mom and I were both there to move her from the living room to her bed.

That night, Gram could not get up out of her chair. She was almost completely dead weight. Mom and I snapped at each other, gritted teeth, and accused each other of botching the mission. The frustration in the air could almost be tasted. It took us nearly an hour to get Gram from the chair in her living room to her bed. Mom and I were exhausted, physically and emotionally. I don’t think either of us expected to have to endure that when we went over that night. I knew nothing of physically caring for or helping someone. The frustration of our ineptitude and sadness
of the impending loss set us at each other’s throats. Gram wasn’t happy with any of this either. Three scared and angry people battled the limitations of a dying body to amble down a small hallway.

Hospice soon took over the care, with Mom, a nurse, helping as much as possible. At least for me, that made things much easier. Gram was in a hospital bed in her living room which provided the minor blessing of not having to move her throughout the house. She couldn’t eat much, but she was with us mentally until the last few days.

Months before she was diagnosed, I had planned a trip with friends. At that time, I had a small sail boat I had just bought and planned to sail that entire long weekend. Knowing she was near the end, I took the trip. I never really believed she would be gone before I returned. I guessed she had another week. She passed the day before I was supposed to return.

Gram died quietly, peacefully (I am told) on July 11, 1998. She missed our August wedding. She died on my cousin’s, her second grandchild’s, 19th birthday.

Regret really doesn’t do a whole lot of good. You cannot go back and change the past. But, if I could, there are a few things I would have done differently before and after Gram passed. So many things, in fact, could have and should have been done differently. I know I’m making more of my (perceived) failings than I should. But, I hope I honored her in the way I handled her death, moved into/took over her home and property, and cared for her in the time before she died. She had a generous, giving spirit. Did I honor that by being generous to others? No.

That hour long walk from the living room to the bedroom; I’ll never forget it...or her.

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