My grandmother had been depressed for exactly two years – the entire two years that had passed since her daughter (and my mother) had been found dead in her apartment. I remember the look of shock on her face when I had to break the news to her; it was as if I had told her that aliens had begun taking over the planet. She said it was unnatural – a child dying before a parent – it wasn't the way things were supposed to be. She was right, it was unnatural. Sometimes tragedy strikes unexpectedly and it seems impossible to make any sense of it through the fog of grief. She was never the same after that conversation.
She stopped making her daily trips to the store and weekly appointments to have her hair curled. She stopped painting her nails and chatting with her friends on the phone. She was a ghost of the woman she once was; her body was physically present but her soul was broken. The holidays, which had always been happy occasions for the three of us, took on a melancholy tone once only the pair of us remained. I tried hard to make up for the loss of my mother – learning to prepare Thanksgiving dinner and making sure I chose the perfect Christmas tree and decorated it to her liking. My attempts were futile, though. I could never fill my mother’s shoes.
When I realized she hadn’t been to the doctor since my mother’s death, it occurred to me that I needed to pay much closer attention to ensure she was taken care of properly. I immediately made an appointment for her to get a check-up and informed her that I would be driving her there myself to make sure she didn’t miss it. The morning I arrived at her apartment to pick her up for her doctor appointment, I found her in her underwear on the floor. I had no idea how long she had been lying there helplessly. From that day forward, she was in and out of hospitals – intensive care units, and even a hospice facility – until the doctors finally let me take her home to live out her final days in familiar comfort. But she was the only family I had left in
"Is there nothing that can be done, Dr. Evans?" I asked, for purely selfish reasons. He dropped his head ever so slightly, placed a hand on my shoulder, and replied, "I'm sorry, sweetheart. Her systems have already begun to fail. The process is irreversible. I'm afraid there's nothing more that can be done other than making her comfortable." I nodded, thanked the doctor, and wandered further down the hall where there was less foot traffic. I found a seat on an abandoned stretcher that had been shoved up against a wall haphazardly. I lay on my side, curled up in the fetal position, and cried until I ran out of tears.
She lived over an hour’s drive away from my apartment – a trip I made frequently – and refused to move in with me or allow me to move her closer. I didn’t push the issue, because her independence was the one thing she had left. Being an independent woman myself, I understood because I wouldn’t want mine taken from me. So I made the drive as often as humanly possible. I hired full-time nurses to make sure she had help for any amount of time I wasn’t able to be there myself. It was probably the most exhausting four months of both of our lives.
She told everyone at the hospitals that she was ready to die. It always caught them off guard; you could see the slightly horrified expression on their faces before they realized I was watching. “Not many people face death so gracefully,” said one of the nurses. Tiffany, I believe that was her name. I turned in my chair at my grandmother’s bedside to face Tiffany. “Gracefully? She is not facing death gracefully. She’s calling for it, and I wish she’d stop.” Tiffany looked embarrassed and hurried out of the room. But, really, I should have been the one who was embarrassed for placing my own feelings in front of my grandmother’s wishes.
Finally, she asked that I sign a paper providing my agreement to abide by a DNR order. “If I go, I don’t want you to encourage them to try to save me. I don’t want to be kept alive by machines. I have lived my life, Melissa. I have extracted every ounce of joy that I possibly could out of every single day. My joy is gone now. Please, let me go with her.” My eyes welling up with tears, I reluctantly agreed to respect her wishes.
Despite my selfish worries about what I would do once she was gone or how I would cope with being left alone, I respected her wishes from that day forward. I simply made sure that she knew, without a doubt, how much I loved her and would miss her when she was gone. I sat by her bed endless nights, watching her with bated breath, and hoping for just one more day with her.
You know when the end is close because their coloring changes. Their breathing changes, too. Sometimes they rally – or exhibit a small burst of energy – before they finally take their last breath. She had turned a pale gray color and her breathing had become very shallow. I stroked her hair away from her forehead and kissed her gently. I leaned forward and whispered in her ear, “I hope you are able to find your joy in abundance for lifetimes to come; that’s the only way I can accept your decision to let go of this one. I love you and I’ll miss you everyday.” And then she was gone.
I just hope she found her joy.
*Entry written for therealljidol.
- Current Mood: nostalgic