Soul Doubt: Warm and Free. But What About Us?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Warm and Free. But What About Us?

After watching a former shadow of my grandmother fade faster and faster, as the hospital stays became more frequent and of longer length, she finally was granted her last wish- to be released from KMC and their endless pokings, proddings, inside lines and CT scans; catheters and brochoscopies... to be released. And not just from the hospital.

See, she was just too ill in too many areas, not the big C, no, but renal failure coupled with two strokes, neither of which she could quite recover from. Diabetes, extreme edema and dysphasia toward the end. And all she wanted was to go home. To die, yes, she knew that. But at least away from the bright lights and endless visits from the sharpest of the many-initialed specialists down to the lowliest of aides and housekeepers. All she wanted was us- her family. Around her, loving her, keeping her comfortable, kissing her wasted cheeks and trying our hardest not to cry around her.

So that's what we did. Thanks to a wonderful Hospice administrator, he pulled some strings and in one whirlwind of an afternoon, got her de-IV'ed, signed out of what she considered a neverending nightmare (no offense, KMC- of the many hours I spent there by her side, I considered everyone to be at the very least competent, and most very compassionate as well) and sent home. Equipment magically appeared in her living room- a special hospital bed to ease her pressure ulcers, nurses available 24-7 by merely picking up the phone, and just the right amount of comfort measures for her to still recognize us but not be in pain.

The nurses were awesome, the aides cheerful, the Social Service worker empathetic and obviously capable. I'm sure had Grandma had need for a longer relationship with them, we would have been just as grateful as we were for the short time they assisted.

She passed away yesterday morning, at 5:20 am. I was holding her hand at the time, as she was unable to speak by that point. She had been home almost two full days, and we had time to assemble a full platoon of her descendants, siblings and of course her husband. My mother, aunt and I took the night shift, all sprawled out on various couches and me on the recliner (being the youngest, and assumedly the most spry). As I was a medical tech in the military- although it seems like ages ago- my family seems to rely on me for most of the translation of medical jargon, opinions on sudden symptoms, etc. It was my mom who shook me awake a bit after 5, saying Grandma didn't seem to be breathing anymore, labored and raspy as it had been. I rubbed my eyes, stumbled over to Grandma's hospital bed, and spoke first quietly, trying to get a response, then louder, shaking her, even tried to get a response by the hand squeezing method we had worked out the night before. Nothing. Then I checked her pulse, which was weak, thready but existent. Not like mine, which was racing and causing my head to throb. I had Mom immediately call the emergency Hospice line, from whence a nurse was summoned, and laid my head on her chest, trying to feel the lift and fall of breath. I felt a couple breaths, then nothing. The pulse had ceased as well.

Funny, no, ironic I suppose would be a more fitting term, at that point everything for me got very calm. Whereas before the days and nights had been full of tears and emotionalism, this time I just felt myself grow numb. I knew she was gone, I knew what had to be done, so I just gave her hand a last squeeze and got to it. Woke up Grandpa. Told him his companion of over twenty years was gone. Called next door to my dearest, sweetest aunt; the daughter of this woman who'd just passed away, who was her caregiver, champion and even the toughie when she'd had to be. That was the most difficult call to make, because I knew she would take it the hardest. Mom and my other aunt were both crying softly, Grandpa W. more rackingly. Downstairs, my cousin and his wife stuttered up the stairs, knowing somehow already and leaning on one another for strength. Thankfully their toddler slept through it.

My auntie arrived, panicked- all I'd said is come now. She saw it in my eyes and simply collapsed. It was one of the most heartwrenching things I've ever seen. All of us gathered together in that little upstairs living room, red carpet matted with their elderly Husky's dog hair, dawn just creeping in... it was unreal. I'm crying now while writing this, but it's a cleansing sort of cry; at that point it just didn't feel quite real. Grandma was still so warm, dammit! She was pale, but I could feel sweat at her temples when I stroked back her hair. How could life, even a bare approximation of one, be so there at one moment and gone the next?

When the nurse arrived, she was only able to confirm what we already knew, which started a whole new round of sobbing and everyone talking above everyone else. I tried to distance myself from it, feeling too empty to participate. So what did I do? Made a pot of coffee. Peed. Brushed my teeth. Called my husband and told him the news. Mundane fucking things that just didn't seem fair in the face of such of an enormity of sorrow.

Once reentering the room, the nurse took me aside and quietly asked if I would help her clear the room for a moment and if I could assist her in repositioning and cleaning up the "body" (me thinking, this is my grandmother, you heartless bitch! Not a body!), but outwardly smiling slightly and agreeing, yes, that would be a good thing- don't think anyone else would be up to the task. And of course she would rather me wash her gently down and put fresh jammies on her than some stranger struggle with it alone.
So I herded the others out on the deck, most of them furiously smoking cigarettes and sucking down coffee between sobs at that point, and did what needed to be done. Afterward, I actually felt some of the numbness secede; Grandma looked so much more peaceful with her pretty blue-striped pajamas on, the angel pin I had bought her at the hospital pinned to the lapel- she could have been sleeping peacefully.

The nurse thanked me profusely, made what phone calls she had to make, collected the unused medication and left.

For some odd reason, I felt compelled to pull out my little pocket Bible and stand over her and read Psalm 139. It had always been one of my favorites, and for some reason just seemed to be the right thing to do, although in my own ears, the words were ringing hollowly. While I did so, everyone sort of filed back in and listened, then we all just stood in silence after I'd finished. I felt like a fraud, or at the very least an actor in a bad movie, and sort of slunk away to where my backpack and purse were shoved under the kitchen table. No one noticed as I headed out, but I just didn't feel like I could handle it another minute, the air was oppressive and I was maybe a little more out of my mind than I thought at the time.

Ironically (yet again) my husband and son were pulling up right as I was getting into my car. I hadn't asked him to come, in fact, expressly forbade his bringing Jameson. But perhaps by some sort of spousal telepathy, he showed up exactly at the right moment- just in time to escort me home, where I held my son and cried into his hair until he squirmed to get down, confused at his mommy's bizarre actions.

Tony tucked me into bed, where I blissfully, dreamlessly slept most the day away, waking ravenous and groggy around three-ish. Fortified by donut holes and coffee, I determinedly set upon acting as "normal" as possible, only failing when an errant thought would send me back into the memories of the unrealities of that morning.

Am I grieving correctly? Is there a way to do so? Scores of books and articles are available on the subject, pages of shrinks in phone books rubbing their sweaty palms together in breathless anticipation of my call.

I think it's cheaper and more suited to my warped personality to just spew it out here, on my aptly named little blog. And let time and experience take care of the rest. I've been touched by death often, but never like this, sober, with a loved one growing cold under my touch. I'm forcing myself to think of her in Heaven, warm and free.

I love you, Grandma. Goodbye.


  1. There is no right way to grieve.. each has their own...
    I know the old sayings of your grandmother is at peace and a better place now... without pain, ring hollow, but they will make sense later.
    And there will be a time you will be glad it was you, who cleanse her body that last time...
    Remember we don't cry for them.. we cry for ourselves... for the emptiness that comes with the silence. But in time the memories will be with you always, and you will smile as you think of her. And that is how she would want you to go on. You did her proud... in many ways, for being with her at the end...your cleansing of your self, your marriage, your son, your peace in life as you deal with the blows with out running back to your old mistress. You stand free, and she is proud of you for that.
    God Bless....

  2. Kendra, I already posted over on HBO, but I'll post again here. First off a big hug to you. I am so sorry for your loss.
    My dad died when I was ten and I never had a chance to see him after he went into the hospital. I know I felt a lot of guilt because my little ten year old self hadn't "grieved right".
    I am very glad I did not wear any makeup to church tonight....
    God bless you Kendra
    and get in touch if you want to talk. I mean that!!!!

  3. Kendra, I already posted over on HBO, but I'll post again here. First off a big hug to you. I am so sorry for your loss.
    My dad died when I was ten and I never had a chance to see him after he went into the hospital. I know I felt a lot of guilt because my little ten year old self hadn't "grieved right".
    I am very glad I did not wear any makeup to church tonight....
    God bless you Kendra
    and get in touch if you want to talk. I mean that!!!!

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Thanks for taking the time to read what I ramble about- I consider it an honor to get feedback from you guys, so please tell me what you think, feel, if you have a similar story... whatever you'd like! Thanks again and God bless.