It was 9 o’clock on Sunday, September 29th when Mom woke me up to move Grandma. “Oh, she’s awake?” I asked. This time, it was 44 hours that Grandma had slept, since the hospice nurse gave her more medicine. I walked into the living room and sat Grandma up. She couldn’t move her neck. After sleeping for so long, it was like she was molded into this position: head up, eyes barely open, breathing heavy. She didn’t look very comfortable though, so we laid her back down. It was like we were moving a doll. Well, one that could move their legs and arms, but not much else. We put lots of pillows behind her head, but she kept sliding off to the side, or in between the pillows. It was hard to figure out how to position her.
After Church, a couple of her friends stopped by. They stood in the kitchen as one asked, “You want to go see her?” “Well,…” The other one looked at me. “It’s ok,” I said, “just don’t expect anything” and I led them into the living room. I watched as they held Grandma’s hand and talked to her. One told her all about the food at church and how good it was. The other one told her to let go. After they left, I took Shasta outside for a while. I came back in and Mom asked me to move Grandma again. She said she didn’t like the way she was positioned. I lifted her off the pillows, but not for long. Mom looked at me after I let her go. “Wow, she’s heavy” I told Mom. I lifted her up again and Mom moved the pillows around. “That’s alright for now” Mom said.
“I think she wants to sit up” Mom told me. I tried to sit her up, but I could barely move her. “It’s too hard,” I told Mom, “she’s too stiff.” Her upper body was as hard as rock. She moved her legs and arms, but… Mom looked at Grandma, laying there on the couch, almost paralyzed. “Just give up,” she told her, “it’s time.” I held her hand and she gripped mine. “You’ve still got some strength” I told her with a smile.
Mom and I headed into the kitchen, where bagels were being toasted. We sat at the kitchen table, in ear shot of Grandma’s loud, heavy breathing, and we ate. “She’s dying” I said. “Yep” Mom replied. I looked up at the clock. 1:15pm “I don’t think she’ll make it through the day” I said. Mom shook her head. Grandma was still breathing. We talked about what we were going to do when she died. She was still breathing. We talked about our fears, fears of uncertainty. She was still breathing. We talked about money, jobs, the practicality of living here. She was still breathing. We said things like, “When she’s gone,” and “when she dies,” “when this is our house.” We talked about if we were going to move into her bedroom, and how we were going to move around the furniture. She was still…
Mom headed to the refrigerator and I checked up on Grandma. She was no longer breathing loud, heavy breaths. She was now breathing quiet, small breaths. “Mom,” I yelled, “her breathing changed.” Mom came into the living room. “What?” she asked. Neither one of us moved. Yes, her breathing did change. It changed from loud to quiet, from heavy to soft, from something…to nothing.
“Oh my God” Mom said. We walked over to Grandma and listened. Nothing. Mom felt for a pulse on her neck. Nothing. “Oh my God, she’s dead” Mom announced. I just stared at Grandma. She was gone. Her face became pale, her body became stiff, blood stopped flowing in her veins, her arms and legs stopped moving, she wasn’t breathing. Life was gone.
As Mom called hospice, I stared at Grandma’s body. I sat on the couch beside her, and I took her hand in mine. It was so lifeless. I checked for a pulse. Nothing. There was no pulse in her body. All my life, every time I checked for mine, or my mom’s, there has been a pulse. But I was actually feeling for one in a human body, and there was none. I know this may sound strange, but just think about it. Feel your heart beat right now. Feel for your pulse. Sit here, and breathe in, and out. And now, imagine not feeling it in someone else, someone who was alive five minutes ago. It just…left.
It was a shell. What is it here for now? It has a heart, it has lungs, it has bones, but what’s inside of it now? I looked around the room and I smiled. “Hi Grandma” I said. Not at her body, but where I thought she might be. Sitting in the chair in front of me? Up in the air, like an angle? I didn’t care. I knew that once I said, “Hello” she said, “Hello” back to me, as clear as you and me, like she was able to say it three years ago. I knew that she could eat and drink now, without the fear of choking, a fear she has had for the past two years. She’s really alive now.
We sat there for an hour and half with a dead body on our couch. All we did was look at her. That’s all we could do. We didn’t want to leave her. Her body, anyway. The nurse came at 3, which was the “official” time of death. Two men from the funeral home came around 3:30 to pick up her body. And that was it, it was just Mom and I. “When she dies” now became “Now we can.” Everything we said we were going to do after she died, became a reality. That time was now. We called family and friends and the pastor and anyone we could think of. The only family member left was Matt, Mom’s brother. And as luck would have it, Monday was his birthday.
Matt is a paranoid schizophrenic. He lives in a mentally handicapped person’s home, type of place. Grandma, for the past 10-20 years has driven an hour once a week to bring him Pepsi, cookies, and cigarettes. She really took care of him. Mom and him had some bad times when they were children, and even when he was in the wrong, Grandma still took care of him. That’s what you do for your child, right? Well, Mom was also her child.
On his birthday, he got the news that his mom died. Mom didn’t want to keep this from him for too long. If she did, it would have taken a week to go see him. It’s just sad that this news had to come now. He was pretty upset. I know he’s still a human being, but I wasn’t expecting to see him cry.
Tuesday we headed to the funeral home to sign papers and give them any missing information they needed. Wednesday, we headed back up there to be a part of the cremation. But before that, we saw Grandma in her “coffin.” Or, whoever that was. It didn’t even look like her. They rolled her into the furnace, closed the door, and turned the knob. We heard it start up, a light came on, and that was it. Grandma’s body was on her way back to where it came from.
Thursday we went back one last time to pick her up. When I was 9 or 10, Mom, Grandma, and I were on our way to spread Grandpa’s ashes. We had him in a box and I would open the lid like he was talking. “Hey, let me out” I would say for him. “It’s ok Grandpa, we’re finding a place for you. Just a little longer, ok?” I don’t remember much other than that, but Mom told me that Grandma enjoyed it. She said that she laughed and thought it was cute. I promised myself I wasn’t going to do that with Grandma. I thought it was childish and embarrassing. “I want to carry Grandma” I told Mom. I carried the bag to the car and put her in back seat and buckled her in. “Now you won’t get carsick anymore” I told Grandma’s ashes. I was a 22-year-old, acting like a 9-year-old. Mom didn’t think it was childish. She liked it.
It’s been a long five days. Five days? That’s it? The only couple of things left to do are spread her ashes and have the memorial. If you’re wondering what Mom and I are going to do, we don’t know. We think we’re going to stay here for a year, but, who knows what’s going to happen now? We certainly don’t.
This is the part where I say that I miss Grandma, and that we had so many great memories. And, I wish I could. But, now’s not the right time. I’m not ready to figure out how I feel yet. Honestly, it hasn’t hit me. It’s not apparent that she’s gone. I don’t think my mind has fully grasped the idea of her death. I hate to say it though. Mom has cried every day. And here I am, showing no emotion. Am I insensitive? Do I not care? I am sad…but I’m not. She’s alive. She’s here. I can’t make myself think any different. And that’s hard for me right now. It’s hard on Mom too…