I’m a bad blogger. I don’t mean to be, but I am. This time I have an excuse for being a bad blogger. My grandmother died last week.
She was my last living grandparent, but her death was a first for me. I have never been present or anywhere near my other grandparents when they died. I was either on the other side of the planet, away at college or on the other side of the country when all my other grandparents had died. My grandmother was moved to Austin a little over a year ago, so this time I was in the vicinity. She had been hospitalized for pulmonary embolisms over the weekend, but we didn’t find out how serious it was until Tuesday, when suddenly her condition went from in serious need of meds and monitoring to, the only thing we can do for her is make her comfortable. You see, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer over Christmas and my mom made the decision to have a lumpectomy done because there was a serious risk of the lump breaking through the surface. Well, the lumpectomy turned into a mastectomy. My grandmother had problems with blood clots previously and had been on blood thinners ever since to prevent them. However, when you have surgery you need your blood to clot so she was taken off of the blood thinners. So a week after the surgery she started getting short of breath and was finally taken to the ER because her oxygen was low. There, they discovered she had pulmonary embolisms. On Monday they were treating her and my mom went to go visit her on Tuesday and talk to the doctor when she was informed there was a mass very close to my grandmother’s heart and her oxygen levels were dropping despite being put on oxygen. In short, there was nothing else they could do for her. We spent the next two days in hospital waiting, and then she was discharged back to the assisted living facility where she has been living for the past year and hospice was called in. She died the next day.
Not sound ungrateful or trite, but in many ways this was a relief for us. After the mastectomy, we were informed she had stage III breast cancer that was very aggressive. We were looking at a slow painful death for her, from cancer. The other problem was my grandmother had dementia. She was in a memory assist facility, but this was not a nursing home. There was a possibility she would have to be transfered to a nursing home if the facility was no longer equipped to take care of her. Thankfully, these weren’t problems. In the end, she died in her own bed, the place she had called home for the past year. She was surrounded by family. We got to say goodbye to her.
It’s been eight days since she died and I still find my reactions strange at times. In a lot ways I’m relieved her death was as easy as it was. We didn’t have to watch her suffer over months of pain and lack of understanding. It was relatively quick. In fact, when we first discharged her from the hospital it looked like she might live several more days. That was more upsetting to me than her imminent death was. The waiting game, seeing her get uncomfortable and having to ask the nurse to administer more pain meds, waiting by her bedside and trying to offer her what little comfort we could, that was taking it’s toll on all of us. I’m happy she’s at peace. I know she’s in heaven, reunited with her husband of 63 years. She was 88 years old, she had lived her life. A good life and it was time for the Father to call her home. I’m glad He did, I was begging him to. But I’m still sad. I miss her. I miss my grandmother. This is the first time in my life I’ve never had a grandparent. I’m not anyone’s grandchild anymore and I miss that.
I also miss who she was. In a lot of ways, we had lost her before last week. For the past three years or so she has gotten to the point of not remembering us. She regressed from being an 80-something-year-old woman who had a husband, two children and four grandchildren to a young woman, to a teenager and in the last month or so a child at times. She didn’t remember becoming a grandparent or a parent or getting married or even graduating from high school. I would go visit her and I was just some nice girl who came to see her and sometimes brought her cookies. She recognized my mom, but not as her daughter, but substituting her for the girl who lived down the street when she was growing up. The woman I went to go see was not Grandma. There were several times I would finish visiting her and go sit in my car and cry before driving back home. This disease made me so mad. It robbed us all of something special. It robbed me of my grandmother, my mother of her mother and it robbed my grandmother of herself. My grandmother spent her days looking for her parents, who had been dead for years upon years and she didn’t recognize the living. But thankfully, her suffering has ended.
Grief is a strange thing. When I was getting my masters I took an emphasis in grief and loss. I believe in the importance of grief. Loss occurs all the time and failing to recognize it only leads trouble further down the road. I find it so sad how our culture doesn’t really know how to handle grief. There is usually that cursory, polite concern of “How are you doing?” from the people who care about you, but then most people move on. Especially it seems, in situations like mine where the death was expected and a “natural” part of life. My grandmother was old and couldn’t be expected to live much longer so I should be ok with the fact that she died. But being ok is a relative term. I am “ok” with the fact that she died, but doesn’t mean I don’t miss her. It also doesn’t mean I find being without a grandparent in my life “natural”. No matter how you shake it, this is still a loss. I feel like I’ve seen this loss more clearly than the with the loss of my prior grandparents’ deaths. I’m not blaming anyone, or saying that anyone has treated me rudely or avoided me or been unjust. I’m just realizing how I want to be treated while I’m grieving my grandmother. I want to be asked about my grandmother. I want to talk about what she was like, relate funny stories and share memories. That’s something I notice people never do, I, myself, being guilty party number one. I just want the chance to share. So here is my advice, coming from my social worker brain for anyone out there who actually reads this thing: if you know someone who is grieving the death of someone close to them, don’t just ask them how they are doing! I’d be willing to bet you a million dollars they spend most of their time not knowing how to answer that question. If you really want to be a friend, take the time to sit down and ask them about the person they loved. I am very sure they would love to talk about that person and based on my experience, practically no one else will have offered them that opportunity.