Thursday, August 26, 2004

Naked Emotions

Warning - Personal and sad...Enter at your own risk.

Tonight, I was reading another friend's blog. Her blog is a little more personal about daily life, little poems she writes, personal stuff. She lives in Philadelphia in a rowhouse. I like to read it because it reminds me when I lived there, in Philadelphia. One of her posts I read was about the day that her mother died. It was very personal and sad. Basically, it made me cry.

I'm not a big crier. Never have been. When you are raised with two brothers and a multitude of roughhouse cousins, you learn to suck it up. Scrapes, bruises and hurt feelings get pushed down when your next adventure is down the road. That's pretty much how I've lived. Suck it up and get down the road to the next big thing.

Lately though, I've felt a little lost. It's been about two months now, the same time I started this blog. It's taken me almost two months to come to grips with it. Honestly, it took me almost that long to realize that I was feeling that way and spiraling down a bit. Not suicidal mind you, just really sad and depressed. I didn't even write about it when it happened. I didn't want to do it at first because, that wasn't the reason for this blog.

I realized a short time ago that this blog actually started out as a kind of escape or release valve. Something to do that didn't relate to my normal, everyday life. Even when I started it, I didn't know what direction it would go. I didn't really have a "theme" in mind. You know, politics, history, current affairs, personal, etc. It just took a life of it's own with me using it as a way to make sense of our current situation and put down everything I found out. Mostly, to help sort it out for myself.

It's been very interesting to see that some folks I've never met before, but sometimes feel like I know, actually want to read anything I write or think that it is particularly intelligent or insightful. I've definitely learned a few things since I started out. One thing, I got re-acquainted with HTML which I hadn't used for almost 5 years. That was fun, too.

After reading my friend's post and bawling for a few minutes, I realized that this might be the best place to write down my feelings and not just posting interpretations of things I've read.

So, if you just come here to see what I've written about Iraq or politics or Islam, etc., you may not want to continue reading today...

My grandmother passed away on June 5th of this year. Even writing this makes me want to cry. Tears well up and my nose starts to run. But, I suck it up, because that's what she would have wanted. But it's hard. This lady was one of the greats. Someday, I might write about a bunch of my life and all the things that I learned from her, but not tonight. I will just say that this lady always believed in me. She always thought I would do great things. Be somebody. She always listened when I had a gripe, but always gave me just enough advice to let me make my own decisions.

For the last 16 years, she has told me she was proud of me. Proud when I left home and moved to "the big city". When I got my first new car. When I did really well in school. When I came to work for this company and was promoted several times. I never really noticed until she was gone how much I wanted her approval. Needed it. Didn't know how much I would miss her telling me everything would be "ok", that I was doing good.

But I do.

She was only 72 when she passed away. Not so old. I thought she'd live for another 20 years at least. Sometimes stuff happens that makes you sit back and re-think your life. When she died, it made me really re-assess my own life. What I was doing. If it was really what I wanted. Was I missing something.

She died June 5th, but I knew for several months that she was dying. Not that the news didn't come as a surprise. I was away on my first vacation in almost a year when I got a phone call saying she was in the hospital. I had went to visit some friends in Philadelphia in March over St. Patty's day. I hadn't seen them in three years. Until I saw them, I didn't realize how time had flown by. How much we had grown from rowdy 20 somethings tearing up the town to 30 somethings with houses and car payments and important jobs and family and struggling to keep our finances in order.

Hell, when I lived in Philly, I couldn't have cared less about my credit score. Now, I am crazy worried about it all the time. Worried about finances and credit cards and savings accounts and retirement plans. All the stuff I associated with "old people". (little laugh here).

So, there I was in Philly with my friends, reliving a little bit of our mis-spent youth, when I got the call. She was in the hospital with pneumonia. She had CHF (congestive heart failure). She was supposed to be taking medicine for that, but decided that she was better and didn't need to. She was living with my cousin Chris and her family down in southern Missouri, by the lakes. She had lived with my cousin for almost 15 years after my grandfather had passed away, helping her with her kids and things. That's a little bit of a story, but let's just say that my grandmother raised my cousin Chris and her brother since Chris was twelve, so, it was almost like mother and daughter.

When I got the call, I started counting back the months since I had seen her last. They only lived three hours from me, but I hadn't seen her physically for five months. Right before Thanksgiving. She had been calling me at least 3 times a month and we would talk for hours, but I suddenly realized we hadn't talked in almost a month. I had been traveling so much and doing so much, time just seemed to fly by.

They told me that she was very sick, but they thought she would be home in the next day, so not to cut my vacation short. But, when she got home, it was near her birthday so they were going to throw her a big shindig and wanted me to come down. I knew then that this wasn't good, but I went ahead and finished my vacation like she asked me to.

My middle brother in the military wanted to come up, but it was short notice so I floated him one of my free tickets. When he got to town, he and I and my brother Bill and his family all drove down to see her. There's been bad blood between my two brothers for about four years now, but that seemed to be put away for this one occasion. We all laughed and joked as we went down the road.

When we got to my cousin's house, I was completely shocked. My grandmother, who had always seemed so robust, like she would live forever, looked like a scarecrow in her motorized wheelchair. Her cheeks were sunken in instead of round and rosy. Her hair was thin and stringy. Her arms looked like sticks. Did I say I was shocked? She had definitely not looked like that in November.

She was tired and couldn't hardly speak. They were giving her oxygen and nebulizer treatments to try to break up the pneumonia. She was taking almost 10 pills a day and they were making her sick. But, she was happy to see everyone. The whole gang was there. We laughed and talked about the "old days". All my cousins, my brothers and I recalled all the crazy things we did down on my grandparents' farm. Like throwing rocks at the mud daubers' nests behind the barn and then running like hell. If you didn't get stung, you were the winner. about stupid. It's ok, you can laugh. I was only ten at the time. That's my excuse anyway. Or the time their cow Ida chased me across the pasture for the handful of alfa-alfa that I had and wasn't smart enough to drop. I barely escaped by dropping to the ground and rolling under the slat fence that was missing the bottom rung. That and one of my uncles ran the cow down and bull dogged it long enough to let my chubby little legs carry me to safety. I realized I had the alfa-alfa when I was standing on the other side of the fence. Everyone still laughs about that.

Did I tell you that my middle brother hadn't seen my grandmother in almost three years? He was married and lived a long ways away, so they could only get the big vacation thing going every so often. Most of us let him sit with her awhile and talk. This was when he was coming up for rotation in Iraq so we were trying to give them some time together.

After a couple of hours, my grandmother had to lay down, she was tired. We all hung around for awhile longer and talked some more about the "good ol' days". Eventually, everyone had to drive back. My middle brother had to get back home so he could finish his business. On the drive back, we acted like stupid teenagers again. Racing our cars down the highway and blasting the radio. My two brothers rode together and had some good laughs. My middle brother convinced my younger brother to moon me. Of course, we were doing about 90 at the time so I didn't really see anything because I was too worried about looking for cops and getting pulled over. Not quite as sanguine about tickets in my old age.

My middle brother flew home the next morning and everything seemed to calm down. I was calling down every other day to see how my grandmother was doing. Some days good and some days bad. My cousin was trying to take care of her.

Some things started to happen. My father and my uncle and my aunt (gramm's three kids) were down there and going over every day. Even though the doctor had given my gramm's anywhere from six months to two years to live, I think the shock of her condition had convinced everyone that she was going to die some time soon. Me, I wasn't too sure because I knew how CHF could play out, but, I didn't feel like I had all the information so I was working with my cousin to get info from the doctor. There were a lot of complications. A hole in her heart that could get really big at anytime. Clogged arteries. This on top of the CHF and pneumonia was pretty bad. The doctor also said that some of her MRIs had what appeared to be lumps in her lymphnodes around her liver and lungs.

They wanted to do some tests and possibly arrange to have stents put in her arteries, but my gramms refused. I think she knew she was dying and didn't want to go through all the pain just to prolong her life another few months. Besides that, she had been saying for almost 17 years, since my grandfather died, that she was ready to go and join him. Sometimes she said bad things about him "leaving her alone". You know, their life wasn't always rosey and they didn't have a lot of money, but, the last 20 years of marriage (they were married for 36 years before he passed) were full of love. At least, that's the way I remember them. I have wondered for awhile if this wasn't a self fulfilling wish. That she stopped taking her medicine because she was ready to go. I don't know. It just seemed that way.

Sometimes, I've been angry at my cousin. She took care of my gramms, but she never had the will power to try and make her take her medicine or go to the doctor. If gramms hadn't been so sick and barely able to take care of herself, I'm not sure if my cousin would have been able to get her to the doctor. I try not to be angry about it because I know, in the end, it wasn't what killed her, but I know I thought about it a few times. Or, maybe I was just mad at myself because I hadn't been looking after her like I should have been, either?

I was back home for about two weeks when my gramms called me and asked me to help her. Her three kids were already starting to argue about who was paying for what (funeral). They were pestering her about what she wanted done. She had some insurance policies for the last 17 years, little things, that she had put my dad and uncle on as beneficiaries and they were supposed to take care of the funeral and stuff. She had another small policy that was supposed to pay for the double headstone that was to go on her grandpa's graves. I think she realized that she might have told each of them what they wanted to hear and had caused a bit of a problem. I don't blame her, because she was really sick. She didn't really care what they did, but she wanted them to be happy for a little longer.

She had told my middle brother that the thing that she feared most was that our family would break up after she died. She was right to worry.

When she called me, she sounded so weak. She said that the "elder kids" were arguing and she decided the best thing to do was to take them off the insurance policies all together and give it to one person to take care of. She didn't really have an estate. No property. No savings. Just her monthly check from social security a twelve thousand dollar policy and another one that was supposed to be worth about two thousand. She didn't have a will. She didn't have a living will either and she refused to have home nursing because she was afraid that they would make her go to the hospital and she just wanted to stay home. Die there.

So, I drove down and did a little stealth mission. I got her to sign a power of attorney. Had the insurance policies changed. Did a living will. We sat and sorted through her pictures. That was actually very interesting. She had pictures of our extended family and could still remember stories about them, fifty years later. I made contact with her doctor and made him give her some anti-emetics (anti-nausea) medicine. The other medicine that she had to take was making her very sick. She couldn't hardly eat and she couldn't keep down the medicine.

I found the smallest policy, supposedly worth two thousand, had a maturity clause and wouldn't mature until July of this year. Before that, it was basically worthless. I knew that was going to cause some hard feelings because that was supposed to pay for the headstone and then leave my aunt with a little something. Did I tell you my aunt is crazy? If we were wealthy, they would have said eccentric, but "crazy" is for the working folks.

Part of the arrangements that took place was to give my cousin Chris power of attorney for medical issues and to make her and I co-beneficiaries of the insurance policy. The plan was that she and I would make the funeral arrangements and then, when it was all paid for, we would give each take our remaining shares and disperse it to the appropriate family members. Mine to my dad and hers to my uncle. We decided to leave the little policy in my aunts name directly.

By this time, my dad had decided to get all of the funeral arrangements done. He consulted neither his brother or sister and that had caused a bit of a tiff (to say the least). That might sound a little macabre, but, it's best to get these things done when you are not dealing with your loved ones death or dying and having to make hard decisions. Having said that, since he and my uncle were originally supposed to make the arrangements together and share in the expenses out of the insurance policy, they were immediately at loggerheads over the price and details. They started pestering my grandmother about who was right and what she wanted. Stupid crap I couldn't believe somebody would ask a dying person. Like, what color coffin and how much money or what kind of flowers. My uncle got up in arms because my dad had went and did it by himself. My dad was acting pissy because he said my uncle hadn't helped him do shit when my grandfather died. He had also not helped pay for the funeral expenses (my grandfather died suddenly without insurance policy or will).

When I heard about this, I was pretty pissed off. So, when my gramms called and asked if I would take over, I was ready to do it. I knew that would later make me "the bad guy", but I figured I was hail and hearty and could handle them pestering me better than she could.

My aunt, the crazy one, was pestering my gramms about religious ceremonies and such. My gramms had her own beliefs. She was Christian, but didn't follow a particular church since my grandfather had died. When she was a kid, she was Catholic, but she spent about 5 years in a Catholic orphanage and had no love lost for the religion. Not to mention they excommunicated her over 50 years before for having married outside the church. They don't do that anymore, but back then, that was a no-no. She hadn't really had much good to say about Catholicism since then. But my aunt, who is definitely "non-denominational" seemed to get some bug in her head that my gramms was baptized Catholic and should therefore, die Catholic. I didn't know about all of this until later, but, that was another thing that kind of pissed me off. Trying to force some stupid religion nobody in my family followed down an old, dying lady's throat.

Well, we got all of the paperwork done. It took me three weeks and several flying visits because I had to arrange for public notaries to come to the house and search all her paperwork, etc. By this time, it was early May. The only thing left was her will. Not that there was any property, but I did want her to specify who got what and how much and what she wanted for funeral arrangements. Actually, she had already told me what she wanted, it was just a matter of writing it down and getting her signature.

In the meantime, the real world goes on and I had to fly around for some business. I kept tabs on her. She was losing weight and still getting sick. She thought she was taking too much medicine and refused to take the anti-nausea pills if she hadn't thrown up for a few days. Of course, that didn't work because she was instantly sick again so I had to keep getting on her and my cousin about the importance of taking the meds. Finally, I got back to town and took a few days off to finalize everything.

When I got there, she was really sick. She couldn't stay up for more than an hour or so. She was sleeping constantly. I knew that this was the end game. My cousin Chris took off work to stay home and take care of her. Sometimes, she was barely able to function. I didn't get the will done. You know, at the time I wasn't too worried about it because she didn't have anything. I knew there would be no probate court. I also thought that she might have a few more "good" days to get it done. Besides, she had verbalized to me about 30 times what she wanted done for the funeral.

Did I say we hadn't told anyone that the insurance policies and such had been changed? Even today I wonder if it had not been better to tell them before hand. My gramms thought it was a good idea. At the time, I decided against it because I couldn't be there all the time and I did not want some of the others to browbeat her into changing it back. In the meantime, stupid arguments kept coming up about paperwork and arrangements, etc. Crazy stuff I can't even begin to tell you about or it would take a whole other post. I was able to end some of it by telling them I had power of attorney and wanted all of the paperwork and information about the funeral arrangements so I could put her affairs in order. Nobody questioned me because none of them had ever had to worry about wills and such so they did not have any idea about what powers I did or did not have. All the better to get everyone to shut up and cooperate.

Well, I'm going on about the stupid stuff. I stayed down at my gramms' for about a week. I helped take care of her and visited with her everyday. You know, my cousin had been doing it 24/7 for almost two months at that time and I wanted to give her a break. We had some quality time together. What is there to say? We talked and talked and talked. She told me she was proud of me and glad I came down to help her. I bought her special things like new pajamas and food she might like. Some special lotion and soap. She kept saying I didn't need to do it and kept trying to pay me for it. Said she didn't want to owe me anything.

Like she could. No long stories. There wasn't enough time and money in the world for me to pay her back for everything she had done for me. That's why I did what I did. Took all the heat about the finances and stuff. I owed her. We all did even if some forgot.

I think about the grand plans I had several years ago. We, gramms and I, shared a passion for history. We were always going to go to the Smithsonian Institute and spend three days walking around. We never got to that.

I almost forgot to mention, my parents have been divorced for about 16 years now. Even after they were divorced, my grandmother always told my mom that my mom was her daughter and no piece of paper would change that. My mom had went down with me the time before last and spent two days visiting with my grandmother. My mom's mother had died when she was 16 and she always told my grandmother she was the only mom she had ever had. Her mom had been sick a long time before she died, so this was very true. It was very hard to drive back that weekend. My mom kept crying. I think sometimes that she took my grandmother's death harder than my gramms' kids did.

After I spent that week with my gramms, I was planning to come back down the next weekend and get the will notarized and signed. We had to do this in stages because gramms was so sick and the notary had to come out to the house so we had to make appointments in advance. My gramms couldn't go anywhere by then.

During this time, my cousin who was taking care of my gramms and was supposed to be my counterpart with the insurance, started getting a little crazy, too? She was pissed because the others kept going on about the money. She wanted to disregard my gramms' wishes about a simple funeral and blow it all. The whole amount on the funeral and whatever. I had to keep bringing her back down to reality. The funeral would be nice and no expense spared, but we were going to do what gramms wanted, including splitting the remaining money between the boneheaded elders, but I was not going to do something crazy out of spite, as tempting as it was.

One thing my gramms did not want was a viewing. She said she didn't want some prolonged funeral with people walking around crying and looking at her body. Said she wasn't going to be there, so why bother? Chris was insisting that we do a viewing because she thought she and the kids would need it to get "closure". What a stupid word. "Closure". You don't get closure from viewing a body. Plus, her kids were teenagers, but had never been to a funeral before and certainly not their "nana". Like that would make them feel better.

What started out as a good idea to make sure everyone thought things were being handled fairly, turned in to me dealing with the crazy elders AND her.

After that long week, I had to fly to Denver for a meeting. On the last day, i was planning to fly out later, but I got a phone call that gramms had been very bad all week. Not sleeping and complaining of constant pain. Ripping her oxygen off. Refusing her medicine. They finally took her to the hospital. Funny about that phone call. I had three directly after that from three different people. All of them said, "don't hurry. We think she might come home tomorrow."

Well, my gramms was insistent that she was going to die at home with her family around and would refuse to go to the hospital, so I knew, if she was there, it was bad. I ignored them and changed my flight for an earlier one. I remember I was standing in the airport waiting for the plane when I got the last call of the morning, form my dad, still telling me not to hurry because they didn't know what was wrong and she could be back home by time I got there. I told him I was coming anyways because I was the power of attorney and wanted to make sure what was done or not done. My grandmother had signed a "do not resuscitate" order and I wanted to make sure that the doctors adhered to it. Sometimes, small town doctors can get a bug in their asses and decide they don't want to follow the directives about treatment. I was going to make sure that my grandmother's wishes were followed, whatever the outcome.

The flight was two hours. I got home, unpacked and repacked some clean clothes. My youngest brother and his family were insisting that they wanted to go down with me. I told them I was leaving in two hours and if they weren't there, I would leave directions (my youngest brother could never find his way down there by himself, even though we've went about 50 times). The set time came and went. I threw my stuff in the truck. Brother #2 called me and said they were on their way. I said I was waiting another 30 mins and I was gone. 45 mins later they called again and said they were getting gas and had to stop at the store then drop off their kids across town to be watched. By then, it was 7pm. I said, "too late. Can't wait. Directions are at the house." My brother and I had some heated words about why I wouldn't wait. He didn't understand that I had this feeling I had to go.

My mom jumped in the truck with me and we started going. It was a Friday night, so traffic to the lakes was heavy. I knew that it was going to be more than the usual three hours to get down there. After we had been traveling for about an hour, my brother's car zooms up beside me. They had gotten gas and decided they would just take the kids. They finally caught up with me outside of Warren. It took us four hours to make it down.

I got to my dad's place. Everyone had left the hospital and went back home. They didn't think anything was going to happen. The only person at the hospital was my cousin Chris who had been there for almost two days. They had waited a day to call me; I was a little annoyed about that. Seems like everyone was trying not to bug me or fooling themselves that she would be ok. On the way down, I had talked to Chris's husband who was worried because she hadn't slept for two days. I told him I would go to the hospital and stay there so she could go home and get some sleep.

Seems like the elders were all too tired and too sick and too old to stay there all night. This is a long story, too. Besides my crazy aunt, both my dad and my uncle have serious health problems and take a lot of medicine, too. They are so young, but so old at the same time.

I go the update from my dad. Seems gramms had lost consciousness and had not really woke back up in the real sense. She was talking, but mostly gibberish. Her eyes weren't open. She was flailing her arms around. She thought my step mom was her mother and threatened to hit her (my gramm's mom ran off when she was 10; that's how she ended up in the orphanage). But, she was not lucid.

I quickly finished dropping everyone at the motel. No one was coming with me. I told them not to. I would get to the hospital and see the situation myself. They should get some rest and go see her tomorrow. I called brother #1 (middle) and told him what I knew. He asked me to call him as soon as I had some info.

When I got to the hospital, I got the second shock. I walked into the room and my gramms was lying on the bed, looking even more frail if that were possible. They had her on oxygen and fluids and some monitors. My cousin Chris was sitting by the bed trying to talk to her. Gramms was flailing around but her eyes were closed. She kept making noises and every once in awhile, I could make out words. It was 11:17pm. She said, "Dad" and "help me" and "hurts". Once in awhile she would respond to my cousin saying "ok" or something to Chris trying to tell her she needed to rest or calm down. She kept trying to hold gramms' hands.

I knew immediately that the rest of the family had been fooling themselves. I don't know what the doctors had been telling them, but it was apparent she was having multiple mini-strokes. I asked Chris what had been said. She seemed really bewildered and insisted that Gramms might come home in a day or two. I knew if she did, it would be to die. I asked when the doctor was coming again and Chris said not until morning. I asked her what they were giving her for pain. 2mg morphine, push (shot in the arm) every two hours if we requested it and she had just had a shot 30 mins prior.

2mg...I could take that and still be walking around, fully functioning. I was a little pissed. Couldn't these assholes see she was dying and in a lot of pain? Who the fuck was running this place? Chris said they didn't want to give her anymore than that because they didn't know what the problem was and they were afraid it would slow her respiratory system down.

What a bunch of small town fucks! I'm in the business, so I understand their aversion to risk, but this looked fucking insane. Even an idiot could tell she was dying. With the way she was flailing around and crying, I knew she was in pain. I wasn't going to stand for that shit. Nobody should die like that. I started walking to the nurses station. Chris was telling me that they wouldn't do anything unless the doctor ordered something different. Shit, I knew that. I was going to make them call that asshole and wake him up. I had power of attorney and they were going to make her comfortable, if that was the only thing left I could do. About that time, the respiratory therapist came in and wanted to give her a treatment.

Now I am thinking, what kind of fucking rube fucking town is this? Trying to give her a respiratory treatment while she's dying? Then, my normal self kicked in for a second. I knew that, if she did pull through from some small modicum of a chance, you don't want that to be negated by pneumonia, which would happen if the fluid was coughed up out of her lungs. So, I told Chris to go take a break and I would sit with gramms while he gave her the treatment. I figured it was a good time to ask some questions and not freak Chris out. I think she thought that gramms was going to pull through. I thought not, but I figured Chris could go home and get some sleep for a few hours. The RT said that they wanted to do another MRI in the morning to verify what they thought it was. But, since gramms had a do not resucitate order, it seems that they were not in a hurry. The only thing that irritated me, and I said so, was that taking their sweet time on the test meant the doctor wouldn't diagnose and therefore, would not prescribe additional meds. The RT told me we could talk to the nurses when he was done to see what could be done.

In the meantime, the RT is giving her the treatment. She is very restless so I hold her hands and tell her that it was me. I made it down. She said, "Ok. I love you". I thought I would fucking lose it right then, but I held on and kept talking to her softly, telling her she didn't need to worry, I would take care of everything. I told her she needed to rest her hands for a bit because the guy was giving her this treatment. She said, "Ok." The rest of it was just words I couldn't make out. She said, "hurts". I could here here breathing. It was a rattling noise in her chest.

You know, I've heard people talk about the "death rattle" of a dying person, but I thought it was bullshit. It was real. It was right there. I could here it and I knew this was near the end. She said that it "hurts". I asked what, but she couldn't or wouldn't answer. Later I realized it was her head. The ministrokes were causing blood vessels to blow. I thought it was her chest. They had the bed almost all the way down. I knew she liked to rest with it at a 45 degree angle so I lifted the head. She seemed to quiet for a little bit. Chris came back in the room and we both held her hands and talked to her. She got restless again. Her hands were going and she was moaning quite a bit with just a few words I could make out.

She said, "help me." I didn't know what she wanted. I asked her, "what?" Do you need some water? Does it hurt? She said, "help me" again and "hurts". At that point, I had only been there for about 20 mins and I was already done with that bullshit. I couldn't believe they were going to let my grandmother die in pain for want of a fucking test. I told her I would take care of it and she said, "ok". That was all I could make out. Her eyes were closed. A little open, but not really. I could make out her faded, cornflower blue eyes a bit beneath the eyelids. They were faded and cloudy. I knew that she was barely there. I said, "I love you" and she said, "I love you" back. I told Chris I was going to get that fucking doctor out of bed whether he liked it or not and started to walk out of the room.

Just then, my stupid cell phone rang. You're not supposed to have it on in the hospital. I grabbed it and started to turn it off, but saw the number was my middle brother. I had forgot to call him to tell him what was up. I ran down the hall and outside. Quick conversation with him, I told him I didn't know much more than earlier accept that I didn't think she was going to make it. I was on my way to the nurses station to get some info and I would call him back when I had the answers. We hung up. It was only five mins or less. I started walking back down the hall. Chris came running around the corner crying hysterically. She said that gramms had stopped breathing. "She's dying".

I grabbed her by the arm and we ran back to the room. The nurse and the RT were in the room taking her pulse and checking her heart with a stethoscope. I barely made it in the room when they looked up and shook their heads. She was still breathing, but just barely. Making little gasping sounds every 15 seconds or so. Not enough to sustain life. I tried to go over to the bed, but Chris grabbed me in a bear hug and started sobbing hysterically. She was nearly choking me with her arms locked around my neck. I was trying to comfort her, but I didn't know anything to say accept it was ok and she had done the best she could. The nurse said there was a DINER, but we were powers of attorney and did we want them to do anything.

If you are lucky, in this lifetime, you will never have to tell somebody not to do anything. To let your loved one die, because, no matter what you tell yourself, what you think you know, you will never be prepared for that moment.

I asked them if they would leave us for a moment. They left, silently, like we were already at the funeral. What could they do? How many times had they seen this little play? I took my cousin's arms and pulled them away as gently as I could. I pushed her around the bed and made her sit on one side and I on the other. We held gramms' hands. I kept telling her it was ok and I loved her. Chris, too, while she continued to take little gasping breaths. Her lips were blue. Her eyes were completely closed now. She wasn't thrashing around and moaning anymore. It was quiet except for those little breaths and Chris and I crying quietly. Trying not to disturb the lady in the other bed.

Finally, she took one last breath. Just like that. 11:57 pm.

Once upon a time, Chris and I were like sisters. We were the same age. None of the other girl cousins were our age. We had to stick together against the guys. We dreamed of growing up and owning a flower shop together. Now that seems funny, but back then, we had dreams. Then we grew apart. I was all business and she was all family. There we were though, together again in a quiet room, just like when we were little and had sleep oversaw and talked about our dreams and boys and stuff while we slept in her bunk beds. But this was far removed from there. The only thing that was the same was sharing something special between just us once more.

I didn't pray or anything until that moment. I had been there for 4o mins before she died. Sometimes now, I wonder if she didn't wait for me. I think she knew that Chris, in the end, would fall to pieces. She had been taking care of gramms for so long. Gramms was really like her mom, you know? Her mom was the crazy one. This was her real mom, lying in a bed in a cold hospital room. Now she's gone and Chris has no one.

So, we continue to hold her hands while they grow cold and I say the only phrase that came to mind. I think it's in Revelations. Maybe I won't quote it right, but I don't want to look it up in the bible by the bed: "And the Lord said, there shall be no more sorrow, no more tears; nor pain nor crying nor death. For these things too have passed away."

Chris is still sobbing and the nurse and RT come in the room. They check for a pulse and then gently remove the oxygen tubing from my gramms' face. They ask what we would like to do. My tears are starting to dry up some because I know that I have to make some calls. I ask them if we can stay in the room for awhile because I have to call the rest of the family. I think that her kids at least will want to come up and have a few last minutes with her. I know she's gone, but I knew that we were not going to have a viewing and this was the last time they would see her. They are very understanding and say we can take as long as we need.

Chris is worried that they will try to take her away. I told her they couldn't do anything until we signed the release forms and not to worry. I ask what she wants to do since I need to go make some phone calls. She will stay in the room for awhile. She needs to call her husband and kids to let them know. The kids will be particularly devastated. They had been helping to take care of Nana, too, while she was sick and she had lived with them since they were babies.

I walk outside and smoke a cigarette trying to pull myself together. I make the first call to my middle brother. I had just talked to him a few minutes ago and felt that I should call him first. Besides, he is the sensible one and I knew that I needed sensible for a few minutes before I make the really hard calls. When he answers, I tell him he is the first to know and that Gramms had just passed away. He says, "No". It's not the last time I hear that, but I tell him, yes, she is gone. He tells me he knows that I have the hard job now, but if I needed anything, I could call him. Even if it's just to talk.

Next I call my aunt Jeannie. She is my uncle's wife and the only one whose cell phone works in that god forsaken part of the world. I say, "Aunt Jeannie, I need you to do something for me." She breaks in and says, "No." She already knows what I am going to say. I said, "Yes, Grandma has passed away. I need you to tell uncle Lewis (Jeanie's husband) and then go get my Dad. Have them call me from your phone." She keeps repeating "no". Finally, I interrupt her and tell her very strongly that she must go do this or put somebody else on the phone. Frankly, I don't know how long I can hold on before I break down and start weeping myself.

I am chain smoking in front of the hospital and this point. Finally, she goes and does what I ask. She tells me she is going to hang up because she needs to call my cousins. That's the only call I needed to make because everyone else is at my Dad's and they will get told at the same time.

I wasn't there, but I was told that my uncle fell to his knees and started crying. My dad went a little crazy and jumped in the car, almost leaving my step mom behind. My sister in law takes the keys from my aunt and uncle because she thinks they can't drive themselves. My mom, she volunteers to stay with my brother's children so he can go. He hadn't gotten to see Gramms since her birthday. My mom tells me later, she had her time with Gramms the weekend I brought her down with me and she spent two days talking to her and she wanted my brother to have his last chance to see her.

I went back in the room and told Chris to go make her calls. I sit there for what seems like an eternity looking at my Gramms and holding her cold hand. I can't really cry. I don't know why. I think I know that the others will be devastated and I will need to keep it together to handle the details. While I am sitting there, the lady in the other bed says, "excuse me? Can you help me?" I open the curtain a bit and see her trying to sit up in her bed. She is about 80 years old and a commode sits near the bed. "I hate to bother you, but I can't get out of bed by myself and I'm afraid that I will wet myself before the nurse gets here."

I get up and help her put her feet on the ground and then hold her arm while she shuffles to the commode. She is not embarrassed so I am not embarrassed either. Once she is seated, I tell her I will be on the other side of the curtain to give her privacy, but she needs only to say something and I will come back and help her to bed. I sit back down by my Gramms and take her cold hand again. I can't cry, but I don't want to let go of her just yet. I am thinking how life must go on. There is this lady in the room and she is not dead and she needs help. I can do that easily. Finally, she asks for my assistance again and I help her get back in bed. I tell her that my grandmother has just passed and that some family members were coming. I hope we don't disturb her. She says not to worry about it. She's old and she knows these things happen. She thanks me for helping her and I remember my manners and tell her she is welcome, she can call anytime while I'm there and I will help her.

I find out later that she is 82. Her husband had been dead for 15 years and her only son was in a nursing home. She has no one. I wonder what will happen to her, but I don't have much time to wonder. Chris comes back in and is crying more. She told her husband not to wake the kids that they can tell them in the morning. The nurse comes to have us sign a release so they can call the funeral home to come and get the body. There will be no autopsy or anything else, so hospital will not hold her body. I sign the papers but tell them not to call the funeral home. They are not to come for the body while the rest of the family is there.

after what seems like an eternity, the first of the family arrives. They come into the room and start weeping. Some of them go back out quickly. I learn my youngest brother had an asthma attack and he is in the emergency room getting a treatment. When I walk up front, he is coming out. They wanted to give him a sedative, but he refuses because he wants to see our grandmother.

Did I tell you we all owe her? I once told a story about my youngest brother. In his youth, he was rebellious to say the least. He ended up spending a year in jail in Arizona for something stupid (the thing that caused bad blood between him and my middle brother). She wrote to him at least once a week and always sent him a little money for commissary so he could get papers and pencils and stamps to send out letters and to get iced tea and things when he wanted. I will tell you that my brother came away from there a changed man. After the year in jail, he came back and got his shit together. Got a job, a house, custody of his kids and remarried to a nice girl. He said if my Gramms hadn't written to him, he doesn't know what would have happened while he was in there.

He walks up to the room. The elders, including my crazy aunt, are standing outside the room. As we walk up, we can hear them talking about the funeral and things. They are already starting to have a "discussion" about who was responsible for what and what it would cost. My brother hears this as he walks into Gramms' room. While we were away, the nurse had come in and removed all the catheters and such and covered her up. She looks peaceful, but she does not look like she's sleeping. Her lips are blue and her skin is cold. It's not her so I don't let it bother me. Just her old body. My brother is only in her room about 15 seconds before he comes storming out and almost runs be over. He tells me later he was upset that she was dead and the rest of the hoodlums were standing outside talking about money. How could that be?

I'll talk more about this strange phenomenon that came over my family later. You'll understand better why this was so bizarre. And they were starting to argue (not so bizarre). I tell them to hush and this was a hospital with other sick people. If they want to talk they can go outside. And they do, with the exception of Chris and my Aunt Jeanie. The other three go outside and start in amongst themselves. I wasn't planning to talk about anything until the next day and told them so. They are looking at me like I was still some punk kid and shouldn't interrupt the adults while they are speaking. They continue to say mean things to each other and accuse each other of planning to rip the other off of whatever measly amount might be left over or do something against Gramms' wishes for the funeral. All are claiming that they know what "mom" wanted and if the others didn't do what they said, they wouldn't sign any of the insurance forms or be party to the funeral costs, the others can figure out how to pay it.

I am getting really sick of this crap. I feel a cold anger come over me. She hasn't even been dead an hour yet and they are acting like morons. I get out a cigarette and light it, slowly taking a puff and exhaling. I turn "the look" on them. The look I learned at my father's knee. The cold, calm police officer look that is about to tell them that they fucked up and their only chance to keep this from going ugly is shutting up and doing what the police officer says. All of them stop and look at me. This is the moment. I wasn't going to say it until the next day, but I just can't listen to them anymore. Staring coldly at them, I say, "All you all don't have to worry about signing or paying for anything. The insurance is in my name and I made the funeral arrangements. When I get done with the paperwork and paying for everything, you'll get what's left over. End of story." I turn my back on them and slowly take another puff and exhale, staring at three very stunned people.

I feel cold satisfaction in this. Before, I didn't want to say anything because I knew it would cause hard feelings, but, just then, I couldn't give a shit less how they felt. They had turned into people I didn't even recognize. These were the people that taught me manners. Taught me about honor and courage and not to lie, cheat or steal. Told me to respect my elders. I had no respect just then. I had really hoped, regardless of the stupid things that had been done and said before she died, that, when she died, this stupid money thing, this stupid twelve thousand dollars, wouldn't matter worth a shit. But no, they couldn't wait for just awhile. To let everyone have their moment of grief.

In reality, the insurance is in Chris and my name, but I didn't want to tell them that. I figured they would find out tomorrow the extent of the situation. I didn't want them jumping on her right then. So, for the first time in my life, I lie like hell. Of course, she comes out the front doors, just as they all start in. I am waving them away, but Chris comes over and does the stupid thing. The thing that I want to kick her ass over for weeks to come. In her world, when her little family has a problem, they hold a "family meeting." In which case, she announces that "we" (she and I) will hold one tomorrow morning before we go to the funeral home so everyone can stick their two cents in.

I am seriously furious at that moment and am giving her the "cut" motion with my hand. I don't want their input. I've had it for 8 weeks. I know what Gramms wanted and it ain't going to change. But, she is all touchy feel good and waves me away, pronouncing this meeting that I know is going to be the second worst day of my life. The first one had just happened. At this point, they are all grumbling and such. My dad is pronouncing this "bullshit" and insisting he won't come to some stupid family meeting. Frankly, I am counting on that. I just wanted to get these things taken care of and be done so I can have my moment of grieving.

They are asking why they weren't told about the changes. Chris is starting to back track a little because I don't think she expected the hostility. I turn my cold cop stare on them again, puffing the last of my cigarette, "Precisely for this very reason. You all were determined to turn this into some shithole affair with everyone trying to spite the other. Gramms didn't want that and she asked me to come down and take care of it. Now, this is what you get. If you will excuse me, I have to go sign some papers. You too Chris." And I take her arm and lead her away. She turns back to them, "10 AM. Be there." I really jerked her arm then. I ask her what she was thinking, but she gives me some Brady Bunch bullshit about resolving family conflict. I ask her if she has been struck blind, deaf and dumb lately because she obviously cannot remember what it's like to have all of the contentious family members in one location. The last time that happened, there were fists and ugly words thrown around.

She insists that it is the right thing to do. Me, I'm thinking, "Holy shit! If this is bad, wait until tomorrow!" At that point, it's too late. Besides, I'm staying at her house so I can get up and go with her to the funeral home and I don't have much choice.

I go back into Gramms room and tell the others that I have to have sign the papers and the funeral home will come shortly. I suggest that they might want to go home now. Chris proceeds to give them the 411 on the family meeting, while I roll my eyes and proceed to sign documents releasing the body. That's all it is. Just a body. At that point I was just hoping she wasn't looking down and wondering how she raised so many morons.

It's now 1:25 AM, June 6th. We leave before the funeral home comes. I take my cousin Chris home so she won't have to see. I don't want to see either.

Tomorrow will be exciting to say the least.


Anonymous said...

Kat, I understand. My father was 80 when he died on Feb. 24. It's a good thing to get it out in the open. They're not in pain now.

Mike H.

Nas said...

My closest friend from way back in high school died about two weeks before I started blogging. But I can't write about that yet, even though I think it played a part in my decision to begin my blog.

My grandmother died a little over a year ago physically, but mentally she was gone for several years before -- technically she was never the same since my grandfather passed suddenly from a heart attack. I may write about that, as it was my first experience with losing a family member, and caused me to think of what death is. Ultimately, it played a large part in my search for faith, and coming to be a Christian.

But as for your situation: May I propose that up until now blogging may have actually contributed to the spiral of depression? I'm only going off of my own experience. "All the news that's fit to print" is by design bad news. So immersing oneself in it to research for one's writing is depressing, and makes one wonder about this world we live in.

May I also propose that the writing you did today may be the most cathartic you've done to date? That breaking things up from strict news and analysis may not only be what you need, but also something (should you give a darn) that readers may also want? After all, one of the reasons people turn to blogs is to get away from the 'if it bleeds it leads' of the news.

I'm very sorry about your Gramms. Actually, sorry for you and your family, more so than for her. As Mark Twain said, "why do people rejoice at births and grieve at deaths? Because they're not the one involved." From what you said of her, and/or from other personal comments you've made of yourself in other posts that I now suspect may have had great influence from her, I expect that on June 5'th there was a crowd of angels rejoicing and welcoming her to new life.

Tammi said...

As difficult as that must have been to write, good for you Kat. I'm so sorry you had to go through all that.

I find myself amazed that anyone ever reads my stuff. But your stuff - it's good. It's informative.

I'm glad you were able to write this all down. It's important for even us tough girls to get the poison out of our systems.

Kat said...


Nas..I've thought about that. You know, that blogging was a cover up. Holding it all in and avoiding it. And yes, I have been wondering what the hell is going on in this world. I think I was avoiding some things for awhile. I really have been assessing my life. I almost left my job because I thought I might want to do something different. Contribute something in this world more than being a cog in a wheel. Right after I wrote this, I felt so much better, I didn't feel quite as useless anymore.

Tammi...yeah, sometimes tough girls have to realize they need a few minutes to cry, too.

ALa said...

Kat: I am glad that you wrote this...we can't be all business all the time and I hope this was cathartic for you to get this all out (from one non-crier to another). I am so sorry for your loss --your Gramm sounds like a wonderful person...and someone who contributed greatly to the person that we have come to admire so much!
My husband was so horrified (shocked and betrayed) watching his family fall apart after his father died (two weeks before our wedding)--over money and a Catholic mass and viewing that he had specifically put into a Will that he didn't want. I hated watching him go through that.
I am glad that you are working out the sadness -and you already know that I enjoy reading everything that you write!

justrose said...

Kat, thanks for sharing this.

tim mccolgan said...

That post had tears welling in my eyes. It just sucks how this situation seems to bring out the worst in people. Is it the money? is is the regret, of realizing that in some peoples eyes it's too late to do the right thing? Too late to go back and fix the family squabbles? Who knows.
Your post shows your depth & compassion that is linked directly to your strong character. You did exactly what needed to be done, end of story. There is nothing nobler than MAKING SURE your Gramms wishes were followed to the T. How is this so hard to understand for some? When my Dad's mother passed years ago, it was if we had lost the hub of a wheel. She was the matriarch of the family. She always had the special touch of making you feel as if YOU were her favorite grandchild, even though there were many other grandkids. Deep down, I knew she didn't play favorites, she loved us all equally. It was just the little things that made you think otherwise. Fortunately we didn't have the heart breaking experiences you went thru.
When my Mom's mom was ill, similar to yours, just out of the blue, middle of the day, I got a premonition, telling me that i needed to see my grandma. I hauled ass to the hospital, and my gramma' was lying there. Peaceful. Just sleeping, I guess. I didn't want to wake her, I just spent some time holding her hand and telling her how much i loved her, and how much she meant to me. She was still unconscious, as it were, but i talked to her as if she could hear me. Minutes later, I'm just sitting there with her, and she gasped, and a nurse that was present said..."oh my, your grandmother has just taken her last breath...." to my disbelief, my grandma took another long gasping breath, to which the nurse then said "....oh NOW shes taken her final breath...." Right in front of me, she passed. I'll never forget it. Maybe she was waiting for someone to be with her, I don't know.She was just the sweetest old lady.
I hope this slight rambling doesn't bother you, but your sharing made me think nice memories of my grandmother, and how much i have missed her, as well as until something like this happens to you, we perhaps take a lot of things for granted. I hope all is well for you, and that in the end the stress and bickering just goes away, leaving you with the beautiful memories of the time spent with gramms' (as you wrote of), as she would have liked to be remembered. Good Luck.

91ghost said...

This was very well articulated.

91ghost said...

This was very well articulated.

Pat in NC said...

Kat, I just want to give you a hug and thank you for what you did for your grandmother. When I was a young student, one of my instructors told me that her mother had planned her own funeral. She said Mom how can you talk like that--you see we all want to deny death and act like our loed ones will always be here on earth with us. She said when her mom died, she realized what a great gift it had been to her because there was not a question in her mind as to what her mother wanted done. I have held to that story for over 50 years. I have one son and a niece who is "the daughter of my heart". They both know where my "death book" is and I have reviewed it with both of them. My son knows that I have a living will and he knows to call my close friend who will help give him the strength to see that is enforced. I have written a letter of motherly advice to my son on what must be done immediately, who is to be contacted for insurance and business reasons.

Pat in NC said...

My letter also gives him advice for the first year in that he should take time to heal before making major decisions. He really is not terribly interested because he does not really want to admit that at 69 my time on earth grows shorter. I could well be here for another 20 years or another 20 minutes. None of us knows. As a nurse, I have been witness to so many families like yours--they mean well, they are emotionally upset, they divert their minds to the most stupid things, they feel guilt for not having done some of what they could have done for the person dying or dead. Try to forgive them.

Pat in NC said...

Because I dealt with death so much as a nurse, caring for my dad in the hospital at the time of his death, my mom at my home when she died, I have tried to prepare my son and also had long talks with my husband about what he would want done and expressed my wishes to both. My husband and I both signed living will and I ended up asking for a no code order on my husband because it was the last gift I could give him. He had lived with chronic pain from bleeding into his sciatic nerve, degenerative disease of his spine and then a massive MI. CPR may have given him a few more hours of life but I knew his spine could not take it. I write this to let you know you were right to be ready to fight for your Gramms wihes and her comfort.

Pat in NC said...

I wrote a third comment that for some reason didn't post.To Kat and any readers, I strongly recommend that you take some time, give your own situation some thought and then write down your own personal will to let your loved ones know what it is you want. When my husband was critically ill I was able to request the no code order because I knew what his wishes were and it was the last gift I could give him. The legal will as far as asset distribution is good, but it is the little things that family need to know. Who is to have the old family (+) or(*), what service, casket or ashes. It is your last gift to your loved ones.

Anonymous said...

Just a word from a stranger... I really really hope that you get to the Smithsonian this year. Bring some trinket or keepsake of your Gramm's.

Nothing I know of is certain to take away the pain. But maybe, when you're ready, that could help.

-Kevin Hayden

Robert said...

Some of my grandparents died when I was too young to really know them.

When I was a few months old, my grandfather (mother's side) died. By all accounts, a great guy, wore his military buzz cut till the day he died.

My other grandfather died when I was in kindergarten. I had alot of fun doing things with him, as simple as sitting down and eating a bowl of grapes with him, or building with those sets. From what my dad says, he was happy when I was around him at least, and that makes me proud. He was always suspicious of people when doing business with anyone, my dad called it his 'black cloud'. Exactly why the side driveway of the house was never finished. He got into an argument with them halfway through and then refused to pay them. :)

He died from emphysema, I believe. (In a friendly way Kat, I'd advise you to hold back on the smoking too, there's no need to go out that way.)

My grandmother (father's side) died when I was in eigth grade. Every Sunday after Mass when we'd go to her house she'd always offer me an ice cream pop. So, she'd go tell me to ask my parents if it was ok, and then she'd give me one. What kid doesn't like an ice cream pop in the morning?

I also remember her stew (which was great), as well as the time she made me eat chicken liver (which wasn't so great). Or the way I'd never wear the right clothes. You see, if I wore an undershirt, it was too hot outside and I shouldn't be wearing it. If I didn't wear the undershirt, I could catch a cold! :)

She had Parkinson's before she passed away. And, I think the worst part isn't the restriction of movement it generates, but the dementia. In some ways, you are very lucky to have your grandmother lucid until the end. (My dad will point out light heartedly how the pope looks alot like my grandmother now ;).)

You shared your story, I thought I'd share some of mine.

Barb said...

Kat - THank you for sharing. When my father died, my sister and I had signed a DNR, and knew that he would have one last heart attack. We didn't stay at the hospital, so we got the call at home. I sometimes felt like we were chicken for leaving - but the nurse encouraged it... I think she knew it wouldn't be long, and it would be ugly to watch. So we got the call at home 2 hours later.
You are braver than I, for sure. I hope the writing here helps you - it certainly helps others.

Kat said...

Let me say thank you to all that came here and posted your stories. It's lovely to see so many shared experiences and know that the world is not just this little place I live in and people have similar stories to tell.

I didn't post the rest of the story yet. I am working on that. I actually hadn't decided if I would talk about the other stuff that happened after the funeral. Then again, maybe it would be helpful to others so they don't fall into the same trap.

I think I have learned already what Pat was indicating. Don't leave things to chance. We don't live for ever. If you don't plan, your family will be torn up. It is the last gift anyone can give their family. Take the planning out of their hands. The worst time for people to try and decide the best action to take is right after the person dies. The family is confused.

I can tell you that I was trying to help write the obituary and I couldn't even remember how many great grand kids she had or her mother's name or how many siblings. It was all very confusing. I had to take a list of questions home and ask everyone. It was funny how five of us were sitting around trying to write down all the names of the great grand kids so we could get an accurate count. It was also a statement of how confused you can be when the time is upon you.

Again, thanks for writing and understanding and condolences to those who have suffered a recent loss as well.

I have the best memories and they have transplanted most of the rest. It was strange though...Saturday, I was driving and thought of something that I wanted to call and tell my grandmother. I actually had to stop myself from getting the cell phone out.

I guess it will take some time still. But it is better everyday.

Again, thanks for stopping by and sharing.