The night before Grandma died, she woke up, briefly, and teased my brother for coughing.
“Ah-choo,” she said, smiling. Then she slipped back into unconsciousness. That was the last we heard her voice.
It was just a couple weeks between her diagnosis of terminal cancer and her death. We thought it was Alzheimer’s, but it was a malignant brain tumor. Compared to Alzheimer’s, it was a blessing, I suppose. If cancer can be a blessing.
Shortly after she went into hospice, I flew from my home in Seattle to my hometown in Ohio. I wasn’t sure how long she had left. Hours? Days? Weeks? I kept extending my stay.
My parents, brother, aunt, cousin, and other family members stayed at Grandma’s house, reporting to her bedside at the senior living facility each day. When Grandma was awake, we took turns spoon feeding her, helping her drink, and rubbing lotion into her cracked skin. That was the hardest part for me, the caregiving. Grandma had always taken care of us. The first time I saw her be spoon-fed, I had to leave the room to cry. Eventually, I was able to do it, too.
We passed the hours sharing memories and playing her favorite music.
Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories
She slipped into a coma on a Friday morning, when my brother and I were alone with her. Nothing could rouse her. She didn’t respond to loud noises. She didn’t respond to being touched. She hadn’t moved at all. We were told that this was a sign that the end was very near.
I noticed Grandma’s fingers were turning blue. The nurse came in and checked her toes – those were turning blue, too. Grandma awakened when her feet were being touched. The nurse gave her oxygen as a comfort measure and left.
Grandma kept saying, “I gotta go. Let’s go. Bye bye.”
I kissed her on the forehead. “I love you very much.”
“I love you too, sweetie. I gotta go. Bye bye.”
She grimaced and told me her head hurt. My brother called the nurse, who administered pain medication and re-positioned her. We heard exclamations of pain, a low wail – like a wounded animal. I rushed to the bedside to see tears streaming down her cheeks. I stroked her forehead gently, showered her face with kisses, and held her hand. I told her to imagine a beautiful place where there was no more pain.
“Will everything be ok?”
“Yes, Grandma, it will.”
She fell back asleep.
We kept vigil overnight, administering morphine every hour.
She slept through the next day. The snow fell heavily outside.
At 8:56 pm on Saturday night, she took her last breath. In those final moments, Mom and my aunt cradled her.
“It’s ok, Mom, go to Daddy. Daddy is waiting for you.”
Gotta take that sentimental journey
Sentimental journey home.