Sorry for this somber and entirely personal, unentertaining post. I just feel the need to "talk," and document these events.
My grandmother passed away yesterday morning. She was 88.
We'd had ample warning. Two years ago she was very healthy--she even drove me around in her car the time I visited as a prospective student to UH. But after three strokes in 18 months, she'd been living the last two months in the full-time nursing floor of the retirement home she and my grandfather moved into ten years ago. The past month in particular has been full of ups and downs. One month ago she started getting a fever, which went up and down for a couple weeks. Two weeks ago, they switched her to palliative care, taking her off of her non-essential, or longer-term, medications. A week and a half ago was the first time the nurses couldn't rouse her for her meal. We thought it might be over then, but the next meal she woke up. My mom and older brother arrived a day later to help take care of her. For the next five days, she continued to improve each day. On the fifth day, last week Tuesday, she was strong enough to feed herself again, she had my mom take her outside into the fresh air and sun for a bit, and she was smiling and talking a little bit, though still not much. It's a little strange, actually, that we considered it such a great day, since just three weeks ago it would have been only a normal one.
On Wednesday she got very feverish again, and she slept from that afternoon all the way through Thanksgiving on Thursday. By Friday, since she hadn't eaten or drunk anything for two days, and didn't show signs of change, we figured that was going to be the end. I dug the Housemate's printer/scanner out of my closet to scan in a photo of her for the obituary. I couldn't get the light balance quite right, and there were little white specks in the scanned image I couldn't get rid of. I suppose once it's shrunk down for the newspaper, they won't show at all.
On Friday night, my mom and brother and I were sitting in her room, just to be with her, when she started coughing, and woke up. Fully awake, not just cracking her eye open without showing signs of awareness, as she had done once or twice on Thursday. Every time she spoke (to be clear, this was only one or two words on about three different occasions) my mom jumped, as if my grandmother had just come back from the dead. She ate some poi (which in addition to being her personal favorite is nutritious and requires no chewing--perfect) and drank some water. She listened intently as we read letters that her children and grandchildren not present had sent, looked on as we showed her photos of our families, and smiled when I pulled out her ukulele to play the two songs I've learned. After two and a half hours, she was looking pretty sleepy again, so we said good night and left her.
She slept all through Saturday and Sunday, though she did seem to try to crack open her eyes when she heard our voices on Sunday night. By then, though, she was breathing rapidly, which, as my doctor grandfather informed us in a very doctorly way, is a sign of the terminal stage. Her rapid breathing through her mouth was drying out her lips, much to my mom's distress, and the nurses didn't have anything suitable to keep them moist--the water we put on at their suggestion just dried out immediately and left her lips drier. So I swabbed her lips with my ChapStick.
On Monday morning, I got the call that she had died. She had been comfortable, and went peacefully. I had class that day, and my brother, who was the one calling me, told me that I didn't need to go, as he and my mother were headed over to be with my grandfather. I didn't feel the need to see her again before the mortuary people took her. I'd seen her the previous night when she was alive. Why should I see her when she's dead?
That night in my grandfather's apartment, things seemed the same. I hadn't seen my grandmother up in the apartment for over two months, so it was easy to think that she was still just downstairs sleeping. I had to remind myself that she wasn't, and never would be again.
There's a bulletin board in the retirement home's lobby that always has an In Memoriam section, with photos of recently passed residents. Every time I walk by it, I see someone new listed there--retirement homes have a relatively high turnover rate. But this time, of course, it was my grandmother. Seeing it was like a dream, like it didn't quite make sense.
I got home that night, and looked up the chords to "Into the West" for the ukulele. I guess even in the face of tragedy, I can still be a geek. But it is a beautiful song. And now that I have inherited her ukulele, I had better learn to play more songs.
I am sad, but accepting; I'd been prepared. It's too bad that she didn't live to see any of her grandchildren get married. But she got to know us all, she was proud of us, and she knew we loved her. She was happy. If I can get to her age and say as much, I will know that I've lived a good life.