I would like to be able to tell a story that is sad but also filled with peace and comfort at the end of my grandma’s life. But I can’t. Not yet, anyway, and who knows when. Everyone else sees it that way. I was with her all night. I was the last one to talk to her, the last one to hear about her day, the last one to hear “I love you”. I comforted her as she asked me again and again if I was still there. I sat by her, touching her, so she’d know for sure I hadn’t left. She kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you for calling.” She always complained I didn’t answer my phone. She was so glad I was there that night. She kept waking up and saying, “Thank you.” She’d wake up and just say, “I love you.” She asked me about 15 times if it was 5:30am, because that’s when I was supposed to leave for work in the morning. I reassured her every time that I wouldn’t leave without telling her. She’d wake a few minutes later and anxiously ask, “Five thirty??” When the nurse came in, she said, “It’s 5:30, my granddaughter has to go.” And again I reassure d her that it was not 5:30, that we still had all night together.
I was there when she got pain medicine and stopped breathing for a long, long time. I heard her last words. I heard her say, “ok” when they said they were giving her her scheduled meds, although I think she was pretty much asleep. I felt she was already comfortable but also didn’t want her to wake up in pain. I felt crazy guilt when she never woke up again, like I should have stopped them from giving it to her. I, who am the most fervent believer of palliative care and giving pain meds at end of life, who wanted my grandma’s suffering to ease more than anything, I panicked. I am still panicked. I wanted to take back that last push of opioids. I wanted one more word with her. One more day. I immediately held her and told her I loved her so much, I was there, I wasn’t leaving. She started breathing again but it was never the same. She was unconscious from then on.
I called my mom to tell her. Then I lay back down beside my grandma. I played her her favorite hymn on my phone and sang it to her. I told her I would love her always and miss her every day. I told her she’d be with her parents and brothers and husband, and Avalon my baby. I told her she’d made me strong, and I’d take care of my mother. I told her we’d be ok. I rubbed her head and said she should rest, I wouldn’t leave her.
My mom and uncle and aunt arrived. They all fell asleep after a while, but I couldn’t. My grandma’s breathing was ragged and soon became rattly. Then in a vocal way she’d gasp rhythmically. She lost control of her bowels and broke into a sweat that soaked her whole bed. The hospice nurses cleaned her for me, about an hour and a half before she died. I heard her breathing change and put my finger on her pulse. I felt it slowing down, I felt it become erratic. I held her in my arms for her last breath. Then I sobbed. My mom had woken for her last breath too and we were both there holding her. We told her she did good. “We love you. You can go. You did good, grandma. You did good.” Everyone else woke up. I just sobbed and sobbed and held her until the nurse came in.
I went to look at the time. It was 5:30am.
She fucking waited until 5:30am to be with me as long as possible. I had called in of course and was not going to work, but in her mind I had to go at 5:30 and so she waited until I said goodbye. She waited for me. She only wanted me, all the time, she wanted me to call her and visit her and come have lunch with her. When she went to the hospital she only wanted me to be sit there with her and talk to the doctors for her. She trusted me and I became her security, the way she’d always been mine. But so often the responsibility overwhelmed me or annoyed me. So often I needed others to go visit her while I stayed home. I hated talking on the phone and didn’t call back or answer. I would go see her on my days off instead, but still. I should have answered every fucking time. The guilt is setting in and crashing down in waves. Thank god at the end I didn’t disappoint her. I was never enough for her but at least on that one night I was there when she needed me. At least in the end, I didn’t let her down. Thank god for that.
I wish I could say that it was all ok and as it should be. I did everything I would’ve told someone else to do. But I felt in my heart and soul that she didn’t want to go. Perhaps it is just me who didn’t want her to go, but I really felt she wasn’t there yet. Her body was tired and weak and ready, yes. But the night before she just kept insisting to me that she needed to go to bed, so she could watch videos with me and look at photo albums with me the next day. Maybe that’s totally normal. I just wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared for her to be sitting up clearly talking and laughing and visiting and eating, and then die in the night.
It’s not at all like I thought it would be. I see images of her body dying and dead every second. I agonize over every word she said to me that night. I feel the thready pulse under my fingers. I feel her skin, hot at first then cool and clammy, her cheek as I pressed mine to hers, her hand in mine, her arm as I rubbed it. I feel sick inside, physically and in all other ways. It all feels very wrong and I so expected it to feel very sad but also ok.
I thought elderly, sick people who die with pain meds and family around at the end of a long period of suffering was ok. I thought it was the best death we could give them, which meant that inside I would feel peace, if not grief and loss of course. But I don’t feel peace. I feel anxious, desperate, and traumatized. I am suddenly obsessed with the thought that my mom is going to die soon, too. I feel like I need to lie next to her and obsessively listen to her breathe. I’m seeing images of her as well, gasping for air and not responding. I suddenly understand what paranoid, psychotic people must feel all the time. This is totally and completely not what I expected. I think I will seek professional help.