One week ago, I lost my grandma.

I knew that the time was coming, and I knew it would be hard – very hard – but I didn’t realize exactly how disorienting it would be. I remember going to the farmers’ market a few weeks ago, browsing around for some things that might spark Grandma’s appetite or brighten her day a bit, picking up a bouquet of gorgeous, oversized dahlias, trying to find a few tomatoes that actually smelled like tomatoes, and then wandering over to pick up a few white peaches. The samples were sweet and just soft enough but the ones available to buy weren’t quite ripe yet, which led to these awful, morbid thoughts that I had never encountered up until that point: What if she’s not here in a day or two? What if there isn’t even enough time for these peaches to ripen?

She had hung on through so many tough times and illnesses – plenty of surgeries for various ailments, going through an unpleasant but necessary colostomy that we thought would be reversible only to find out she wasn’t quite healthy enough to have it reversed, years of weekly poking and prodding at the lab to keep her coumadin at the right dosage, losing her husband of 58 years. And then, about four months ago, a blockage of one of her arteries leading to her stomach, which the doctors couldn’t fix. Who knew that, ultimately, this is how Grandma would get her way?

Four months of hospice care in the comfort of her own home, four months without a handful of unappetizing drugs at breakfast and after dinner, four months without having to go to the lab every week to be stabbed and bruised, four months without having to go back to the doctors at all. As I’m sure she would say, how do you like dem apples?

We had lots of short drives through town, which was often all new to her, and long ones out to the beach to visit Papa; the best ice cream cone of her life (thanks to no longer being on a bajillion drugs, her taste buds allowing her to actually taste it and her appetite allowing her to surpass her usual two bites and eat the whole thing, cone and all); mornings and afternoons sitting in her garden with all of Mom’s flowers, always amazed by her gorgeous dahlias, watching her chickens waddle around, digging up worms; cozy mornings with her beloved and loyal dog curled up with her in bed for petting and tummy-rubbing; and four months of being comfortable at home, cared for with all the love in the world by her family.

As many times as Grandma told me over the last decade or so that if they put her in the hospital again for one more surgery, to pull the plugs and run – “You know where the money is,” she’d remind me, jokingly – I was never entirely sure that she was ready to go. But last week, when the time came and she finally was, she had it her way. After asking where Patrick (my little brother) was multiple times each day, he hopped on a bus and made it home to see her with just a few hours to spare; her cozy den, where she was resting in her reclined soft leather chair, was filled with as many of her loved ones as could make it in time and fit in the room, sharing their love, memories, and gratitude, offering comfort and hands to hold, and reminding her to keep Papa in line up there in heaven; and, even though it didn’t seem like she had been fully aware of place and time over the last few months, she waited until the precise two year anniversary of her husband’s passing to finally let go.

So this last week, while unbelievably hard and disorienting, has also been one full of gratitude and amazement: that God gave me such an amazing grandmother and role model; that I was so fortunate to be so close to her from the time she gave me baths in her kitchen sink to the time I was able to help give her warm sponge baths and mini-facials in her bedroom; that she was with us long enough to meet and develop such an amazing, loving relationship with my husband; that after all she gave to her loved ones throughout her life, we were able to be there for her and reflect that love up through her final breath; and that even in the end, Grandma got her way.

5 Responses to “Grandma”

  1. Ginny says:

    Beautiful. Simply Beautiful.

  2. Claudia Turner says:

    Cathleen, how beautifully you’ve capture my very favorite Aunt. She was very loved, not only by her children and grandchildren, but also her extended family. Thank you for your lovely thoughts.

  3. David says:

    Beautifully written! You’re so brilliant! :)

  4. Mary Gaffney Walsh says:

    Cathleen. Your blog entry touched my heart as it will all of your readers. Your Grandma was a special woman. You captured the joy that your family was able to give to her by keeping her home where she was comfortable, loved and cared for in a way that many other families would not have been able to do so. We have all been blessed by your family’s example. Blessings to all of you and know that your grandpa and grandma are enjoying their new anniversary in heaven.

  5. Aunt Patty says:

    Cathleen, What a beautiful tribute to my mom’s, your grandma’s, final days. You were very special grand daughter/caregiver to Gramma. She loved you and Amad. Both of you were so gentle and kind to her. Looking back on my very brief times with her these past 4 months, spending my time helping her, sleeping with her, feeding her, having coffee with her, accompanying her, were times I needed to sustain me through these past days. I think I would feel empty if I didn’t have “our” time together. Anything I think of, events, people, places throughout my life, she was always there. She was at peace with all the love that surrounded her there in Napa. I believe she lived these extra four months because of the love and the family who cared for her every day. She really loved dad and needed the warmth of his love again in her eternity. He shined his love on to her so strongly the 18th she rose up to be with him. I miss her very much.

Leave a Reply to David Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>