My grandmother died this morning. I think, for the most part, I'm a bit numb. I've had my moments of crying and sadness on and off all day today - in fact, I'm tearing up now as I write this blog. And yet...a part of me feels as if I already mourned her loss. I think, on some level, I've been mourning her loss for years.
My grandmother developed dementia in her last years. Initially, she would misplace her car or her keys, or incessantly repeat herself. She forgot some basic things, and she started to have trouble knitting and playing cards or mah jong. In 1999, she moved from her home in Pennsylvania to an independent living facility near my parents' house. She was a lot of fun to have around - the repetition could be irritating, but she was in good physical shape, and she loved to just run errands, chat on the phone and keep me company. I used to visit with her every weekend (and talk to her several times during the week). She lived about 30 minutes from me, and I often went out to see her both Saturdays and Sundays. I would make the drive to her house and pick her up so I could run around, go shopping, grab lunch - whatever errands I had planned. Sundays, my mom, my grandmother and I would always spend the day together. We usually went to stores during the day, but we always finished our Sundays with a trip to the grocery store and dinner. I treasured those times we spent together.
While we knew her memory was getting worse, she was able to physically keep pace, and she always knew who we were. She repeated stories, but we could chat with her - about our lives, about important matters, and even she did not remember the conversation the next day, she was able to respond with advice and humor over the course of the conversation.
Things began to change when she fell and broke her hip. If my memory serves, it happened in 2002 - I had left my law firm and was taking classes so that I could sit for the patent bar. I had just started a part-time job (that ultimately led me to the work I do now). While physically she recovered from the injury, she rapidly deteriorated mentally after that. We had to hire assistants to make sure she ate and took her medication, and we had someone walk her to dinner every night. She lived for about another year or two in the independent living community before it became too difficult to sustain.
At that time, we decided to move my grandmother. She was aware of the move, and we discussed options with her. She did not always remember that we were moving her, and some days her memory was better than others. At that time, it was determined that she did not qualify for many of the care options because she was in great physical shape, and her memory challenges did not fully interfere with her daily living activities - she could feed herself, she could swallow pills, she could get herself dressed, and she could walk. Sometimes, she even knew the year and who was President. She always knew my mother and me.
After we moved my grandmother to the assisted living facility, she began to deteriorate rather quickly. Her memory worsened, and she slowly lost her ability to walk. It became too difficult to take her out for family dinners. By 2005, there were a lot of bad days - days when she did not remember me, and days when she was outright out of her right mind when I would go to visit. After a few horrible interactions, I became afraid of going to visit her by myself - emotionally, I just could not handle the "bad" visits alone.
I'm ashamed to admit that as the years progressed, I visited her less and less often. She was never awake after 6 or 7 pm. It was hard to coordinate my schedule to either bring DH or go with my mom. She was getting more frail and I did not want to see her when I was sick. But, more than anything, so often those visits just devastated me. I hated going to see her...and missing her while she was right in front me. Even worse, I hated the visits when she was angry or just did not know who I was. By the time I got pregnant with Micah, my visits slowed - sometimes weeks or even a month would pass between my visits. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I moved a bit further away from her, so my drive to visit her was over 1/2 an hour. I was on bedrest for much of the time, we were trying to settle into a new place and prepare for a baby, and 30 minutes in a car was uncomfortable for me. Once Micah arrived, it was hard to coordinate his napping and feeding schedule with a car ride and my work and her schedule. I brought him to meet his great-grandmother for the first time 2 years ago on her 95th birthday when he was 2 weeks old. Micah and I have both been sick a lot over the past 13 months, and I would have to say that sometimes 6-8 weeks would stretch in between my visits this year - perhaps even longer than that once or twice. This past year, my grandmother rarely knew who I was. On good days, she thought I was my mother. In a strange way, that comforted me - you see, I look a lot like my mother, and I always felt she was recognizing that I was her family when she thought I was my mother.
As always, we went to visit my grandmother on her birthday - January 1. I brought Micah for a visit then, and made her a birthday cake. It was a nice visit, but I had no idea that it was really the last time I would see her in such...good...shape. Less than two weeks later, she fell and fractured her skull, receiving the fatal injury that resulted in her death this morning. I went to her at the hospital the day she fell, and I even rode in the ambulance with her to the nursing home where we were placing her for hospice care. I visited her most days that she was there, but did not get there everyday.
On Sunday, I went to see my grandmother for the last time. It was bittersweet - I was so sad to see her like that. She was largely nonresponsive for most of the visit. When we finally woke her up, she ate a few bites of food, then started to refuse that. She quickly went back to sleeping. I stayed for about 1 hour before we left. I said goodbye, gave her a kiss, and told her that I loved her. As I looked back, I saw a very old woman sitting there - one who vaguely reminded me of the grandmother I had known and loved for so many years - but yet not the woman I remembered as my Grammy. She was disheveled and missing teeth, and she had a huge gash on her head from the fall. She looked thin and frail, and was sleeping with her mouth open as she sat in a wheelchair. I took one last look and thought "this may be the last time I see her."
I have worried all week that my grandmother would die this week while I was away. Even more so, I worried she would die at the beginning of the week, making it impossible for me to even attend her funeral. I cannot tell you the relief I felt when Wednesday came and went and she seemed to be relatively stable.
My mom called me last night (Thursday) to say that my grandmother had not had any morphine in over 24 hours and was still nonresponsive. She said she was breathing heavily, her heartrate was elevated, and she was covered in perspiration from breathing so hard. We both knew that my grandmother was done fighting - that the end was imminent. I think we both suspected the call would come in the middle of the night. I fell asleep at 1:00 am and woke up at 4:30. I checked my telephone, afraid I had missed a call. I was surprised that there were no messages. I tried to go back to sleep, but instead was up watching television. Around 5:30, I started to get drowsy...and just before 6:00 am, the phone rang. I knew before I even stood up to answer the phone that it was my mother and that my grandmother had died. My mother sounded very calm, and I do not think I even reacted much at first. The tears welled up a few times, but mostly we just talked about funeral logistics. My mom wanted to go visit my grandmother one last time, so she had to get off the phone and go.
I was up for the day at that point - tears coming briefly on and off all day, but for the most part, I kept busy. I was in meetings from 9 until 12 (and I fielded a few phone calls from family members about the funeral and travel). My grandmother's funeral was pre-planned and pre-paid...we only needed to agree on the time and day. The funeral will be on Sunday at 3:00. We decided there was no reason for me to rush home before my scheduled flight back tomorrow (Saturday). I came back to the room around noon, and we decided to go about our day as planned.
So, what did I do the day my grandmother died? I went to Disney World. Literally - we took Micah to the Magic Kingdom. I think on so many levels, I am appalled that the day my grandmother died, my world continued exactly as it would have if she was still alive. And while I am disgusted with that thought...I also think my grandmother would have liked that, too. We had two free tickets to Disney that DH earned through the give a day get a day program. Unlike any other year, I actually had no presentations scheduled today at the conference. We had decided before we even came down here that we would take Micah to the Magic Kingdom today. Since we decided not to fly back today, and since our only other alternative would have been to sit in the room looking sad all day, we decided that it was silly not to take Micah as we had planned. He certainly did not know that anything had happened, and I could not see how sitting around feeling sad and helpless would change anything. She would have loved seeing Micah on the rides and smiling, and she would have been happy knowing that he brought some joy to my world on a very sad day.
So, I'm ashamed to admit it, but my grandmother died, and I went to Disney World. Since I really am having a hard time with that, I will save my story about our time in the Magic Kingdom for another, happier post. I hope that doing something trivial and fun today does not make me a bad person - and I hope my Grammy knows how much I loved her, and how much I truly miss her in my life. I am so sad to think I will never again have a chat with her, or hold her hand, or kiss her cheek, or tell her that I love her, and hear her say "And I love you." I am so lucky that I had so many years with her, and so many wonderful times and memories. I cannot wait to go home and bake "Gram's Brownies" - and eat every last chocolatey, gooey one in her honor. Goodbye, Grammy. I miss you - this world is not the same without you.
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