I found myself sitting by her bedside, quiet, sad, and yet trying to put on a good face for her. She is my grandmother. 94 years old, formerly full of life and full of pride in her appearance, now wishing she would die. It was painful to see her in such a state. My heart broke for her, her loneliness, the long days staring at the wall or the TV, barely able to hear what was going on around her. I suppose, at times, her hearing loss was a blessing. It blocked out the crying of other residents and the beeping of machines. But I would become angry when the nursing home staff would enter and talk about her or their day-to-day lives without including her in their conversation. Even family did this and I spoke up to the best of my abilities. I was in shock I think. Seeing her lying in that bed, the sound of her oxygen machine hissing and pumping brought me back to the hospital room where I watched my sweet daughter Krissy fade away. I sat thinking to myself, “she never wanted this”. My grandfather had passed about 10 years ago. My grandmother prayed ever since that day that she would follow behind him, quickly. She has since watched two of her children die at the hands of cancer and one great-granddaughter be taken by medical negligence.
I sat with her. I talked when I could think of something to day that didn’t seem contrived or like pointless banter. She tried so hard to hear my words but I know that she only caught about half of what was said. So I spoke with my eyes and my touch. I let her know that I was there with her and that I felt her anguish at wanting to be called home and, yet, being left to dwindle slowly in a home that was not hers. We offered to play BINGO, an old favorite, but even that didn’t catch her interest. I played “Satin Pillows” by Bobby Darin, one of her favorite songs. That seemed to cheer her for a moment but then I saw a sadness in her eyes… a remembering of what was no longer possible. Our family tries to visit when they can. Some try harder than others but we all cope in our own ways and we all have lives of our own. I am not them and I don’t walk in their shoes so I can’t and won’t judge their efforts. We all do the best we can in these circumstances… what else can be asked? All I know is that my grandmother is in Florida and I’m in New York and I feel like I’m planets away from her. It’s been hard on my mother, wishing she could have brought her to NY when she moved to be closer to me and my family, but my grandmother’s health would not allow for it. I can see the pain in her eyes when we talk about it.
After my grandmother had a stroke she felt more defeated than ever and, I believe, that she gave up completely. In her mind she thought it would speed up her reunion with my grandfather but it has only prolonged her misery. She no longer gets out of bed for anything. Her muscles have withered away and she can barely hold herself up. She wears a Blessed Mother pendent around her neck. She used to pin it inside her bra, keeping it close to her heart. It was blessed by the last pope and she feels lost without it. I watched her clutch it, especially when she was sleeping, as if she is beckoning to the Blessed Mother to come and take her home. I prayed to the Blessed Mother to hear her cries for mercy. I asked that my grandmother be taken, peacefully and without pain, in her sleep. I do not want my grandmother to die alone or with strangers. I figure that if she is sleeping she won’t know that she is alone or that we aren’t there with her. As we left my grandmother, after visiting for three days, my mother told her that she would return again soon to see her. My grandmother said, “I hope I’m dead”. My mother flinched and started to dispute my grandmother’s sentiment but stopped. I bent down, held my grandmother’s hand, and told her, “Nana, none of us want to see you go but if that is what you want, if you’re ready, then please know that we will be ok. It’s OK to go.” She thanked me and we both had tears in our eyes. My mother leaned in and spoke into my grandmother’s ear, “I love you mom… if that’s what you want we’ll be ok”. That was three days ago and my grandmother is still with us. None of know why she is still here, even my grandmother. She doesn’t eat, barely drinks, and is refusing treatments. She wants to go. She begs to go. She told me, “It’s all in His hands now”. I hope He’s listening
All of this left me wondering why death is so fickle. It takes babies who have barely had a chance to live and yet leaves those who pray to die. I suppose it’s not for me, or anyone, to know. It’s one of the deeper mysteries of life. I do wish our country would legalize euthanasia across the board. I know that some states have already done so and what a blessing it has been to many. Doing so would allow people to choose their time to depart this earth. They could choose to go with dignity, and have family around or to be alone. They could throw a party or go peacefully in the night… no matter when or how the choice would be their own. I know for a fact that my grandmother would not have chosen this way out. She would not have wished for dependence on others to bathe her, change her, feed her, and wipe her mouth. My grandmother would have chosen a beautiful gown, and pearls, and a Mudslide to wash down the pills. She would have chosen a party with balloons and the music of her youth. She would have had family and friends with her to say her goodbyes. And she would have died with the same sense of dignity and pride that she had lived her life.
I write this from my heart for all of those who have suffered and for all those who have watched a loved one suffer. I write this for all those that think this will never happen to them and fail to plan ahead. I write this for all those people who sit in those homes alone thinking that no one remembers them. I remember you, I honor you, and I hope that you all reach the peaceful end that you deserve. I hold you all in my heart and send prayers to you that your wishes, whatever they may be, come true.
And finally, I write this for all those who have something important to say but wait until “the time is right”. Say what needs to be said. None of us are guaranteed a tomorrow. Once someone is gone you’ve lost your chance to share what needs to be shared. The fear may be great but the pain of regret is far worse. Tell them… tell them. I beg you.