I feel like I’m forgetting something.
I leave the house in the morning and I check my purse, canvas bag, and pockets. But, there’s still something I’m not remembering. So, I start searching through the house. Did I leave it in the bathroom? Did I leave it in the fridge? What is it anyway?
Okay, check your pockets again. Phone, keys, Burt’s Bees chapstick. Everything I could possibly need. Oh, maybe I didn’t take my meds this morning! No, I did, because I remember I did it before I got in the shower.
Did I was the conditioner out of my hair? …yeah, it’s not greasy. Oh God, am I wearing a bra?! Of course I am, how could I not feel wire against my chest? I have socks on, right? Well I’m wearing flats, so I guess I don’t need them. Maybe that’s it.
I leave the house and get to my car, still feeling lost. I have no idea what I’m forgetting.
It hits me as I turn off my street.
I’m not forgetting anything.
My Grammy died almost two weeks ago, and I’m not complete anymore.
In January, Grammy started having seizures regularly. She’d had them before (they’re called TIAs, or Transient Ischemic Attacks), and she will basically go catatonic for any number of hours. Normally, she’d have a bad headache or be really grouchy in the days leading up to one, so we could normally predict it. But this month, they just started happening, and they were more intense. The first week of January, she ended up in the ICU because her caretakers couldn’t regulate her blood pressure and were worried it could possibly be a stroke. The doctors in the ER ruled out stroke, but they kept her in ICU to make sure she was alright. Grammy lost the ability to talk or communicate except through eye movement and facial expressions. Mom said she could understand what Grammy wanted to a degree, but this was the worst she’d seen her in a long time.
I should pause here and say that this isn’t the worst thing we’ve gone through in the last three years. Mom, Papa, and I have all thought she wasn’t going to make it before.
Mom and Papa decided that if she could go home, they would have to start hospice care.
Papa avoided talking about hospice for as long as he could, and I don’t blame him. When I hear that word, I conjure up images of tiny, pale people in beds, gasping for breath and suffering beyond anything imaginable. I was surprised to learn that hospice essentially means ‘care instead of cure’. The person is no longer able to get better, per say, but they can still be comfortable, alert, and content.
Grammy came home from the hospital on Wednesday the 7th, which was the coldest day of winter so far. My family has the best timing. Last year, when Grammy went to live at Plymouth Place (assisted living/palliative care), it was the coldest day of the year too. Hooray, wind chills below 30.
I went out to Grammy and Papa’s house to see her home. When I got there, the hospice case manager was preparing to leave, but she took the time to sit with me and explain every single thing that was happening. She didn’t sugarcoat anything, but she was also incredibly kind and compassionate. It put me at ease.
I’ll be honest, I was scared to see Grammy. She had started talking a little at this point, but not much. She wasn’t eating or drinking, and she was only staying hydrated by sucking on these little sponges on sticks. I couldn’t see my best friend that way, could I?
Fuck yes, I could! This is serious, get in there and see your grandmother before it’s too late!
(This was the cinematic voice of reason in my head, like a grouchy yet loving wrestling coach. Go get ’em, tiger!)
Mom came in with me.
I’ll admit, I’d seen her in worse condition, but something about this particular visit really bothered me.
Her hair was matted against her soft head, and her lips and teeth were light brown. Mom explained it’s because she can’t drink, therefore there’s no water or saliva flowing. It really bugged me, and I felt uncomfortable to look at her mouth.
I also felt like an asshole for feeling uncomfortable. If this were me, and Grammy were visiting me, she’d never leave my side. She’d bring all her crossword puzzles and sit in a chair next to me, holding my hand.
So that’s what I did.
I held her hand.
Her grip was stronger than I expected, but still weaker than usual. She smiled the entire time I sat with her, and she even made a funny face and did the Royal wave when I left (my family’s been doing that for years).
But I was still a wreck.
I drove home that afternoon, crying the entire time. I wasn’t ready to lose her, and I willed her with all my heart to stay alive. Of course, this was the most selfish thing I could do. If Grammy were in her right mind, she would have loathed living this way. She probably would have driven up to the lake and never come back.
I couldn’t help it though. She’s my Grammy, and I couldn’t lose her yet.
I missed the next two days of work because I was too anxious and sad to get out of bed. I spent my time staring at the walls and staring at my eyelids.
My husband went to Portland for the weekend, so I brought the bunny out to stay with my mom and spent the weekend with my family. It was nice. It felt normal and safe, like maybe things would get better.
The week after all of this, Jimmy and I went back out to see Grammy to check up on her. I laid in bed with her and held her hand while Jimmy told her about his trip to Portland. She smiled and even remembered that he’d gone out there. We shared some stories and she weakly spoke once in a while, but she did smile and she held my hand in return. After about half an hour, we all left Grammy to rest and chatted in the kitchen before Jimmy and I left to head back to the city.
I didn’t say goodbye to Grammy because she was falling asleep (she’d just gotten her dose of morphine) and we were keeping her up.
I didn’t say goodbye.
I’ve since thought about that day, Saturday January 17th, and I tried to convince myself that I’d gone back in and said, “Grammy, you’re beautiful and my favorite person and I love you always.” But, I didn’t. I said I would come back to check on her before I left, only to leave so I wouldn’t wake her up.
It’s such a cliche, but god fucking dammit, I wish I’d gone back in. That’s the last time I saw her.
The following week, I got very sick. I had a fever and couldn’t breathe well. I went to the doctor’s office three different times before they finally gave me some medication that worked. I wasn’t sleeping at all, and I felt like I was going insane a little. I missed even more work, and I started to panic that they were going to be upset with me. The secretary/front office clerk had mentioned that the parents were angry and concerned that since I hadn’t been there, their kids would fall behind. But, I had doctors’ notes and prescriptions to show I was truly unwell, so they were understanding.
I was meant to go to the suburbs that weekend, but I was just too sick. On top of all of this bullshit, the bunny stopped eating and drinking that Friday night (the 23rd) and Jimmy had to take him to the emergency vet in Skokie the next morning. I hadn’t slept Friday night and didn’t feel comfortable to drive. Running on 4 hours’ sleep in 3 days, I tried to lay down and texted my mom to see what was going on. I knew Grammy’d had a rough week and had another seizure, so I wanted to get an update. She told me to call her.
“Hey mom, what’s up?”
“…hi sweetie. Grammy passed away.”
My brain and my heart began to fight.
Already?! No, come on, this woman’s been through everything.
It was really time.
She was going to bounce back and start talking again and come sit at the kitchen table with us.
It was really time.
No, fuck you, it wasn’t time, it ISN’T time, I’m not ready!
It’s not about you.
The hell it’s not. It’s about me, and Mom, and Papa-
It’s about her. And she was so tired.
If she’d just held out a little longer, I could have seen her once more. If I wasn’t sick, I would have been out there! I would have been with her! It’s my fault!
You were there. She had your love.
Oh what a sack of SHIT. I wasn’t there, I didn’t get to say goodbye. Now I’m driving down Ogden, gripping the wheel so tightly that my knuckles are white, and I just want to see her before they take her away.
It will be okay if you don’t see her. She sees you.
SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP. I have to drive.
I didn’t make it in time to see her body. They picked her up before I could get there, even though I was sure I’d make it. I was so angry. I still am. I wanted to see her. I wanted to say goodbye. How the fuck can I move on if I didn’t get to say goodbye?
I swallowed my tears and anger and sickness for my family, though. My mom, and my papa.
We were so much smaller now. Just the three of us, sitting at the kitchen table. Jimmy sat beside me, and Doreen, my Grammy’s caretaker and good friend, baked a cake she’d been working on. Tracy, my mom’s boyfriend/partner, was on his way. Perry, my uncles’ best friend (both of whom are dead) stopped by too.
We ordered Thai food from one of our favorite restaurants (Grammy loved their food) and mostly sat in silence.
Something my family does very well is avoid talking about tragedies or loss. I’ve never understood it, but we do. Tonight, however, we didn’t hide it. I made a modest toast before dinner, and we ate, barely tasting what we put in our mouths.
I had to go back home, though. My fever was coming back, and I’d just started some strong meds that were making me jittery and exhausted. I wanted to stay so badly, but I was just not healthy enough.
It felt ironic. I wasn’t healthy enough to be with my family after Grammy died from being incredibly unhealthy. I also felt like a failure.
The next day (Sunday), my friends came over and we played Dungeons & Dragons, like we do every Sunday. I did my best to stay interested, but I could have cared less what we were doing. I crawled into bed after it was over. I had dreams that I don’t remember and woke up drenched in sweat.
Monday, I took the day off of work and went to see my family. We ate at Grammy and Papa’s most frequented restaurant, and all of the wait staff and employees were so kind. Some had known Grammy for over 25 years. I had such an urge to just stay with my mom for the week. I don’t live that far away, but far enough that it hurt to leave. But, I had to go home.
The next few days were a bit of a blur. I supposed I worked, although my mind was somewhere else. The Chicago Sun Times published her obituary in a beautiful full-page spread, and some of the stories Mom and Papa told made me laugh. I spent the night at my mom’s that Friday and came back here the next day before the big blizzard that’s still covering my street and sidewalk.
Now, it’s Thursday, February 5th. Grammy’s birthday. She would have been 77 today. That’s it; 77. That’s so young, especially for her, who always acted 10 years younger than she was. And as I sit at my computer, I still can’t quite believe I’m talking about her in past tense.
Today has been particularly rough. I went to TJ Maxx (our favorite store) to try and cheer myself up. I found myself wandering the aisles, listening for her voice that never came. I had to leave before the sales associates wondered what was wrong with the crying lady.
I’ve never lost someone I was this close to. I’ve lost some relatives, including my uncles, but I was younger and more involved with other stuff like school and work. Now, I’m working for a job I like but will be over in 4 weeks (it’s a maternity leave position), and it’s the dead of winter, so I can’t take walks or sit outside.
I feel heavy, like something is weighing me down. I’ve been told that weight will lift eventually and things will feel better.