My grandmother had back surgery at the beginning of 2010. She was in her 70’s, with multiple health issues and had never really been a healthy person, even as a child. She had a heart issue that required a pacemaker and had previously had a stroke. The family was astounded that she would risk such a complex surgery on her back, but we tried to be supportive and loving.
The surgery went off without a hitch even though she had 2 rods and something like 14 screws put into her back to straighten her spine and help ease her pain. I spent the day at the hospital with her when she had surgery. My grandpa stayed until she was in recovery then went home. I went up to her room with her and sat by her side as long as I could. I was alone with her. Thinking back on it, this was a moment that my mother should have been there for. From that moment on I took the lion’s share of the worry.
A few days later the question came up as to where my grandma would go for recovery. For some reason my grandparents thought she would go home after a few days in the hospital. They had not discussed rehab, nor had any insight into what would happen after the surgery. The hospital made some suggestions of nursing homes, and after very little research my grandma was shipped off to one.
The first thing the nursing home did was put my grandmother in a bathtub. I am not sure submerging a person who just had major back surgery seemed like a good idea to these people. I visited my grandma in the nursing home and she seemed to be in good spirits, and seemed to be making progress toward recovery despite being in a nursing home. Very quickly though she became very sick and was rushed back to the hospital.
When I saw my grandma at the hospital she was completely out of it. The doctor said her back had become infected and they needed to do surgery to clean it out, but they had reservations because she was on blood thinners for her pacemaker. For a normal surgery they would have taken her off of the blood thinners for a period of time, but this could not wait. They did blood transfusions to make sure her blood count was high enough to operate. Many hours later the surgeon came out and told us that her lung collapsed during the operation so she was on a ventilator but would be okay.
After that surgery it seemed like all of the life had gone out of my grandma. Like she had given up, this setback was too much for her to bear. My cousin and I immediately took action and went above and beyond to find my grandma a good rehabilitation facility so she could recover. It took many arguments with my grandfather, but finally she was in a good place. My aunt also came in from out of state to help. Everything was going well; my grandma was walking in therapy and even able to do steps!
Once my aunt went back home to Virginia my grandfather decided it was time to take grandma home against medical advice. We begged and pleaded, but he had also convinced my grandma that it was time to go. We did our best to make him plan accordingly, to hire help and install supports and handles that would help with using the bathroom and bathing. I went to visit as much as I could, but throughout this my grandma was over an hour away from my house. At some point I became so mentally exhausted that I couldn’t visit every day anymore, something I will never forgive myself for. I feel like I could have done more, helped more, done something to make him keep her in rehab!
Shortly after that my grandma was rushed to the hospital. She had suffered a stroke and lost control of her whole side. She was back in the hospital and on special treatment because she couldn’t even swallow correctly. I would visit her and feel so sad because it was a huge backwards step in an already impossible journey towards being healthy and independent. Again, she made a little progress and my grandfather pulled her out of rehab. This time she went to a nursing home close to his house so he could visit. He was tired of making the trip to see her and always left early so he could go home and drink himself into oblivion.
When I visited my grandma at the nursing home she was frail and sad. She also spoke out against my grandfather, saying that he would visit her and say mean things to her. She had her number at the nursing home changed so that he couldn’t call her at night when he was drunk. When he did visit he would upset her. One day he told her he had purchased plots for them and a headstone so he could be ready when she died. Watching my grandma cry was the hardest thing I ever experienced. This was the person that taught me what it was like to be loved. My mother never showed me love or affection, it was my grandma. The person I loved most in the world was breaking; mentally and physically and all I could do was stand by and watch.
Much to my chagrin my grandfather once again removed my grandma from the nursing home. She still had not recovered from the surgeries or the stroke. She had stopped eating because that was all she could control in her life and lost a ton of weight. She looked as if she had aged 20 years since that surgery.
I went to their house and tried to help my grandma with her physical therapy exercises. She wasn’t trying and had given up. The light and sparkle had gone out of her eyes and she was like a shell going through the motions. I felt helpless. I wasn’t prepared to care for a family member. I didn’t have the emotional strength and gumption to stand up against my grandfather. All I could do is stand helplessly by and watch him slowly kill my grandmother through bad decision after bad decision. She spent her life devoted to this man through thick and thin. She was the most caring and loving person I had ever met. Everyone loved her. When I was younger she was a spitfire, never taking any crap from my grandfather. I fondly remember the stories of her throwing a pan of mashed potatoes at his head when he mouthed off to her and stories of her in her mustang racing him on his motorcycle after she came down to the bar and told him to get his butt home. She would haggle with anyone and get her way. Going to a yard sale with her was embarrassing, but you better believe she got a deal!
It wasn’t a surprise when I got the call that my grandma was back in the hospital. This time she had pneumonia. On Mother’s day I visited her in the hospital. She was barely coherent, insisting that she had to get up and get dressed. I gently reminded her that she couldn’t walk. It was so painful to see that I left the hospital early. Little did I know it was the last time I would talk to my grandma, semi-coherently or otherwise.
Shortly after on a Friday night I was driving home from work, looking forward to the weekend ahead. My phone rang and it was my aunt. My grandma was no longer able to take fluids intravenously; all fluid was going to her lungs. The doctors gave her 2 weeks to live.
I immediately called my boss and told him that I would not be in to work for at least the next two weeks. He was furious, but I didn’t care. My grandma, my favorite person in the whole world was dying and I didn’t give a damn about anything else.
I spent the next week and a half at the hospital from sun-up to sun down. My mother even came to the hospital (the worst thing I could have imagined) but still I stayed. My grandma stopped responding and just laid there in the bed. Occasionally you could hear her cry out in pain. She didn’t open her eyes or speak. At one point she stopped squeezing my hand and just laid still.
The hospital recommended hospice to make my grandma as comfortable as possible. My grandfather refused it, citing cost as the reason. The family was in an uproar over this. My cousin offered to pay any and all costs. My grandfather then had the audacity to make it out to be some big joke and acted like he “saved the day” and agreed to hospice. I could not have been more furious.
May 18, 2011 started just like any other day. The sun rose and the world continued spinning as if nothing had changed. We realized that my grandma was holding on, as if she was waiting for something to happen and wouldn’t let go until it did. Even in death she was the most persistent, stubborn person I have ever known. She was going to have her way and there was nothing we could do about it. One by one we filed into the room saying our goodbyes and final words. My cousin could not be present, so I held the phone to my grandma’s ear while she talked to her. I could see my grandma’s eyes moving around under the lids as she listened. After my cousin hung up I told my grandma that we would be ok without her, that she had fought hard and could finally rest. I promised to look after my grandfather and make sure he was okay.
Late that night my aunt and I were about to leave the hospital and the nurse recommended we stay because it was unlikely my grandma would make it through the night. We called everyone and told them, but no one else came. My grandpa said it was too late and he wasn’t coming back to the hospital. I was incredulous! Truth was he was probably way too drunk to drive, and too proud to ask for a ride. My aunt and I got as comfortable as possible, one of us on each side holding my grandma’s hands so she wasn’t alone. I remember at some point I let her hand go and was complaining to my aunt because I was uncomfortable. Rightly so as I was trying to sleep using two folding chairs but in retrospect it was nothing even close to the discomfort of dying.
Somewhere around 11:00 I remember having a feeling that we should check on my grandma (they had turned off the monitors several days prior). We turned on the lights and it became obvious that she had passed. We called the nurses in and they got a doctor to confirm it. She was gone.
I remember sitting around for the longest time, still holding her hand and talking to her and about her like she was still there. I guess in a way she was, her body at least. We called the family, but still no one came, not even my grandfather.
I left that hospital in a haze. I knew that she would die, but I wasn’t ready for it. The past year and a half had been so up and down, a rollercoaster. Thinking she would get better only for her to get worse. Then better, then worse. Up and down over and over. My grandma was the strongest person I have ever known. When she was young she was very ill and was told she would never walk, but she did. She lived with a drunk, verbally abusive man for over 50 years but never let it take away the love she had for everyone. I guess I always thought she would recover because that’s who she was, a fighter.
I wish I could say I lived up to my promise to my grandma on her deathbed, but I haven’t. I haven’t kept in contact with my grandfather. I tried in the years after her death, but as time has gone on it has been longer and longer in between phone calls. I visit him maybe once a year when my aunt comes up to visit. I feel with total conviction that he is to blame for my grandma’s death. He is to blame because of his negligence and rude words, his complaining about being home alone while she was in rehab and his selfishness. I feel so guilty for not holding up my part of the bargain. She held up hers and finally rested. I’ve failed her on my part and haven’t kept in contact with him. I haven’t made sure he’s ok. I like to think that she understands, but I still feel like a failure and so very guilty. I wish I could push aside my bad feelings toward him and be the bigger person. My mom came up with an excuse not to talk to him and even more I feel like I should step up in her place. Like I should do what I promised I would do. I made a promise to someone on their deathbed, that’s not something to just shrug off. So why can’t I be strong enough to hold up my promise?
I love you Grandma.
Photo source: http://quotesgram.com/i-miss-you-death-quotes/#rVtuoZ68eg