This post may contain affiliate links. By purchasing a product through an affiliate link, I make a small commission – at no cost to you. Which in return validates to my family the few hours I spend staring at a computer screen in a day . See Disclosure for more info.
At 3:15 a.m. on December 6th, 2018 the earth stood still. My one and only confidant on this Earth, my grandma, drew her last breath. I was asleep and my phone was buzzing on my nightstand next to me but I didn’t hear it. I was awoken instead by my husband, who had just gotten home from work. As he nudged me, he said, “oh my God your mom is calling.”
When a family member calls in the middle of the night it’s never a good sign.
My heart pounded as I attempted to grab at my phone sleepily, knocking it off of the nightstand and under the bed. I fumbled for what seemed like forever until the buzzing stopped but then immediately started up again, while my mom kept calling.
I grabbed the phone and wasting no time to get out of the floor I answered it and attempted to stand up only to hear my mom udder the words on the other end of the phone, “moms gone.” I fell back to the floor screamed “no” and began to sob!
I am not exactly sure of all the details immediately after that news but I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to see her before the funeral home came and got her. Without thinking I said yes. I just wanted to go to her, I knew that for sure.
I knew it for sure the day before too.
A Little back story
My grandma had a stroke a couple of weeks before. Although she had Alzheimer’s and was living in an assisted living facility, she still got up every day made her bed, dressed herself, and walked down to breakfast. One day, staff had noticed that she was still in her pajamas at the table, hair uncombed, unable to form a sentence and not using her right arm. They called an ambulance and took her to the emergency room.
When I got the call of what had happened, I rushed over. A million thoughts were rushing through my mind and I was scared.
I wasn’t sure what I would be walking into once I got to the ER. As soon as I turned the corner into her triage room, some of my worries subsided. There was grandma sitting up, tough as nails like always, wondering herself what had happened, and even laughing at herself when her speech didn’t come out right.
Okay………. she would be okay and it will be something else she will bounce back from.
The hospital stay
The next 2 weeks of her staying in the hospital were like a rollercoaster. She was okay and getting better then, she wasn’t. Some days she couldn’t stand at all, other days she couldn’t even swallow pureed food. Sometimes she had to have a patient sitter because she was all over the place and you would walk into her room and she was sitting in a chair watching tv. Other days she couldn’t stay awake.
She was fighting because that is all she has ever known to do. Her body was fighting. Some days she was winning and some days she was losing. Some days I would get there and she would look at my son and tell him how handsome he was, just like she always did. Other times she never knew we were there. It was the longest 2 weeks ever.
The confusing part was you never knew from day to day what you were going to get. Looking back though, that’s kind of always been grandma’s way. Her personality was that way too.
One day, in particular, my mom told me she was pretty unresponsive so I rushed over, stood over her bed and said “grandma” she popped her eyes open and said “WHAT”, just like she always did so many times before when us grandkids would bug her. She then wanted me to sit her up and said she was hungry so I spoon-fed her some Ensure and she seemed perky after that.
Sometimes she would speak sentences clear as day and other days she would just keep nodding yes to everything asked of her but not complying.
Besides the issues from the stroke, her platelet count bottomed out. Blood transfusions, IV’s pumping her full of antibiotics, spinal taps and MRIs, they were taking care of her. Making sure they got to the bottom of what was going on.
The transfusions didn’t seem to help her platelet count, and she bruised with the lightest touch, which meant she couldn’t be poked and prodded anymore. It got to a point where they felt there was nothing else, they could do at the hospital and we needed to find a nursing home for her to move into. Since she was no longer able to use the right side of her body, she couldn’t return to the assisted living facility she was in.
The hospital told my mom they didn’t think she would make it past 6 months with everything she had going on. Still, I guess I didn’t really understand the implications of all this, especially since her condition fluctuated so much in those 2 weeks. Maybe I was in denial. I just remember trying to be so positive about the whole situation.
I kept rolling around in my mind all these thoughts. “If she is so fragile now, how can transferring her to a new place with a new staff be a good thing?” A nursing home is definitely no hospital! She has to have lots of undivided care and attention.
The Visit I Will Never Forget
The nursing home was a 45-minute trip away from home for me. On the night of her arrival by ambulance to the nursing home I loaded up the kids and went down there. I put my baby girl in her stroller and walked in with my teenager beside me.
The smell when we walked in was hideous! I have always been uneasy in nursing homes and this place was a far cry from the luxury of the assisted living center grandma was living at before. I hated being there and hated that she was there, we all did, yet there was no alternative.
I rounded the corner and saw my very sleepy, fragile grandma laying in a bed 2 inches of the floor. We walked into her room and she opened her eyes and said “WELL” with a surprised look on her face. I rolled the stroller up in front of her and she played peek a boo with the baby and attempted to talk to her, but her words were jumbled.
I joked around with her about her fancy ride down there in the ambulance and she smiled and nodded. The transfer had her pretty tired so we didn’t stay long. I told her I would be back to see her and left.
I was able to head back down to the nursing home a couple of days later. I saw my teen off to school and packed up the baby and made the trip back down to the nursing home. Nervous to be going by myself and not having any reports on how she had been doing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was also praying the baby would be good long enough for me to visit.
Again, with the smell, and the uneasy feeling. My whole life I have avoided nursing homes to the best of my ability but this time it wasn’t an option. I walked in and rounded the corner to go into her room but she wasn’t there. I walked to the desk to inquire on her whereabouts and a staff member pointed behind me and said she is over there.
I scanned the room, looking for my beautifully, wavy, white-headed grandma. There was a lot going on. Several of the residents were decorating a Christmas tree, some were watching the Price Is Right on a blaring tv, Parakeets were chirping, so much movement and hustle and bustle, I just remember it seemed so noisy.
I Didn’t See Her.
I turned to the worker again and asked where. She pointed and said, “right there in that chair.” I turned to look again and was shocked at my discovery.
The first time I had scanned the room I saw a shell of a person that looked thrown into a chair with limbs dangling head back and mouth wide open but dismissed that image immediately as that image didn’t fit the description of my grandma at all.
My heart pounded hard! Tears came to my eyes and I froze! My instinct was that I was in over my head. In that split second, a billion thoughts were racing through my mind. Normally this is a situation that I know I cannot handle. My anxiety was going through the roof. I knew that with seeing that image of her and whatever would happen next, I would never be the same. I wanted to run! It was too painful to see her like that. This is EXACTLY what I was afraid of! That her stability would immediately go downhill being moved to a nursing home.
Somehow, even though I felt paralyzed with fear I made myself go over to her because this is my grandma. And she is over there wedged between a Parakeet cage and a blaring tv, while everyone rushes around the room decorating and chatting. She is alone, and she looks in pain.
I’ll Never Be The Same
I was desperate to put the fear aside and go do what needs to be done. Shutting down a huge part of me, in an out of body experience, I rushed over to my grandma. Trying my best to switch into a different mode of caretaking and not let the emotional shock of what was happening take over me. Praying for the strength to know what to do. To be able to be her advocate at that moment because she couldn’t advocate for herself.
Upon getting closer I can see that her arm is bleeding through her bandage and onto the pillow that is supposed to be propping up her arm. Her arm still black from the bruising when they blew a vein in the hospital and her blood not being able to clot. Her mouth looked like sandpaper, so dry she could barely speak. She cried out in pain and would sling her one arm and leg around. Grandma was always about modesty but that day she was unaware that her gown wasn’t even covering her completely.
My wide-eyed one-year-old was as still as she could be. I turned her to face the tv and somehow by the grace of God she sat there in her stroller for over an hour not making one peep watching all activities that were going on while I dripped water from a straw into grandma’s parched mouth.
Grandma was making the kind of sounds and movement to implicate that she was uncomfortable somewhere. I would ask her questions in an attempt to understand what needed to be done but her sentences were unintelligible. Her furrowed brow and whimpering were a clear plea that she was done. Done with the pain, done with the hopeless feeling of not being able to express herself, done with the noise, the neglect, done with the confusion and the atmosphere.
I scanned the room over and over again desperately trying to get a worker to come over to her. To let them know that this is not right. She shouldn’t be out here, she shouldn’t be bleeding through bandages, she shouldn’t smell like she did indicating she needed to be changed, thrown into a chair like she was. My brain told me that this is a dying woman. Even though I had never experienced someone close to death, looking at her, I knew without a doubt that my grandma was closer to death at that moment than life. Closer to that side of heaven than this side of Earth.
I finally got a nurse’s aide to come over and change her bandages and reposition her while she moaned in pain and I pleaded for her to be able to go back into her room. They explained that she was out there since breakfast and they were going to keep her out there until lunch since it is a big deal to move her and they have to use a lift and it seems to hurt her.
How could they not see what was happening?
I understand that working in an environment like that, that death is part of an everyday factor for them. It is a job and they get immune. They are unattached and resilient. I, however, was not! I knew that this was not right for my grandma.
I finally got the attention of the head nurse to come over. I pleaded my case to her for my grandma to be able to have what little dignity was left and let her go to her room. The nurse admitted that it was more important to get her to her room than worry about her eating since she isn’t interested anyway and her comfort seemed more of a priority.
In the meantime, I was frantically texting my cousin who is a nurse and worked nearby. She knew some of the staff at that nursing home and agreed to come over on her lunch break to “find out what the hell was going on.”
When she arrived, they had grandma back in her bed and were getting her cleaned up. My cousin informed me that grandma’s behavior and condition had drastically gotten worse since she visited her the day before.
We talked with the head nurse, who agreed that we should start getting a plan of action. My mom whom was the power of attorney needed to be contacted about getting grandma on something for pain. The nurse expressed that she didn’t feel like it was critical to bother my mom at work that day and that nothing would be happening to grandma anytime soon. In the meantime, she would go ahead and give her Hydrocodone and that would help until there was a mutual decision by the doctor, my mom, and uncles for her to be put on Morphine.
My baby girl, I knew, could sense something because she had never been so still and quiet, not expressing one single need the entire time we were there. I knew I had to leave and get her lunch.
I leaned down and told my grandma that I had to go. She opened her eyes and I distinctly remember how radiantly blue and clear they looked, which seemed odd to me because they are usually a grayish-green. I didn’t dwell on it and just assumed maybe it is because she didn’t have her glasses on.
I repeated again that we had to go because I had the baby with me and she needed to eat. I told her I would see her later and that I loved her, with little reaction back from grandma.
I walked out of the nursing home feeling like I was floating. I was no longer nervous or scared but more like in a huge fog trying to process everything. I struggled to stay focused to get out a diaper and change the baby. Instead of turning to go home, I turned and went into the city, not realizing that I was driving around aimlessly for several minutes, completely forgetting about where I was going and what I was doing.
When I got home, I was alone with both the kids since their dad worked nights. I didn’t know if I should call my mom or not. I wasn’t sure I could go through it all again, recapping the day, telling her grandma’s detrimental condition, the sight that I witnessed that day.
I knew the nurse would call my mom at some point and maybe I would just leave it at that. Besides, I was mad! I was angry that my grandma’s own children couldn’t handle this. Just as I had come to the decision to not call my mom, she called me.
I told her how bad grandma’s condition was. She was surprised I think in a lot of ways of how fast things had changed. I told her to go see her. I’m not sure if she sensed my urgency or chose to heed what I told her to keep her distance, in an attempt to protect herself. I told her the nurse would be calling her for everybody to get on the same page about grandma’s care and I left it at that.
Something Doesn’t Feel Right
I went on through my evening and tried to distract myself with the kids, all while having an intense and unexplainable feeling that I needed to go back. Grandma should absolutely not be alone. It was a completely odd sensation that I couldn’t understand myself. After what I had experienced that day, in many ways I was glad the day was almost over. But there was this other part of me that kept saying I should be there, I should go now, it is the right thing to do. I wrestled with thoughts and feelings all night. I ran through the options in my head several times that evening. Maybe someone could come to sit with the kids while they sleep and I could go back. Knowing I didn’t really have any options I told myself despite how uncomfortable it is to not be able to do anything at that moment, I would just go back in the morning.
Without an answer or solution for the night, I took myself to bed and prayed for a long time. I prayed for grandma’s comfort. I prayed that I hoped she knew she was loved even if she was alone. I knew that her condition wouldn’t get better and I prayed also that she wouldn’t suffer in pain for an extended period of time. I prayed for God’s will whatever it may be but I know God is in the miracle business and I hoped that tomorrow would be a better day for grandma in whatever way it could. After all, the nurse didn’t seem to think that anything would happen anytime soon and they see these conditions every day.
Her 81st birthday was the following Monday and I made plans in my head. I thought of how I would go down on her birthday and bring some of her favorite Christmas music to listen to, knowing that is one of the few things she would be able to partake in and enjoy; for her to have a good memory towards what imminently seemed to be her final chapter. I took what comfort I could from this plan and I drifted off to sleep. Little did I know that in just a few short hours after that my life would forever be changed and I would have to learn to become accustomed to a life without my grandma. A part of me, as well as an entire time era she would be taking with her.
No matter how old a person is, you are never ever ever ready for them to die. It didn’t matter that she had Alzheimer’s for the past 5 years and we had lost pieces of her every day, that we had been gradually saying goodbye since her diagnosis. Suddenly her passing seemed so incredibly fast! I wasn’t ready! None of that mattered. At that moment, you are overcome with the realization of the finality of that person.
I Wasn’t Prepared
I threw on clothes, heart pounding, and out into the cold I went, greeting my mom in the driveway we embraced in a long hug and wept. I got into the car with her and my step-dad and we started on our way to the nursing home. We met my uncle and his wife, as well as my cousin that was there the day before, and decided to all go in together.
I guess I just wanted to see my grandma at peace, especially after how uncomfortable she was the day before. I had an image in my head of her looking serene, peaceful and comfortable. I needed that peace. I wanted to tell her goodbye.
When I walked into the room, I got anything but peace. I realized at that moment how naive I was to death. I instantly felt like my mentality was transferred to that of a 5-year-old. I wished I had never gone in there. I didn’t feel prepared or old enough to see what I saw; real, natural, uncensored, unaltered death. This was not the image you see at funerals, and I was too inexperienced to know that there was a difference, but there definitely was! Very few times had I ever saw my grandma without her teeth, that was enough right there to be mildly devastating, she didn’t look like my grandma. Honestly, the image hadn’t changed much from the day before. It as if death hits you like a tsunami. Ravished and unkempt, stealing every piece of life away from your body, looking as though there was a fight whether there was or not. Death can be so harsh and there is no dignity in dying. Along with the thought of her being without a familiar voice, face, or hand to hold in that final moment was unbearable, and always will be.
The Realization That It’s All Over
But there, in the midst of the trauma was that beautiful rippled white hair or hers, looking as shiny, lifelike, and angelic as it always did. At that moment I realized, it is done. She did her time on this Earth, lots of time. All the struggles of life were done. She paid her dues, she fought, struggled, managed, got by and survived more times than I can count while she was alive. She made her memories, left her impact, passed down her wisdom and took care of everything that ever needed taken care of. It was over. An entire life was over and everything that encompassed it and that’s just the way it was. That is the way it has always been intended to be, and there was nothing more I could do about it other than be extremely grateful that I got to be a part of it, a part of her and her………a part of me.