My grandmother died yesterday. She was the last of the grandparents to shuffle off this mortal coil.
There is a bit of surrealness to her death. Most of you don’t know this, but this will mark the second time that she has died. The first time Grandma died, Grandpa was still alive but mostly immobile. The family hired nurses to help Grandma with Grandpa’s care. Grandma, in true sit-com fashion, would fire them one after the other. No one was going to take care of Grandpa except her even if it kills her. And it almost did.
One evening, Grandma was in the kitchen and fell and hit her head really badly. I don’t remember how she was found or how she got to the hospital, but I do remember the phone call to gather everyone to her side before she died. We were all expecting the eventual phone call saying Grandpa had died. None of us were expecting this phone call. It was devastating.
All of the local family was able to gather by her side before she died and the neurologist came and explained the situation. There was a lot of internal head trauma from the fall and there wasn’t a lot they could do. All there was left to do is say our goodbyes and disconnect her from the machines that were giving her artificial life. There was lots of crying and comforting and hugs as we attempted to come to terms with this unexpected turn of events.
Then something strange happened. She twitched. I didn’t think much of it when I saw it, but another doctor also noticed it and muttered something under his breath and quickly left. Next thing we know they’re prepping her for surgery. What happened next is a bit of a blur. I remember a waiting room and frayed nerves. Then the neurologist comes in and says that Grandma’s not out of the woods yet, but she’s appeared to be doing ok and it was a miracle that she was alive. He actually used that word, miracle. I chalk it up to plain old Grandma stubbornness. She still had a husband to take care of. What, she’s going to let someone else do that job? Oh, hells no. And while she certainly couldn’t take care of Grandpa by herself anymore, she had many good years of life to live still.
This time around, the family’s psychologically, if not emotionally prepared for it. She hadn’t been doing well for quite a long time. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t this doubt in the back of my mind. That I’ll get a phone call and hear that, once again, she was only mostly dead.
Grandma was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. She had strength when it counted and managed to raise a remarkable family. The one question I wish I could have asked her before she died is, “How did you do it?” I am fairly certain that her answer would be “I just did.” as she shrugs. Her physical presence will be missed, but her absence will not be felt. As the family gathers together for Thanksgiving this year, all I have to do is look around the table and see Grandma in the faces of her children, hear Grandma in the stories that we will tell, taste and smell Grandma’s cooking in the food that will be passed, and feel Grandma in the cries we will share.