I had a conversation with my sister today that has made me think about death and dying, and saying goodbye. She told me she listens to this song below and it never fails to remind her of our grandmother. So, I’d like to share this video with you, as it has really touched me to my core. The song is Supermarket Flowers, by Ed Sheeran.
Remembering my Grandma and Grandma Helen
My best friend back in Boston is basically a younger sister to me. Her family treated me as one of them, and they were the hardest thing for me to leave behind in Boston. Her grandmother died last week. She was 98. When I heard that she was expected to only live for about a week, it brought me back to the last week of my grandmother’s life. Both of them, I think, made up their minds when they were ready to go. For my grandmother, it was that she had a DNR, and didn’t want to be kept alive on a feeding tube after her major heart attack and stroke.
For Sarita’s grandmother, she refused to take antibiotics again. Sarita told me that lately she had gone from being sick, taking antibiotics and getting better, to needing them again, and it was just a cycle over and over. Sarita thinks she had had enough and was ready to go be with her grandpa. I am very grateful that when Grandma Helen died, it was peaceful and in her sleep. That was best for her and her family. Sarita had lived with her for the past six years. I envy her for that time she was able to spend with her, even if at times, she did drive her crazy. The people we love have a tendency to do that, don’t they? I think I used to surprise Grandma Helen when I would go to hug her before I would leave, but it just felt natural to do it. So, I did.
I know my grandma was ready at the end. I also firmly believe I was not the only presence in the room with her during those last 24 hours. My sister was also there for a good portion of the time, and had my (now 17) nephew with her. My grandma slept a lot for those last few days, but I do remember this moment when my sister put Sean onto my grandmother’s lap. He was just shy of his first birthday at the time.
Sean reached out and touched my grandma’s hand, and she reacted back to him. It’s hard to put into words how I felt, seeing that. It was like something other worldly took place in that exchange. She had been asleep before that. But I remember the look of peace on both of their faces. My nephew, of course, doesn’t remember it, but I do. And I always will. I know how proud my grandma was of him. He was her first great-grandchild. I’m so sad that she was never able to meet Jack and Katie, but something tells me that she knows of them now. I know her heart would burst with pride if she could see how all of them are turning out.
There were moments during those last twenty-four hours when I know she was looking over my head at someone or something. Her eyes were quite focused, and she tried to speak. I knew then and now that she wasn’t talking to me. And that was okay with me then and it is now. I know at the very end, her eyes were focused on me. I know she heard me when I told her that if she needed to go, she should just go. I knew she would be at peace. And I know she understood me, that I was saying she should go be with my grandpa and her family, especially her sister Helen who had died so many years before. (There’s that name again. Helen.)
My dad is in the Boston area now. He’s 81. He’s never taken good care of his body, so he has some liver issues, Parkinson’s, skin cancer issues in the past, and dementia or Alzheimer’s.
I was primarily raised by my mom since I was eight. My parents split. I’m not angry at either of them. It’s just I don’t really feel much toward my dad. He’s not a bad person. We just have never had much of a relationship. I don’t blame him. I don’t blame me. It is what it is.
My older brother Eric has been his primary caretaker for the past few years. He handles his finances and everything. It also takes a toll on my sister-in-law, Judi. Eric emailed all of us with an update on our dad, and it involves him being moved to a long-term care facility. He said he’s lost a lot of weight, and that it has been decided to put him on comfort care. Without him even having to say it, I know what this means. It’s probably not long, although my dad being as stubborn as a mule, he might just surprise us all and live for a lot longer. (Even when my parents were together, doctors were saying if he continued living, eating and smoking as he did, he wouldn’t live another ten years. Well, I’m 45 now, so you do the math. They were clearly wrong.) My brother said he could understand if we didn’t come, but that if we wanted to, this might be a good time.
It’s weird but I don’t feel much when hearing all of this. I’m not sad, or regretful or angry. It just is what it is. Unlike my siblings, I have never really yearned for a relationship with my dad. I’ve never felt like I missed anything, other than when I hear my friends like Sarita talk about their dads.
My dad is not a bad person. He wasn’t perfect then or now, but no one is. I just know that if I will head back to Boston at some point, it will be when he’s gone. And I will go because of my siblings. I know they will need the support.
Maybe a part of me is dead inside, but it’s how I feel. I didn’t say goodbye to my dad, really, when I left Boston 2 1/2 years ago. I figured with his mental acuity diminishing at that time, he might not even realize I was gone. Possibly I tell myself this because it makes me feel less guilty for not having acted like a better daughter in that way. But it’s also in the past and there’s nothing I can do to change that.
Do I fear I will regret not going home now to say goodbye? I don’t think so. Maybe I will get his number at the new facility and give him a call. If I do, I know it will be awkward and strained. Somewhat forced, like in a way, I am talking to a stranger, because even though we are related by blood, we don’t really know each other well, and never really have, when it comes down to it. Again, I’m not assigning blame. Just saying it like it is.
Lily and Stinky
It is hard to explain the pit that I feel in my heart when an animal dies, either in a documentary, or in a story I’ve just read (such as the short story, “Meat,” by C.S. Malerich, in Among Animals, a compilation of short stories published by Ashland Creek Press.) It brings tears to my eyes. I have a tightness in my throat. It compels me to ask “WHY??”
This week, I was mentally drained on two occasions. Stinky was a rottweiler whose owners couldn’t afford to really care for him the way he needed to be cared for. He was four years old and completely blind, from what, we didn’t really know. But he was euthanized. Before his owners made that decision, he and I bonked heads/faces together and I bled a little. That’s not what bothered me, not by a long shot. What bothered me is that his owners didn’t stay with him for the procedure, and that because of his accident with me, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold him and tell him what a good boy he was while the doctors gave him the life-ending injections. So, my boss volunteered to be with him. I was and am so grateful to her for that.
Lily was a gorgeous 11 year old border collie mix. After having gone through a lot of testing, it was found that she had a large mass on her liver. I’m not sure what the care for that would entailed, but her owner decided to have her euthanized. He was very shaken up and couldn’t be with her at the end. So, I told him I would, and I’m super grateful to my co-workers who allowed me the time away from the desk to do so. I held her head in my right hand and with my left kept stroking her incredibly soft long fur and kissed her head on the head a lot and told her what a good girl she was. I told her she might see a little white chihuahua soon and that her name was Osito, and that she could play with her and all of my other babies up at the Rainbow Bridge. As with my grandmother, I saw the light go out of her eyes at the end.
I know Lily had an idea what was happening when I took her back to the treatment area without her dad and removed her collar and leash for him. Whereas before she seemed to be smiling with all the attention she was getting from the nurses as they shaved some fur in order to place the catheter, she seemed much more subdued. She didn’t struggle when I held her and she seemed to just accept it. I was very glad it was quick and peaceful. And I was very glad that the doctor let me hold her in my arms. Because no animal should ever have to die alone, without someone telling them that they are loved. Ever.
Many people say they don’t know that they could do something like that. I think you find out what you are capable of when the situation calls for it. All I know is, I do it because I HAVE to. It’s not part of my job description. I just can’t stomach the idea of them dying without being loved at the same time.
I know this post has been much longer than most of mine are, so I thank you for sticking with me all the way to the end. I needed to put this out there. If you think it can help someone else, please do share it. If you have any thoughts on any of this, please feel free to comment below.