“I’d been to funerals and been to wakes, I’d seen bodies displayed in caskets, but never just in a bed in the house you grew up in.”
This is David describing his grandmother and her death.
She had this huge cedar tree in her front yard. I just loved climbing it…always trying to get to the top, you know which is completely impossible. The branches get so small. She was always joyful and never really saw her upset that often. She was a really strong woman. [She] Raised eight kids or nine kids pretty much on her own.
My entire life my grandma had a job. She worked at this place called Hotel Pawnee which was a really really old hotel. I think it was one of the oldest buildings in my home town. I think it might have been the tallest building in my home town. There was maybe 8 floors or 9 floors.
You know my dad’s a single dad. He’s been working at the railroad. He’s been an engineer on the railroad for as long as I can remember. My biological mom had told my dad, and this was before she skipped town, she said, “I don’t care what the judge says. I’m taking my daughter and you can have your son.” But in that case, I was always going over to my grandmother’s. As I got older, I would ride my bike across town and there was a municipal pool right across the alley from her house and a big public park so, you know, I’d go spend the day at my grandma’s. [I’d] go to the pool and then come over and hang out with her more and help her in her garden.
I always looked up to my grandma. So of course, she started getting sick. For a while she didn’t want to leave her house. She was like, “This is my home. I want to stay here. I don’t want to go anywhere else,” and so my dad and his brothers, and sometimes myself…I would have to go over there with my parents sometimes and stay the night, take care of her, cook her dinner…whatever.
But then after a while she started getting really bad. I think my mom quit her job actually to take care of my grandmother. That was the decision that was made. She was gonna move into our house, and we would facilitate her in whatever way we could. We moved her into that room, rented a hospital bed to put in there, and my parents went as far as even getting lazy boy that had an electronic remote on it that you could have it go all the way back. [it] would [also] come all the way forward and kinda pick up to actually help her stand up. None of us were allowed to sit in it. It was grandma’s chair.
I was, at the time, [the] oldest in the house. I guess I have always kind of been…I don’t know…they have always looked at me as the responsible one too so there was just no question: I was there to help whenever they needed it.
One particular time I had to go help my mom take her to the bathroom. It was the middle of the night. At that point she was on morphine drip so she wasn’t fully mentally there. That was kind of when the whole reality of it all crashed down on me. I don’t know why it was that particular night. But we are helping her out of her and I started balling. She looks up at me and says, “It’s ok Robert, don’t cry.”
I have an uncle Robert so I am guessing that to her I looked like him and hearing her say that, of course I got even more emotional. That was one of the hardest moments of the entire ordeal for me because when she looked at me, she had a smile on her face. She didn’t seem like she was hurting at all. Just in the way that she said it. It was so compassionate, but it was really hard not to get emotional about it.
She never quit working. She was a very independent, “I’m going to do this on my own” and all that. But seeing her at the point where she couldn’t, and [she] was completely dependent on my parents and myself.
She had this spell where she was pretty bad, but her birthday was coming up—the last birthday she celebrated. It was done at the Hotel Pawnee where she had worked for 40 years or something insane like that. They had set up this whole big party for her. And before the day of that birthday, she was really bad, and my parents were all the time worried ‘cuz they [had] invited so many people that had known her throughout her life and anyone that they could get a hold of. So they were very concerned. But, the day of her birthday, the day of the party, it was a complete 360—she was kind of back to her old self. But it was only for that one day. It was like her final, second wind in life. I think she was in a wheelchair the whole time we were there, but she was laughing and talking to everyone, eating cake. We hadn’t really seen her eat much of anything.
I guess I was kind of confused on that day just by the way she was acting. Again, looking at it more now, it’s like maybe she knew that this was going to be [her] final birthday was a just a trooper, and regardless, had a good time.
There was a full-sized door mirror on the closet door. There were times where she wanted the bed elevated so she could see the mirror. She said it was because there was a little girl coming and talking to her…there was a little girl in the mirror. It was kind of chilling to even think about. My grandma was looking at the mirror and smiling and, as best she could, lift[ing] her hand up. My mom asked her, “What are you looking at Lucile?” and she said she was looking at the angels. And my mom told her “good” and to take comfort in that, or something along those lines because she knew that she was suffering. She left the room because I think she was making tea and the kettle was starting to squeal so she ran to the kitchen. And she felt this random wind coming through the house, and she went back and [my grandma] had passed.
Then the whole funeral…that was the most heartbreaking funeral I had been to. I couldn’t really see her as the same person wasting away in this chair. So for the past maybe month or two that she was alive, I didn’t really talk to her as much as I probably should have. So all of the weight of that really really got to me, especially at the funeral. I felt guilty for not being there for her as much as she was for me…especially on her deathbed basically. That was the time she was in the most need. But I didn’t really know how to handle it of course. I guess I have trouble dealing with the feelings I have for close family members. I love both of my parents, but it’s actually hard for me to look at them and tell them that.
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Losing Something by Jody Stephens is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.