My grandmother finally drew her last breath tonight. I wrote this post back in March when she initially went into the hospital. I read it again tonight and thought it was a good tribute so I'm reposting it.
I am happy she is at peace.
On Love and Dying...
Whenever I call my paternal grandmother, otherwise known as "Mema", I ask how she's doing. Her response is always the same:
"Oh pretty good for an old woman."
Mema turned 95 years old back in December. I grew up hearing her stories of the Great Depression. She took my sister and I to Hawaii when we were 9 and 6 years old. She and Papa lived three doors down from us our entire childhood lives. We practically lived at their house as much as we lived at ours. When I would spend the night with them and Papa was out of town, I'd sleep in Mema's bed and she'd hold my hand all night.
These thoughts came to me as I sat in a chair next to her hospital bed on Friday night. I reached under the covers, careful not to disturb all of the wires attached to her frail body, and held her hand too. She stirred in her heavily sedated sleep but her hand held mine tightly. I wondered if she felt the same sense of comfort that I felt as a child, clutching her hand all night long.
Mema smoked for 60 years of her life. She finally stopped smoking 20 years ago but was soon stricken with emphysema. This left her completely dependent on oxygen. When we would visit her and Papa, we could always track her down in the house by following the tiny tube from the oxygen machine to where it attached under her nostrils.
A few weeks ago, she began acting strangely.
After further examination, it was determined that something had occurred in her breathing and she was actually inhaling carbon monoxide.
Now she's strapped down in a hospital bed with a tracheotomy tube cut into her throat and a machine doing the breathing for her. If the machine wasn't doing the work, she would die.
Papa cannot bear it.
He sits in his chair at the house and stares at the clock in silence. He is awaiting the next visiting hour so that he can sit at her bedside and act as if everything is ok. He jokes with her, saying he wants her to come home and start an argument with him. He tells her to give him "sugar" and that he wants to make love to her. She grimaces, much like she would do even if she wasn't hooked up to one hundred machines. He loves to talk sexy with her and if she could, she would tell him to "shut the hell up."
They love each other.
"Look at this," Papa said as he handed me an article in the paper. It was an advice column from Billy Graham. A man had written in wondering why he survived his days at war. Billy Graham's advice to the man was to thank God that his life was spared.
"I've been having visions of your dad... and feeling so light, like I'm in heaven and there are no pains in my body. I thought for sure I was going to die first. I guess I'm supposed to take care of Mema. That's why I'm still alive. God is the only one who knows.... I keep telling her to come home so that we can both go at the same time..."
I had to leave the room. The tears welled up in my eyes and I didn't want him to see me upset. I am his oldest grandchild. I am the "strong" one. I am the one who makes sure all is ok.
Papa has thus far survived the war and 92 years on this earth.
Mema has survived septic poisoning, smoking for 60 years and inhaling carbon monoxide... don't most people die of those things? Heck, if she would have never smoked, she'd probably live to see 120 years!!
That is pretty damn good for an old woman!
This July is Mema and Papa's 70th wedding anniversary. I'm not sure that she will make it. And if she doesn't make it, I'm not sure he'll last much longer either.
Its not even her that I'm truly worried about. Her face lit up into a smile when she saw me. But she's also seeing others in the room, much like Dad did when he was dying. Who knows... maybe she even sees Dad.
I love my Mema and Papa and how they love each other. We could all be so lucky to experience a love like that.
A love that even death cannot divide.