My Grandma Annabelle passed away last night. She was 91, almost 92 years old.
I had planned on taking her out to dinner to Anthony's, her favorite restaurant in San Diego, but early yesterday morning she had a "heart event," which due to the fact she was under hospice care, was treated with pain management, as opposed to a full-blown medic ride and hospital stay. At 91 years, a "heart event" is not something you treat and ponder and figure out. At 91, the heart just gets tired.
My dad called me mid-morning to tell me she might not be up to a car trip into town. Dad told me my mom went to visit her and remarked she was extremely tired. Grandma had become extremely fragile the last 6 weeks, and vehicle transportation was a tiring effort for her. Instead of Anthony's, I decided on a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke, which I knew she would love.
When I arrived at her care facility, The Alpine View Lodge Retirement Villa (an awesome place, designed like a house and staffed by excellent, amazing people), she was sitting in her wheelchair watching TV Land. She stubbornly hated the wheelchair. She preferred her walker, but in the last few weeks, even the walker became an effort, as she was losing strength rapidly.
I touched her shoulder and she looked up at me. Her face looked more pale than usual. The shining, almost youthful glow she always had yielded to the graying effects of the quickly approaching clock. She smiled and tried to say hello, but had trouble forming the words. She suffered three strokes over the last two years, so words had become an unwelcome puzzle game for her. Last night, she was clearly having more trouble than usual.
I told her, "Grandma, dad told me you were not feeling well, so I brought you a cheeseburger." Her face lit up. Still, the words, it broke my heart to see her frustration with a simple verbal expression of happiness. I knew the thoughts were perfectly formed in her head, but the strokes had cruelly re-routed the wires into an ugly mosaic.
I pushed her chair to the outdoor patio. Grandma attempted some words, and she could answer yes and no, so our conversation consisted of her expressing an idea, then I would ask her, "Are you talking about xyz?" If she answered, "Yes," then we could continue.
Grandma always loved to hear crazy stories from my job, so I regaled her with the latest and greatest. Last week was especially busy with many intoxicated people wanting to fight with me. She listened, amazed, humored, and proud that her proper, lovely granddaughter was running around in the dead of night scrapping it with big scary guys.
Half of one cheeseburger, fries and one large coke later, Grandma told me she was full, and asked if next time we could split the burger? Of course! We made plans for a cheeseburger combo dinner for next weekend.
I asked Grandma if she wanted to try walking around the grounds with her walker? She answered a solid, "Yes," as she wanted out of that dreaded chair. Sadly though, as I helped her stand, I realized her strength had deteriorated rapidly in the last few days, to the point she could not stand at all. Frustrated, she sat back down in the chair. "No problem grandma," I said, "It's a beautiful evening so I'll wheel you around the outside path."
We meandered along the path that followed through the peaceful serene gardens, and we were treated to the pleasant, high-pitched "wheeee" of the tiny unseen yellow warblers. We watched a tall juniper for a few minutes until the small neon-yellow creatures revealed their gorgeous selves. Yellow warblers have brilliant, bright, wonderfully garish coloring. They are tiny and difficult to spot in thick trees, but patience will reward the onlooker with a view of this gorgeous ornamental sprite.
We finished up the evening and I placed her chair by the living room television, which was tuned into Bonanza, I think. I gave Grandma and hug and kiss, and reminded her of our dinner date for the following week. She beamed and smiled and told me, in the exact words, "I love you sweetheart, you are so beautiful." "I love you too Grandma."
As I started to exit the door I turned around to wave goodbye. She was looking at me and smiling, she waved, "Goodbye sweetheart, I love you." "Goodbye Grandma." I wish I knew, this was her last goodbye.
I drove to my parents house two miles up the road, as they were baby-sitting my darling nephew. As I drove, I thought, I have learned a lot about patience from my Grandma. When nature starts to rob the body of agility and mobility, the small details we usually pass by suddenly take on a more pronounced beauty. A burger on the patio with Grandma became a relaxing dinner in balmy weather. The conversation was not silly, rather careful, attentive, and purposeful; with careful attention paid to the smallest details of her expression of emotion, so that I could decipher the way her brain twisted her verbal communication. A walk through a garden became a gift of seeing shining color and flight.
About 45 minutes after arriving at mom and dad's, later the phone rang. My dad answered and went inside the house. Mom and I stayed outside on the patio talking. Dad spoke in a low voice but somehow the words "What do you mean she is not responding?" rang loud and clear to both of us and we sat up. Dad hung up and we walked inside the house.
Dad said, "That was one of her caregivers, they said she was not responding...I don't know what we should do, we have Jacob..." His voice trailed off. I told my parents to stay home, that I would drive back down to road.
5 minutes later I arrived. I walked down the hallway. Her door was closed. It was always open. Her door was closed. I didn't know if Hospice was inside. "May I go in?" The wonderful caregiver looked at me with soft eyes. "Of course, go ahead."
I gently turned the knob and walked inside. Grandma was sitting in her puffy easy chair with her head turned slightly right her eyes barely open. I knew immediately. She was gone.
The tears came out of me like my eyes were a dam made of tissue paper. I touched her head and kissed her forehead. "Goodbye Grandma," I said, as I gently closed her eyes all the way. She looked like her final moments were spent in a state of happiness and contentment.
I called my parents. Dad answered. "She's gone dad," I said quietly. Several minutes later my mom came over. Crying oh crying oh crying. I hugged mom. "She was happy mom, it's okay, she was happy." Mom bent to her knees and just broke apart.
The staff changed Grandma into her favorite nightgown and robe. They worked gently and efficiently and with the utmost calm and quiet demeanor. The fixed her bed the way she liked it and laid her down in a resting position.
Several minutes later Bobbie, her Hospice worker arrived. Legally, she had to "check" Grandma, and she performed her duties with poise and respect.
A flurry of phone calls ensued. My sister, who was in the middle of intermission at Les Miserables, fell apart. "I'm coming down right now, I'm coming down right now..." The one thin thread of humor in this night was my mom's call to her own mother, my Grandma Chile (a nickname, that story is for another post), who is a little, well, she's different. "What? What happened? How? What? When?" I was sitting there thinking, okay, are you seriously that shocked? Grandma Chile's reaction was so uniquely hers and it made me laugh a little.
Today, I did not go to work. As I went through the goings on of the day (I ran errands so I didn't stare at the walls), I was struck by the fact I had dinner with my Grandma for her last meal in 91 years. I was the last person she said, "I love you" to, and I was the last person to tell her "I love you." I was the last person in our family to see her smile. I don't believe there is a deep meaning in this, and I mention it only because it keeps striking me in the head, so I have to write it down. Perhaps the meaning will reveal itself.
So Grandma, goodbye. I learned from you.
I love you.