Thursday, April 08, 2010

Grandma's death – the (mostly) sad part

I was fortunate enough to be able to fly to Denver two days after Grandma's collapse. She had been moved to a wonderful hospice facility, and (most of) her children, Jessie, and myself were gathered around her.

She never regained consciousness after being taken to the hospital by ambulance. She did not look like herself at all, and it was hard to see her like that.

My aunt Linda had this photo enlarged and framed for Grandma's room, so that the hospice staff would not think she was "just some old lady in a bed" (Denise's words). This picture was taken 3 days before her stroke, on March 26th. Her last cake was a German chocolate for Denise's birthday. Such colossal height! We all agreed it was a good end to a very good run of cakes.

The staff had mistakenly spelled Grandma's name as "Charolette." Denise was quick to rectify the situation.

Grandpa was so tender to his beautiful wife of 66 years. It about broke my heart every time I saw him cry.

Lee's wife Linda is a natural caregiver. She just seems to always know what to do. She rubbed Grandma's feet with lotion, and cared for her (and us) in so many ways. I don't know anyone could have a better daughter-in-law.

She also assembled this basket of snacks for all of us camped out at the hospice. The Cadbury eggs seriously tempted my no-candy until Easter rule, but I'm proud to say I managed to resist.

My aunt Patti spent the whole day on Wednesday calling homeless shelters, trying to find my aunt Karen. No one knew how to get in touch with her, and I could not imagine the heartbreak of discovering that your mother died after the fact. Fortunately, Patti was successful, and Karen was able to meet us at the hospice on Thursday.

Amidst the sadness and grief, there were also moments of hilarity (largely thanks to my uncle Lee). It was a welcome reprieve.

At one point, the hospice chaplain came in to talk to us. After he left, Lee very matter-of-factly said, "Priestcraft." We all collapsed in a fit of giggles.

This sweet girl volunteers at the hospice every Wednesday, playing harp for the patients and their families. She came right in front of our door and played for about half an hour, and it was beautiful and soothing.

There was much hand-holding and caressing of Grandma's arms and head.

And Senor Burrito runs.

And tears, so many tears.

During most of Wednesday and Thursday, there wasn't much change in Grandma's condition. My mom, Jessie and I stayed overnight on Wednesday to keep watch. It was so hard to see her body struggling to stay alive, when we knew that she no longer had any brain function. We all prayed fervently that she would be able to pass quickly.

On Thursday evening, Mom and Denise took Grandpa home to feed the dog and take a short break. During their absence, Grandma's breathing changed dramatically, and we soon realized that the end was probably in sight. Lee called to tell them to come back quickly, and just then they all walked in the door.

She took her last breaths within minutes of their arrival. It was such a tender mercy that they returned in time, and that we were all able to gather around Grandma as her work on earth was finally finished.

We all looked on as Grandpa affirmed his love and murmured his sweet goodbyes. At long last, he said, "See you later..." and a few seconds later, "alligator." This brought us all back to laughter again.

I just keep feeling that it was an honor to be present for this tender occasion.

I am so grateful for this facility, and for the amazing people who work there. When someone you love so dearly requires care, you so appreciate gentle and tender caregivers. We had some lovely conversations with the nurses, and on the day of Grandma's passing, her main nurse was a friend of Denise's from high school! It was truly a peaceful, supportive place, where the staff cared for the family members as much as they did Grandma.

I cannot describe the relief that we felt when her struggle was over. My stomach had been in knots for days, and finally I felt like I could take a deep breath. The day of Grandma's passing (April 1st) was also Patti's birthday. We all went back to Denise's and enjoyed a dinner prepared by dear Miranda.

All of the children with sweet Grandpa: Lee, Patricia, Grandpa, Karen, Denise, and my mother Susan.

On Friday, we slept in. After two nights of only getting two hours of sleep, it was delicious.

Then we started the funeral preparations. I made rolls and cakes, while the others worked on flowers and casket selection. It felt good to be doing something productive.

Beautiful flowers and foods of all kinds were delivered by friends and neighbors.

My dad and my brother Ryan arrived. I love this picture of Ryan hugging Grandpa.

Charlotte and Emily arrived. Every time someone new came on the scene, it made me cry all over again. I love this picture of the girls supporting their mother.

On Saturday, Denise, Mom, Linda, Jessie and I had the opportunity to dress Grandma's body for burial. Linda offered a lovely prayer. Denise applied her makeup, just like she did every Sunday before church. It was a sweet time and wonderful to see Grandma looking like her beautiful self once again.

On Sunday we had a family viewing. (Grandma was adamant about not having a public viewing.) Many tears, once again.

But we did have a laugh over the spring-loaded hidden spy drawer in the casket, where loved ones can place secret objects and messages. (We didn't.)

More on the funeral to come.


paws said...

So poignant.

charlotte said...

I love this post. Thank you so much for taking the photos this weekend; the way you capture the emotion and love is beautiful. Thank you.

Kelly said...

Oh, Michelle, this post made me cry. It was just so tender. I'm glad you had the presence of mind to take photos because you really captured such love and tenderness. It was beautiful.

Amy said...

I appreciated this glimpse into such private and personal moments. So tender. So beautiful. It truly touched me.

Natasha said...

I love that your aunt thought to put a picture of her in the room. And how lucky you all were to find an inpatient hospice! There are none around here that are inpatient like that.

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

I want to repeat every sentiment that has been posted here Michelle. What a sweet, touching, poignant tribute. Thank you for letting me share this with you and your family. Thank you. And sweet condolences.

amyhanks said...

I have been thinking about you a lot lately. I'm just so glad that you were able to be there for her passing and everything that came after. The support of family is so important during hard times like these.

Jill said...

I spent all of last week imagining your family there surrounding your grandma and loving her like this, so to see these pictures just completely undid me, especially the one of your mom and Denise at her bedside. What a glorious way for her to leave this earth. I get emotional just thinking about all of you there together like this. What a blessing.

emily said...

Thank you for you posting and your photos. They express so much about that weekend. It means so much for me to be able to relive those moments.

Liz said...

I'm so sorry about your Grandma. What a tender time you all had together with her until the end.

patsy said...

What a beautiful post.
I feel priveledged to be a reader here. Thank you for sharing your wonderful family. It has truly touched me.

{natalie} said...

i loved the last photo of your grandma with the cake. i hope to one day have a legacy as great as hers. she seems like a wonderful woman and i am glad you were able to be there for her.

Melinda said...

You captured this experience so perfectly and wrote about it so beautifully. I am in tears reading this. I am so glad you were able to be there and hope you get the rest you need. Crying is absolutely exhausting.

melanie said...

What an amazing post for such an elect lady. You captured your time surrounded by family perfectly. I love your photos and the one bedside, did me in. So raw and tender.

crystal said...

What a wonderful mother your grandma must have been; I can see it so clearly in that picture of your mother and Denise at her bedside. Your sweet post shows her legacy of a loving family.

I think you must have had a week full to the brim of life's emotions.

I hope you are well and processing through your emotions alright.

jenn said...

sweet Michelle.

Thank you for sharing these tender moments. I feel so awed by the strength of your grandmother's love and her power as a mother when I see her children and grandchildren, in-laws and friends come together in your beautiful photos. Charlotte was a mighty woman and I am so happy you were able to be there for this special time.

I hope your trip filled the hole in you with joy and gratitude.

Now- get some rest.

Denise said...

Thank you for posting this beautiful recap of our time together. It was bittersweet indeed, and you are so right--crying and the whole emotional component is SO exhausting! I'm so glad you took photos throughout the week. It's such a comfort to me to relive the week through the lens of your camera.

Price Cream Parlor said...

What a beautiful post. I am in awe of your presence of mind to take such stunning photos. You captured the intense love of your family - what a beautiful tribute to your grandparents.
Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts and feelings. I was weepy thinking how fortunate you were to be there til the end.
I am so sorry for this loss for you and your family. What an amazing mark this wonderful woman left for generations.
It is wonderful to gather and share tears, comfort and laughter. . all in the name of love.

Barb said...

Well, it is terribly sad. I'm going to remember the picture-of-the-patient in the room if (when?) someone I care about is in that situation.

Susan said...

I am so grateful to know that only this lifetime limits more visits with my dear mother. If one did not know this for asureity, how could you survive the death of your mother? One of my clients told me today, "You can find a new husband, you can find a new boss, you can find a new friend. But you cannot find a new mother".

She is my hero. I will live so as to live with her again. I love you sweet mother.

Thank you for the tender and perfect capturing of the week's emotions.

rebekah said...

I cried so hard looking at these photos, and lost it again reading your mother's comment on this post.

I can't imagine being loved as much as your sweet grandmother was, or being surrounded by such an amazing posterity. If I could have a portion of that in this life I would be so happy.

Life is so beautiful, and the best is yet to be.

amyfm said...

Michelle this breaks my heart and the photo of your grandpa holding his wife is just too much. So so sweet.

Again, so sorry for your loss.

Miranda said...

Michelle, I haven't stopped thinking about these photos since the day you posted them. So poignant and beautiful. You and your family will be so thankful to have these mementos. The represent the dignity, love, and spirit that surrounded Charlotte her whole life.

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