My grandmother passed on Thursday. I thought some of you would want to know, since those who have followed me for years know how much I love her.
I don't want anyone to be afraid or triggered by reading this, so stop reading here if you might. Really. It's okay.
Grandma passed away surrounded by her family. I know that is sometimes said, but it really happened. About a week before she passed, we were told she didn't have much time left. Since we had been told that at least twice before, I admit I didn't think it was the end. She was a fighter, an incredibly stubborn fighter who defied medical reason and logic. She was a fighter in every way, and she was for her entire life. She is stronger than I am, and no matter how sick she became, she was never bitter about life. She loved life more than anyone I know. She loved people more than anyone I know. The nurses would talk to her, tell her about their lives, their problems. She would kiss their hands and at the end, they were crying at her bedside and kissing her face.
The day before she passed, I sat with her for 3 hours, as did my family and my cousins. We took turns sitting next to her, we sang to her together, we read poems and prayers and joined the priest for the annointing of the sick. When he came to the part of the prayer where he said that not only does God show mercy and take souls when they pass, he creates miracles too, and there can be healing. I hung on to this. I held her feet and I hung my head and I whispered for God to show me that miracle, though I know it was selfish. I didn't want her so suffer. If there was a miracle, I didn't want it to be that she would just live, I wanted it to be that she'd be better, and she'd be able to do more and experience more and see everything she was supposed to see.
Towards the end of the night I sat down next to Grandma and told her I was going to go home to get a drink then I would come back. The hospice nursing staff made a cart for the family, with drinks and snacks but I wanted to go home to make some ginger tea and bring it back with me. Grandma was having trouble speaking, but she looked at me and said, "Don't leave, stay, I'll share my ginger ale with you." This was a heartbreaking statement, and kind of a funny one. A few family members chuckled because, that's grandma, to offer to share. But it went deeper than that. About a year after I became ill grandma went to the hospital for the first of what would become many trips. I went to see her, feeling awful, and she asked the nurse to bring her a ginger ale. Grandma then poured it into two separate cups for both of us. There were many shared ginger ales after that one. So I didn't leave. I stayed. I stayed until she was falling asleep, and as she was fading into sleep, I put my face next to hers and said, "I will see you tomorrow." She opened her eyes and said to me, "Do you know I love you? I have always loved you."
And she did. That is what makes her grandma. She loved me my whole life. Not in that whole, I'm your grandma so I love you, but in that, I just love you because I love you. And I felt the same. We all did. Grandma loved me when I was a sick, sensitive little girl who would cry about wanting to save animals and feeling sad for children who were bullied. She loved me when I became ill as an adult. She never saw me differently, it wasn't a factor in the way she saw me, it wasn't how she'd describe me. Through the years we spent a lot of time on the phone, I'd call her and tell her how bad I'd feel about not being able to make it to one family occassion or another. I swear she's the only one who understood how much I wanted to be there and how much I truly couldn't. When I had mono, she'd talk to me on the phone while I tried to eat so I'd be distracted and comforted. I can't believe I will never talk to her again. I think about that all the time.
The day after our three hour visit, we received a phone call that she was near the end. We all rushed there, it was lunch time, and my mom, aunts and uncles, and cousins all made it there. We stood around her bed and kept our hands on her. We played music she loves and talked about childhood memories. We sang and prayed. She was having trouble breathing, the sound of it still echoes in my head. I had to turn away a few times and go into the hallway to take a breath. I wasn't sure if I could do it, I wasn't sure if I could stay. But then I remembered the night before, her asking me not to leave. And I remember all of the times she held me when I was sick-calmly, without caring what body fluids might land on her. I knew I needed to stay for her, I didn't want her to be afraid. If she opened her eyes, I wanted her to see my face, and all of our faces.
Around 1:39 pm on Thursday the 19th of June, Grandma took her last breath. I felt like I was outside of my body. I heard sobs all around me, and I felt tears falling down my face, but I was silent, I just pictured her spirit leaving and joining hands with my Grandpa. The second she passed, "I'll be seeing you", her favorite song, the one we sang with her the night before, came on the CD player, and my cousin and I looked at each other in disbelief. We knew it was from her.
A few minutes after she passed, my family stayed, but I left, I felt a strong pull to leave and go to my car. I drove to grandma's old house, the house she lived in until she went to the senior living apartments. It was the home my mom grew up in, the home I remember from my chidlhood, the home my cousins and I played in and put our hand prints in the concrete stone in the front yard. I stopped in front of the house and saw two sparrow's playing in the sand before the walk way. The first time grandma went into the hospital, I bought two ceramic sparrow birds, and gave one to her, and I kept the other one. Grandma and Grandpa loved birds, and sparrows held a deep symbolism for Grandma and I. I watched them play, and I actually started to laugh while tears came down my face. I wanted to take a picture, but a car came by and they flew away. I looked down to start the car to drive away, but they flew right back and sat on the fence. I swear they looked right at me. I took a picture, and they bounced and played. They flew away chirping happily and I swear, they were my grandparents, together again.
This has changed a lot. Grandma passed surrounded by her family, people sobbing and placing their faces to hers. Nurses were crying in the hallway. Grandma was ill for years, but it didn't matter in the end. What mattered is how she treated people, her kind, compassionate heart, her passion for life, her willingness to help and to listen, and her deep love for all people and animals. I will not remember grandma as someone who was ill, but someone who was alive, so alive, such a light and a fire cracker and a force to be reckoned with.
I have decided, for grandma, and for me, I will no longer classify myself as someone with an autoimmune illness or any other illness. I am someone who loves people, who feels strong empathy for all people and animals, and who at times can be a real fire cracker. My fire has been dulled over the years, both from physical illness and sadness about what it has taken from me, but that is over now. My fire needs to burn, not just for me, but for her. She brought a light to this world that I need to continue to carry. And I will. There is no time to feel bad for myself, or feel afraid, or feel confused or worried. Yes, there is pain. There will be physical pain sometimes and fevers and mystery symptoms and symptoms that might scare others, but there will be other things too. There will be laughter and adventures. I will be a mom and I will name my daughter Lily and she will be spunky like my grandma. I will keep going, because no matter what happened to me, grandma knew I would keep going, she knew I would have my dreams, and now, I need to show her I trusted her word. I need to show her how much I admired her.
At the end of your life, it doesn't matter what your diagnosis is. It doesn't. What matters is how you loved. Just love. Just love people. Show them your heart. Hold hands. Tell people you love them, and forgive their silly shortcomings. And when in doubt, ask what my gram, Lillian would do. The answer would always be, "just love."