Hospice

I spent the last couple of weeks helping to care for my Grandma who’s on hospice in her home. First with my mom, then on my own, and then with my mom for one more night before leaving. She’s still there, my mom, doing a bang up job of caring for her own mother in her final days. I don’t think my mom feels very graceful these days, and I know that sometimes that sacred thing of being with someone who’s crossing over feels anything but holy, more flailing and surreal than anything. But it was special being with these ladies lately, and my momma is a marvel. A sleep-deprived, strung out marvel.

I got back to Brooklyn last night. I said good-bye to my grandma yesterday, don’t think I’m going back until it’s time to organize a memorial service and parse out her things. She is on her way out for reals this time. I noticed a difference in her even being gone for a couple days last week. She was sleeping more of the time when I got back, awake very little, still lucid but talking much more from dream state. Saturday night, she spiked a fever of 103+. She was in pain and shaking like crazy and said “it’s starting.” I gave her morphine and called the nurse and crawled into bed with her and held both her hands in mine. She was shaking so badly she could barely talk, but with the little articulation she could muster, that woman made me laugh. I told Shawn that in time, with more perspective, other memories of all our time together will come to the forefront, and the one that feels favorite will cycle through, but for now, that is it: My grandma making me laugh on the cusp of death. I’ll tell you about it in person if I see you. I’ll tell it a million times. That was our last conversation. She’s been sleeping since Saturday, fading away bit by bit. At first, she’d still give me the slightest nod when I said that she looked peaceful. She murmured a couple of sentences. She opened her eyes and blew a kiss when a very, very old friend came to say good-bye. She swallowed her pain meds without me hovering and coaxing. But it all kind of faded out over the last few days. My mom said that she is a tiny boat out on the ocean now, and no metaphor has ever felt more apt or true.

My mom came back Tuesday. I was supposed to leave that afternoon, but I changed my ticket so we’d overlap by a day and have some time together. It felt weird to leave. I felt so invested in caring for my grandma that it didn’t seem right to leave before she died. But it will probably be easier for her to slip away without me there needing so badly to take care of her. I wished her a peaceful and easy transition. I blubbered all over her. I looked for signs of responsiveness, hunched shoulders and twitching hands showing agitation, and took it to mean that she heard me and was also sad instead of the other option of being due for another dose of meds. I said a tearful good-bye and then saw her eyes cracked open when I left the room, unseeing, hands twitching, and I spoke calmly and clearly like I had for days and coaxed in meds and a dropper of water one last time, smoothed her hair, said good-bye again.

And now I’m back. I don’t understand how the body keeps going. When she fevers, it is almost pure salt now. Mom texted “gramma much the same. peed a bunch in the night. HOW?” and we both wonder where the fluid is coming from. Her vitals are still bizarrely good, but she is very close to gone. She looks peaceful. I took good care of her. My mom and the nurses keep saying that I took really good care of her. The high school friend who came for a heart-wrenching good-bye was so glad that her nails were done and that she was clean and that she looked at peace. Her original hospice nurse who had to go on leave for surgery of her own came to visit the other day, and she said “this is as good as it gets.” My grandma sleeping peacefully, removed from pain, in her own bed, cared for by people who love her.
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It’s as good as it gets. I’m really, really sad. I’m deeply grateful for the experience of caring for her. I feel blessed that her last conversation was with me, under the covers in my Grandma’s bed like so many of my favorite early memories, but listening better, holding both hands.
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