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.
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.

Some Things About My Grandma

I wrote this in June, and never published it. All still relevant, except that my Grandma had a birthday and is now 89.

When my grandma would visit when I was little, I’d crawl into her bed as soon as I woke up, and we would tell each other what we’d dreamed in the night.

No human being alive loves any one food the way that woman loves raspberries. She speaks of them with reverence. She never misses  a meal, does not snack, and has two cookies after dinner.

She taught herself to tap dance for her 80th birthday party. She wanted to learn something new. She wanted to put on a show for her friends. She wanted to make “80 years young” a thing. I heard she rocked it.

Well into her eighties, she took me on a trip to Eastern Europe. We swam off of cliffs in Dubrovnik, she in good leather sandals, which really were the worse for wear afterwards. No regrets on Grandma’s end.

She saves letters — all the letters my mom wrote, and the letters that I have written, letters upon letters from friends and family. She tells me my stack is the highest, and my heart breaks, feeling like I should have sent so many more.

Her father and grandmother were great teetotalers. The first time my Grandma was invited on a date to a bar, she ordered a Tom Collins without batting an eye. Now she likes to order Sex on the Beach. With a wink and a laugh. She thinks it is hysterical, an old lady ordering such a thing.

She danced more at my wedding than anyone there.

There are a million more things about my Grandma, like how, when my older brother was born, she used to go out after dinner and walk as fast as she could to try and escape how much she missed her first grandbaby, or how she worked while my Grandpa was in college, decades before woman breadwinners popped up in headlines, or how she loves me, just fucking loves me, or how she’s a fierce advocate for people with mental illness and their families, or how she does exercise videos taped off PBS 15 years ago, using soup cans as weights in a pinch. Margaret Richards forever. Or the smell of her laundry room, the smell of the garage in her old house, the way the air felt in those bedrooms, sun tea on the back porch, her curly handwriting, the first time I ever had homemade waffles, her silliness, sweet silliness. Little these things floating up.

I realized just today, even though she is 88 years old, that I always thought she’d live forever. She has whitewater-rafted in Utah, gone heli-hiking in Canada, traveled to Thailand, Turkey, China, boated down the Amazon and cruised through Europe. She’s ridden trains, planes, elephants. She’s danced her heart out. She’s kicked my ass at countless card games. So much to celebrate. As soon as I stitch myself up. My Grandma is sick, suddenly really sick, and she is alone, and it hurts like a gaping hole in my chest.