I have always been close to my paternal grandmother, ever since I was a child. When I was in elementary school, the dementia began to set in. It robbed her of her clarity and, eventually, her dignity. My strong, independent grandmother was moved to an assisted-living facility, because she became unable to take care of herself without help. Despite crippling arthritis and the encroaching memory loss, Grandma held her own from that point on, even if she needed a little bit of help.
The spring of the year in which I was fourteen, my grandmother took a turn for the worse. She contracted an internal infection and landed in the hospital. Her heart was very weak, she struggled to breathe, she was immobile, and she was in unimaginable pain. Her morphine drip was near-constant, and even then, she was unconscious most of the time.
After several weeks, she was moved to hospice care. I played hooky from school to care for her while my parents met with the hospice workers; I shifted her on the hour to prevent bedsores, I rubbed her frail hands to warm them, I kept an eye on the heart monitor, I adjusted the cannula that fed her oxygen when it slipped over her papery skin. At that point, we knew she was dying. It was only a question of when and how we could make her most comfortable in the interim.
She was skeletally thin by this time, and it made her look unbelievably frail. Her skin sheared and tore when she moved too much. At the site of the IV, florid bruises bloomed like wilted flowers. She had stopped eating and drinking the day before and the dehydration was already taking its toll. Ever few minutes, I would wet her lips to keep them from cracking, she was so dry. As hazy as things must have been for her, she knew she what was coming.
The night before I resumed classes, I spent hours in her room, just sitting at her bedside, holding her hand. At some point I started crying. She was unconscious, or so I thought; her state was transient, and you could never be sure of how much she perceived of what happened around her. And as I stroked her forehead, her eyes opened, and she spoke for the first time since I had arrived. Every breath costing her, she begged me not to cry, and that's all she managed before she again lost consciousness. Disregarding entirely the strict policy, I removed my surgical mask, bent to kiss her cheek, and crawled into her bed to hold her. She weighed no more than a child in my arms. And that's when I finally accepted the inevitable.
I left that night with a promise to return after school the next day. I never spoke to her again. The following evening, the phone rang, and I picked it up without thinking first. She was gone. My father had stepped out into the hallway to have a word with the attending and she had slipped away in those few seconds. She was alone when she died. I still wonder if she was aware of this, if she was scared. And I still can't forgive myself for leaving her.
I had a ridiculous homework load that night, but not much was accomplished, needless to say. A few minutes after I had hung up, I sat down at the computer to continue composing my final essay for a class and just lost it. Any shaky grip I'd had on my grief just dissolved. I was a wreck. I cried so long and hard that I felt sick to my stomach. With everything else that was going on in eighth grade, I hadn't eaten in four days. I was fairly certain that the cavern yawning deep in my abdomen was no longer mere hunger. Food couldn't fill that emptiness. Nothing could. I had entirely lost my appetite. I wouldn't eat for another 48 hours. It didn't even register at that point.
The formerly paramount importance of schoolwork seemed laughable now. I had bigger things to worry about. I never did finish that crucial essay. Instead, I stayed up until 3 a.m. composing this before crawling into bed and crying myself to sleep.
This was written several years ago, so I apologize in advance for the fact that it's not my best work. I've matured a lot in my writing since then.
I hadn't thought of this in ages. A dear friend of mine lost her grandmother, with whom she was extremely close, this past weekend. And it felt like losing Grandma all over again. I wanted to post this not only for her but also for anyone else who has been in this situation before.
I want to say this: I know this isn't what you want to hear, but it never really does hurt less, that hole in your life. It never fills in. You just learn to dance around it. And sometimes, you will stumble, and you will slip, and it will snag you and you will fall. But you will climb your way to the surface every time, and the pain will dull, and you will make it through. I promise.
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