My grandmother has never been a picture of health, especially over the past decade. There have been many days that looked to be her last, but she has always pulled through. When she went to into the hospital with abdominal pains this past Monday, I’m not sure why any of us thought this time would be any different. Her blood pressure dropped dangerously low on Wednesday, but the doctors continued administering pain medication and scheduled a number of tests for Wednesday. Still, for some reason we thought we should make the 90-minute trip to see her.
My mother, my wife, my son, and I piled into the car Wednesday night and drove to the hospital where my grandmother (I call her Nana, pronounced NAH-nuh) was staying, where my grandfather and aunt had been staying with her all day long. When we arrived and were allowed to enter the room—she was in a non-contagious unit, so Tater was allowed in—she was barely conscious. Tubes penetrated her arms, and some sort of medical contraption made its way into her body through her nose.
We spoke to her. She opened her eyes to see her nine-month-old great grandson smiling at her, and she smiled in return. She drifted back to sleep as nurses entered the room to perform a cryptically named and apparently grotesque-looking procedure, so we had to wait in the hall for about an hour. During that time, Grandad played with Tater. They both smiled and laughed and had a grand time. When we were finally allowed back into the room, Mrs. Happy, Tater, and I got to spend about fifteen minutes with her. She fought sleep so she could talk to us. She asked about specific issues in our lives and held my hand as I stood beside her bed. She was still in a great deal of pain, so we kissed her and left her to a blissful combination of sleep and morphine.
Wednesday morning, we received a phone call from my aunt saying that Nana had died during the night. By all accounts, she went peacefully and without pain, never having lost her wits. She had apparently been watching The History Channel when she passed (it was playing on her TV when we arrived at the hospital that morning, though out of respect I will refrain from any snarky comments about that).
There’s always a void in your life after the death of someone you love; the unique part of you that surfaced only in that person’s presence dies with them. There is grief, confusion, fear, hope and, when you believe in Heaven, joy. Family comes together in ways they never would otherwise, and sometimes relatives reconnect or forge new connections in the process. For my part, I’m thankful to God that I was able to see Nana and say good-bye before she died. I’m glad Tater got to see her and bring her a measure of happiness in her last hours. I’m happy she was able to know about another little one we’re expecting in February (more on that later), and that it made her smile as well. One of my fondest memories of Nana will always be how from her hospital bed she lifted a shaky hand to point at my pregnant wife and with supreme effort whisper, “How is she feeling?”
Nana and Grandad were married for 59 years. Grandad handled the affair with bravery, grace, and good humor, though it was obvious to everyone how hard he took his bride’s passing. Toward the end, she was elderly, feeble, and sometimes cranky, but I’m sure he didn’t see that. He saw the young girl he married within a year of returning from war. I love the fact that in a time when many people see marriage as expendable, my Grandad will tell anyone that he spent 59 years living with his best friend, and that he doesn’t regret one second. I can certainly identify with that.