When you feel like you have nothing left, dig a little deeper. It’s there.
I’ve been trying to write this blog for a week now. Once again today, it was deleted and started over. Hard to write about the changes happening, in an attempt to process them, when those changes keep coming at a rapid fire pace. Just as soon as things settle for a moment, giving me a breather to reflect, here comes a new change.
On the morning of April 4th, the day after my birthday, I found my grandmother having either suffered a stroke or in the process of having one. I won’t get into the debacle that ensued in getting her immediate care, but credit is due to my now wife for being there and knowing what was happening, due to her nursing background, and advising me of what needed to be done with a much more rational response than I was having to the situation. Long story short, she was assessed and then transported to a local hospital, where our fears of a stroke were confirmed.
What followed over the next several weeks was prescribed rehab at a skilled nursing facility, with regular trips back and forth to the hospital for more treatment as complications arose, including but not limited to a heart attack two weeks after the initial stroke that started it all. Back and forth trips continued until the doctors finally determined that all that could be done, had been done. It was time for hospice care. Mind you, with all this going on, there’s a wedding and honeymoon planned, both of which almost didn’t happen because of the family health matter at hand. At least this made us glad that we didn’t invite anyone to the wedding. Luckily, with the help of some great family friends, we still managed to make it to the alter (arboretum, actually) and then to San Francisco for a few days of enjoyed time together before coming home to deal with a hard new reality.
The hospital bed was there, all set-up and waiting for Grandma to occupy it, as we walked in the door at the conclusion of our trip. The very next day, Grandma arrived as well. My family was complete, as I had wanted so badly, but with a serious asterisk now. The first lesson I learned, or got beat over the head with, was that no matter how prepared you think you are for something like this, hospice care, you’re not truly prepared. Truthfully, my saving grace right off the bat were those extremely helpful friends, so giving of their time, and my new wife, with background working in hospice care. Logistically, the support I needed was all right there.
Emotionally, it became a bigger challenge than I can accurately describe. Seeing my grandmother, who was the most constant thing in my life since birth, the woman that raised me, taught me to cook and shared priceless wisdom acquired through 97 years of a truly lived life, now bedridden and incapacitated, took the wind out of my sails and has yet to allow that wind to return. Mentally, she was there. Physically, she had little left. No longer able to care for herself in any way, an adult now had to be with her at all times, with the mission being to keep her comfortable in her final days, however many of those there may be left. I made a promise to her nearly a decade ago, to never send her away and let her always be at home with me, and now it was time to honor that promise.
It’s been three weeks now since she came home. Three weeks and two days, to be exact. After the first few days, we actually saw improvement in her condition. Regardless, the stress and hard reality of our new home life made me lash out and do what I do so well: self-sabotage my own relationships. My son and wife took the brunt of it all right off the bat, and by some miracle didn’t give me the finger and walk out, although I was encouraging that reaction. My son had his own personal matters going on, having him in his own state of mourning, so dealing with me and mine just made everything worse. As for my wife, I can’t say enough about her patience and grace. I’m a tough one to deal with and she already deserves a medal for it.
The improvement in Grandma’s condition was short-lived. Even shorter-lived was our family privacy, as the news of Grandma’s condition spread far and fast, sending into our home a mass invasion of visitors, including those unannounced and unwelcome. Family would want to come visit and couldn’t because of her ‘friends’ filling the house and overstaying their welcome, frustrating my wife and I, and exhausting Grandma. A sign posted on our door, in English and Spanish, did little to deter. Time to build a wall? Okay, bad attempt at a joke.
I’m giving way too many details of what’s been going on. I guess I’m just super frustrated by it all. At the core of the frustration and anger is fear, fear of losing my grandmother, whom caring for has been my purpose for the better part of a decade. Did she just hang on long enough to see me through to marriage, passing the proverbial torch to my wonderful wife? Is it just time to let her go be with her husband, son and their abundance of dogs waiting for her arrival? Being the selfish prick that I am, I haven’t been letting go without a fight.
Through these past few weeks, even though she’s been stuck in bed, with late night needs of pain medication administration preventing any sort of healthy sleep, she hasn’t been short on stories while awake, recalling everything from nearly a century of life down to the most minute detail. They’re all stories I’ve heard a million times, of course, but they’re new and entertaining to others. Story time is usually my cue to catch-up on chores and bills while someone else gets entertained by embarrassing tales from my childhood, or the usual ‘woe is me’ exaggerations about how she had five heart attacks when it was only one. Basically, when it’s story time, I check out.
There’s no more story time to check out from now. Two days ago, something changed, leaving her confused and barely communicating with any sense verbally, when she’s even awake. The meal count per day is now at zero. The morphine administration frequency is now on a regular schedule, instead of as-needed and requested by Grandma herself. We’ve had a nanny cam in her room, so that she can just call out to us when she needs assistance of any kind, and now those verbal cues have been replaced with random awakenings where she tries to sit-up and get out of bed, confused and unable to make any sense or eye-contact. At 1am this morning, I was literally wrestling her back into her bed for the second or third time since midnight, and had to sleep on the floor in her room to be able to respond quick if she arose again, which she did. Alarm went off every two hours, so that I could check to see if she was in pain and needed more medicine. The darkness under my eyes tells it all today.
Again, I give too many details. See what happens when you read the blog of someone who is using the writing as a means of processing?
The nurse that came last night determined that we are now ‘in transition’. This is the last phase before ‘actively dying’, and either phase lasts for an undetermined amount of time, and comes on generally without warning. The nurse visit followed one from a grief counselor, there to help my wife work with me on dealing with what’s going on, and to help me understand and accept what’s coming. All I can fixate on now is that I won’t hear anymore stories. As much as my wife says we can remember them together, it’s just not the same. It doesn’t take away all the times I ‘checked out’ during her stories when there was an audience present to take my place. Dishes and laundry could’ve waited, but I refused to see that.
Now all I can do is hold her hand as she rests, with one foot in this world and one in the next. How long that will be is anyone’s guess. Could be days, weeks…who knows? A booklet I was given last night said that each person’s process of passing is as unique as they are. It’s not cookie cutter by any means. She could sleep comfortably from now until it’s time to go, or we could have more late night wrestling matches to come. Truthfully, she’s fuckin’ strong for a 97-year old lady!
Before work this morning, I had a little meltdown, declaring to my wife that I had nothing left. I was exhausted and sore from sleeping, if it even qualifies as sleep, on a bedroom floor, and burnt out from the past three weeks of hospice life. Still, I made it to drop my son off at school and then got myself to work after our friend arrived to handle the day’s duties so that we could handle ours, as has been the schedule. I keep thinking about how I insisted that I had nothing left. In reality, I have to find something left, because my family needs me to, and I very much owe it to them. More than anyone else, my grandmother needs me to find it. I just need to dig a little deeper. It’s there…somewhere.