My grandmother died on Wednesday evening while I sat in Brisbane airport waiting for a plane home that was delayed two hours, watching Lucy tear about being a horse. I had gone to Brisbane on the Monday evening to say goodbye and I guess I didn't really think what goodbye would mean. I thought there would probably be chances but it turns out that when I kissed her in the afternoon before catching the train in a storm, I was kissing her a final time.
Grammy started fading two weeks ago, pulled down by unspecified causes. The doctors had a range of theories but Gram was 95 and sad - isn't that enough to make the body wind down? The interventions were becoming increasingly intrusive and nothing was working and so Mum - but really, the whole family - decided to end all treatment. The nurses spoke to us of dignity, of not letting Gram linger; the doctors - all aged about 15 and dressed in very natty shirts and ties - talked about the failure of anti-biotics, the lack of further treatment options - but no-one really told us what ending treatment means. No drugs and also no food, no hydration - only pain relief. I don't think that it was a wrong decision but it's not a dignified death, begging for water without being able to speak because your dentures won't fit, not able to move even your arm or your head, hoping someone will divine your needs and say 'yes' rather than 'no'. Lingering is relative - I don't know how the minutes and hours and then days passed for Grammy, but for us, a day waiting for an end that the nurses said would occur twelve hours before is a really long time; a night keeping vigil over a woman balking at death, frightened and thirsty and wanting to go home is a dreadful, dragging time.
I wanted to stay until the end but in the end we thought it best if I went. I had Lucy and she was getting restive; the logistics of dealing with a three year old don't match well with the needs of a family waiting in a hospital room. Nell was in Launceston with Al, missing me. I had a plane ticket which couldn't be changed to an open flight date. I knew Gram would die quickly if I left and I knew that if I'd stayed she'd linger for two weeks and my own little family would be in turmoil. I was second guessing things that can't be controlled and in the end Dad said, just go, just stick with the original plan. And so Gram died while I waited at the airport in a storm, and I'm back on the plane tonight, this time with Al and both girls, with black clothes in our bag.
Our decision about ending Grammy's treatment was the best we could make and my choice to go home seemed the best in bad circumstances. But my, I feel bad. I said it didn't matter if I was there or not, as long as someone was (and at the end, it was my Dad, Gram's most loved and trusted son-in-law). But leaving seemed a poor repayment for 35 years of receiving nothing but adoration. No matter what I did or where I went, I knew there was an old woman who was boasting about me, swelling with pride over everything I did, loaning and giving me money, buying me pretty things, cooking me treats, telling me stories and singing me the songs that I now sing my girls as we walk through the neighbourhood. Grammy always did the right and generous thing by me and I worry that at the end I didn't do the right thing by her - I went, I didn't stay.