Friday, February 8, 2008

Last rights

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.


gary said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

nutmeg said...

Hi Kris - I don't know where to begin really (I've had three tries already). Firstly, I am sorry to read of the passing of your grandma. Difficult times - but try not to be so hard on yourself - it is the stuff of motherhood to be caught between the competing interests of many things/people. Looking both ways, up and down the ages - toward your grandma and parents then toward your partner and children. It sounds like you loved your grandma very much.

Sorry, it's taken me a while to visit - it seems my tentative re-entry into blogland was ill-timed. Well, I hope I am entering a period of some routine - which should help many aspects of my life.

As to your post about lonliness - I have to say I feel lonely sometimes and I live in Australia's largest city with a small and very dear number of friends nearby. A lot of people tend to be what others would call friends but I call acquaintances. I am MOST myself with my friends and a version of me with everyone else. I am not good at small talk - it bores and can infuriate me! So I hear what you are saying - keep blogging 'cause I hear ya :-)

kate said...

Take care of yourselves this week (well, always, but be extra kind to yourself this week) death and grieving are hard work.

I was in a hot air balloon, with my Dad and a bunch of others, when my sister died at home with Mum. She had a bugger of a time explaining to the doctor who came to do the death certificate that my sister had wanted us to go. It's still hard though, and I cry every time the bloody balloons fly over our house. But I smile too, because she was that sort of sister.

blue milk said...

Oh this is pretty awful for you. There is no easy way to experience grief. You did some of the journey with her and someone else did another part of the journey with her and in the end the death is her own journey and what was more important is the life of hers you shared in. Grief brings up lots of unsettling feelings and guilt is one of them, recognise it for a part of the grief experience and be gentle to yourself.

Janet said...

I'm so sorry to read about the loss of your Grandmother, Kris.

Like others have said, try and be gentle with yourself. Grief is turbulent enough as it is.

My thoughts are with you and your family.

blackbird said...

I'm sorry for your loss -
and I hope you aren't too hard on yourself, decisions like those are very difficult under the best of circumstances.

Kez said...

Oh Kris,

I'm so sad for you. I want to say something profound about not being hard on yourself but I don't have the words. Be kind to yourself, you made the best decision you could for the rest of your family..


meggie said...

So sorry for your loss, Kris. Your Grammy knows you loved her. She also knew you had your little family to care for.
She will rest in the peace of your love.
Hugs xx

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

Dear Kris,

My husband of 35 years died in hospice, late last September, and I know that grief is often accompanied by guilt and feelings of "if only". Weeks after he died I was still trying to read things that would have cured him. I don't know what resources there are for grief counselling where you live (I am in Ohio in the US and found your blog through Down---To---Earth) but try to find a group you can meet with. It will help. And realize that what you are feeling is not uncommon. Grief is work and you just have to work through it.....Be sure your grandmother does not blame you for anything. And you cannot go back and change anything either.

I am surprised that you say she was fighting death and they insisted on withholding hydration. I have lived through two deaths now where this was done, but both people were in a coma at the time and there was no hope. I think you should talk with a grief counsellor or join a group to help you. I know your grandmother, who loved you so very much, would want you to have all the help you need.

zose said...

the last time i saw my grandma she had just recovered from ovarian cancer, two rounds with pnuemonia and a mastectomy.
We drove all night with a toddler to get to the hospital. I spent a while with grandma and combed her hair and stopped my willow from pulling at catheter bags.

As we left there was a silence and a deep breath and sigh. "what?" asked garth.
"I'm never going to see her again." and i was right, 2 months later she died of heart failure in the middle of the night in her own house.

Don't feel bad. Young people are busy, older (and wiser) people are
often quite happy with what they get, as long as what they get is quality. I used to apologise profusely to my gran for not getting to her far away house more often.
She said it didn't bother her so much, talking on the phone was great and me asking questions about her life was the best thing.

You did what you had to do, as a mother, daughter and grandchild. And you have absorbed her essence and pass it on to your own.

280main said...

Oh, Kris, I'm so sad for you. I think you had a lot of people around the world shedding a tear with you and for you while they read this.

In reading your description of Gram, who loved and adored you like she did, I can't help but think when you left because you could best care for Lucy if you did, you were doing what she would want you to do.