If you have been reading my blog for a while, you might remember that a year ago last February, I flew out of state to attend my grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration. It’s a BIG deal to turn 90, and though she tried to convince her family that she didn’t want the attention, she really enjoyed seeing people come out to show her how much she was loved (lots and lots of people came).
I drove my kids out to Utah last summer because they hadn’t been in several years, and I wanted them to have a feel for what my childhood summers consisted of. My grandma lives on 5 acres with a red barn, and since I can remember, has had horses roaming the field–most recently, my uncles’ horses.I remember finding gum in the drawer of the RV in the barn, being taunted by my cousins to touch the electric animal fence, wading through the flooded backyard due to irrigating, ping pong in the basement, picking fresh raspberries, and swinging from the tire swing in her yard.
Since my kids are such city kids, it was fun to share with them a little bit of country that I call my roots. My uncle is a cowboy–ropes in rodeo’s and such. They got to hug my grandma–their great grandma–and wander her home and slide down her laundry shoot to the basement.
Just two months ago around Thanksgiving, my dad told me that my grandma fell and broke her pelvis. I suddenly felt an instant urging to go visit her. When my medically trained husband informed me that when elderly break their hips, heart failure generally occurs, and they often go downhill from there.
I felt several urgings to book a ticket from Texas to Utah to visit my grandma. She went into the hospital a few different times, and with the holidays, a date just never seemed to work to fly out. I had faith she’d still be fine to visit after the holidays. I talked to her on the phone about once a week, and she’d say, “Krissy, how are those cute kids of yours?” She’d get short of breath after a minute or two and we’d say goodbye. When I realized my parents were going out for a visit, I thought I’d tag along for just 2 days, so that I didn’t have to rely on others to get me around town. A week and a half ago, I found an amazing deal ($250) to fly out for just 2 days. I booked it right way, then shortly thereafter realized I booked it for the weekend AFTER my parents were going to be there.
Ugh, what to do? I could go later in February, her health had stabled out. She was doing well, and I felt anxiety about my uncle, cousin, whomever to pick me up at the airport and tote me around. Maybe I wanted the crutch of my parents being there, too. Who knows. My sweet husband urged me to just go, because I’d never find a perfect time to go.
I flew into Salt Lake City last Sunday, the 20th of January, and got to my grandma’s assisted living facility around 7pm. I’d heard from my dad, uncle, cousin, that she was so excited that I was coming to visit. I entered her cute little room (smaller than my dorm room) to see her watching TV in her recliner, and it made me happy. She carefully stood up, and we gave each other a big hug. Still short of breath, and with the oxygen tube in her nose that I’d become accustomed to the past few years, she said she wanted to show me the fireplace out in the common area, to keep me warm, she was worried about my Texas blood.
We walked out to the fireplace, and she wanted to sit on the stone hearth to get extra warm, and I cozied up next to her on the couch, holding her hand (though mine were cold) as we talked. Grams introduced me to the elderly friends she’d made in the past few weeks (until Thanksgiving, she was living unassisted at her home of 50 years), told me about the staff, and asked me about my kids. She said she wanted to see a picture of the front of my house because she’d never been to this one. I searched through my phone and couldn’t find one, but I showed her pictures on there of my kids at Christmas, Halloween, and other random pics. We even rang up my fam in Texas and had a little Facetime session with them. She mostly just watched at the craziness that is my home life unfolded, but the kids were excited to show off for her. “Krissy, they have a lot of energy, don’t they?” she mentioned.
While we sat out by the fireplace, a nurse came to check her oxygen levels on her finger with a little clippy device. She mentioned it was low, but no one seemed to be overly concerned. My uncle put her oxygen tank on continual flow (it normal puffs every 10 seconds), and they figured they should get her to bed. He and I were coming early the next morning to take her for a doctor’s visit. We hugged as we parted at about 8:30 with plans to see her bright and early.
I slept well in the warm bed at my Aunt and Uncle’s home amidst below freezing temperature’s outside. I set my alarm for 7:30am, and at 7:15, my uncle opens the door, and as I sat up all confused, he told me Grams had passed away. “Are you serious?” very disoriented from the abrupt awakening, “I wouldn’t joke about something like this” he said in his standard Uncle Mean country lilt. I said I’d be ready in 2 minutes.
Still dark outside, he and I drove the 5 miles from his home to her care facility. My aunt wasn’t ready yet, and he didn’t want to wait for her. He’s lived down the road from his mother his entire adult life, and in the past years, has cared for her daily. My uncle is a tough cowboy, but he and I–we get each other. I’ve always called him Uncle Mean because as kid, I thought he was MEAN! As an adult, I see how much his outer gruffness has softened, and no better example than on this morning as we drove to see for our own eyes that she really had passed away. Through tears, I told Uncle Mean how wonderful he had been to take care of her, and to be her steady rock through all of this. He pushed it away as something that was no big deal. We shed some tears, and we laughed a little telling stories as we slid on the icy roads to Grams most recent home.
As we walked up, we met up with my dad’s sister and her husband (grandma had 3 kids). At that moment, I felt happy that I could represent my dad a little. He spent the previous week at her side, her near constant companion, but went back home a few days before.We were the family that lived far away, my other cousins grew up knowing Grams well. I never knew her like they did.
We stepped into her room, and it all became a reality. She was peacefully resting. It was only then that the staff informed us that someone heard Grams stirring at 5:30am, getting ready for the day since she was up and couldn’t sleep. They asked if she needed help, and she assured them that she was fine. Then checked again at 6am, and she had passed. The timing was shocking to us all, but also a blessing. Her body was failing her, and decisions had to be made that no one wanted to make (in the weeks before). She worried about a slow and painful death, and she was blessed that it was quick. She spoke with or saw everyone she loved in the days/weeks before, and I do believe….that she waited for me.