Thursday, April 29, 2004

Two weeks went by again in a whirlwind. When I read my last post, it seems like it was a few months ago. We had a lot of ups and downs since then. I really appreciate all the kind thoughts sent our way and instead of writing this out in many separate e-mails, I'll just give a run down here. Grandma passed away Sunday morning, just a few days after the family decided, with the support of the wonderful woman from the hospice program, to let her go. It was a hard decision because she was still conscious and aware at that point and letting her go meant removing a feeding tube and stopping IV fluids. We'd also been given some new hope because they'd put her through a desensitivation process with penicillin because of her severe allergy. Penicillin was the only antibiotic capable of fighting the strep infection. Starting with small doses, they gave her increasing amounts over a half a day up to the full dose. It was amazing, and of course, we hoped she'd get better. She was getting weaker, though, and couldn't swallow even water and the thickened juice they give stroke victims at the end. She was looking at six weeks of antibiotic treatment with a twenty percent failure rate and all the time with the feeding tube. She let us know the day before our meeting with hospice that it was time, struggling against the effects of the strokes to say, "I want to go." After the meeting with the hospice nurse, while she was still receiving full treatment, Grandma lapsed into a coma. She must have felt she had our permission to go and stopped fighting. On Saturday, she came back to us and a large number of the family were able to spend some last time with her. The book we received from the hospice program said that it often happens that just before someone dies they have a period of lucidity.

I had time to do a lot of thinking. I sat with her Friday night and half of Saturday night alone. Friday was the first day she showed any signs of pain and although she was in a coma, she let me know when the morphine was starting to wear off. It was a rough night and yet, I feel privileged to have been able to be with her. I almost wrote "to share it with her" but really dying is something you do alone no matter how many people are around you and so much of it is internal for someone who knows they are dying. I don't know if it is the writer in me or just me, but the whole process was fascinating as well as horrible and exhausting. Where some people would be freaked out by the details of what happens to the body when someone is dying and the signs to watch for that signal the end, I was comforted when the hospice nurse showed them to me. I guess it made the whole thing seem less foreign and more a normal process of life. Her age and her own acceptance (she was deeply religious her whole life and believed that she would be joining my grandfather in heaven) helped, too, although we would have loved to have had her with us longer. Did I mention before that she was a welder building ships in Portland during WWII? She used to say that Rosie the Riveter was nothing compared to the welders who were the really tough ones. Although we don't have any pictures of her welding, I like to picture her that way, short but tough, maybe even scrappy.

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