Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Grandma's Joy Surprised And Blessed Me

 In 1977 I was married, working, and a college student when I got the call that my grandma was sick. My sister said it was congestive heart failure and not to worry. The next day, my sister called again to say that the doctor couldn’t drain my grandma’s lungs but not to worry. The next day, my sister called a third time and said, "Grandma has cancer." I hung up the phone, knowing that word filled my grandma with dread. I immediately made airline reservations, and the next day I flew to Southern California. A friend picked me up and took me to the hospital, where I met my aunt. My aunt was her usual stoic self, and I could see no visible emotion emanating from her. She simply told me that, as the eldest grandchild, I was in charge now. I stammered, “But, I'm only twenty-five years old! You’re her daughter, why aren't you making the decisions?” But my aunt turned and walked away.
Wow, what now? I went to grandma’s hospital room and found my sister and toddler nephew. Grandma was delighted to see me but knew, if I was there, something serious must be the matter. I deflected her questions and went into my granddaughter mode and made her laugh. When she fell asleep, I went shopping and bought her some cute nightgowns to wear, knowing she really couldn’t wear them because of all the tubes protruding from her. Nevertheless, when I returned to the hospital, grandma opened the gift bags and exclaimed with delight and laughter at the fancy nightgowns.
That night, after visiting hours, I stayed with my "mom", but the next day, I sadly had to leave her home and stay with my sister. The day was spent in the hospital with grandma. In the evening, the doctor finally arrived and asked to speak to me. He told me straight out that grandma had terminal cancer that had metastasized, and she probably had only six weeks to live. The doctor asked if I wanted him to tell my grandma the news or if I want to tell her. I figured that it was better coming from me, and he was pleased with that response.
My sister and her husband went to talk with the doctor when I entered grandma’s room, so grandma and I were alone. Grandma asked me what was wrong with her. I just could not tell her that she had cancer and was going to die, so I took a deep breath and asked, “Grandma, are you ready to meet Jesus?” I was surprised by her reaction. The smile on her face was like an angel’s. “Really? Yes, and I’ll get to see Ted again too! How soon? Now?” she asked eagerly. Ted was her beloved husband, my grandpa, who had died eighteen years before. “No, not now, grandma, but soon. I’ll be back to visit you over Easter break, but it won't be too long after that.” The only time I’ve ever seen an expression so gloriously joyful as my grandma’s at that moment is when a mother holds her newborn baby.
Then I asked my grandma if she wanted to pray, and she said yes, so we did. Then my sister, her husband, and toddler son came back into the room. We said our good-byes, kissed good-night, and said “I love you” to each other. Grandma continued to beam with an inner light. What a blessing to behold such pure joy.
It was about ten or so at night when we left the hospital. My sister, her family, and I went to a late dinner at a coffee shop. We talked awhile and then went home to bed. At three in the morning, we were awakened by the ringing phone. My grandma had died less than five hours after we left her room. It seems that grandma was just too impatient to wait six more weeks to be re-united with her beloved husband and to meet Jesus.
Now that I'm over sixty years old, I marvel even more at my grandma's reaction to her impending death. I don't think I'll be that joyful when my time comes because I will be SO sad to leave my children. I'm eager to see God and get some answers to my lifelong questions, but unlike my grandma, I think I'll put that day off as long as I can. 

Take care,

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  1. Hi Kate, Congratulations on joining the exclusive club of published authors. I just indulged in my addiction at Amazon and ordered Dueling with Dementia (gave me an excuse to get LOA's collection of London's social writings as well). And congratulations for making the transition from biblioholic to published writer with health and sanity intact.

    Am very interested in reading about your emotions and coping strategies. I too (as your daughter may have told you) went through caregiving for 3 years (not long compared to 15+ years) "dueling" with my Dad's dementia. Your daughter saved my heine through that process... as you know, her strength and "groundedness" can be contagious.

    There seem to be no answers, no FAQs, to the really huge questions. Perhaps you, like I did, despair at the hopelessly irrelevant advice, horribly simplistic stereotypes, and frustrating silence of doctors (I came within a hair's width of slugging a doctor who shrugged his shoulders at my questions and then patted me on the shoulder and condescendingly urged me to "hang in there").

    I too had a mother who was suicidal (it was a close call) and, being an only "latchkey" child, I also fell in love with every book I could get my hands on. Comes with the territory perhaps. (ya got me beat... I have only 13 bookcases) But I was not prepared for my mom's death at the same time as discovering my dad was well past mid-stage Alzheimers. I know that look when they don't know who you are. Late night reading was crucial to staying sane because he would often get violent at seeing me read. As a child, reading somehow threatened my parents. Thus my nickname "Smart Ass."

    What I didn't expect was what would happen to me one year later after his death (last month). It was not a "Year of Magical Living" anniversary. It was a very emotional outrage at what a soul-less health industry factory dementia patients face that strips them of any dignity. But all that passed. It had to. I get very grumpy if I haven't had my daily deep text fix.

    Just know IMHO that the end does come eventually and the years of struggle eventually become a blur compared to the "Good Times." Take as much time away as you can, given that your kids would walk through hoops of fire for you. You're blessed with a daughter who adores you. Kate, she's grown into such a beautiful, brilliant woman who has the keen mental acuity, unstoppable work ethic and remarkable people skills to turn any vision into a reality. And you have your boys.

    Not to break into "Climb Every Mountain," but were it not for adversity, would we truly stretch further? I realize, that your story plots as a tragedy, but it ends up as a story of strength that most Baby Boomers are only beginning to realize.

    Would you be already selling the movie rights to your book (JK) if not motivated by the challenges in your life? (Perhaps James Garner can play the patient this time... but keep Rachel McAdams!)

    Not many people make it through this. The jury is still out on whether I have. What does that say about how tough as nails you are.

    Cheers & looking forward to reading your debut novel, Kerry Swanson

    BTW, doesn't Amazon give you a link to your book?

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