August 11, 2010, was a Wednesday.
I know that. I will always know that. And I will remember that everything started the Friday before, when I received a phone call from my grandmother’s “friend,” Bernie. It was simple, short, and changed my life forever. “Call the ambulance. Your grandma needs one.” Click.
It wasn’t the first time I’d received a phone call like that. Bernie would frequently call me when something was up with Grandma. Usually it was nothing serious, but this time was different. I live 15 minutes from town, so I called my mom and asked if she could drive over right away and check things out. She called me back shortly after, telling me that Grandma was on the floor, alive, but not responding. The ambulance was on its way.
I packed up the kids, made arrangements for their care, and left for town. My sister was on her way back to Fargo, so I called her to let her know that she needed to meet us in Oakes. When I got there, they told us the news. Grandma had had a stroke…a bad one. The damage was mainly to her right side of her body, but they didn’t think it was something she would survive. She could have a few minutes, or a few days. Had she been younger than her 89 years and 11 months, they could try some different things, but Grandma had made her wishes well known for years now. There was to be no heroic efforts to extend her life. But she was awake, and could communicate.
Grandma and I always had a special bond. When my Grandpa passed away, I lived with her for a little over a year. We would spend all hours laughing and reminiscing and looking at pictures. We would play card games and bingo and drink coffee. We would go shopping and talk about what we would do if we won the big lottery. In the last few years, I would buy her lunch, her new clothes, her groceries when needed, and she would always ask, “What do I owe you?” My answer was usually, “$700.” She would laugh, and I would tell her, “Well, you’re not going to pay me anyway, so I might as well make myself feel rich for a minute!”
She had impeccable taste. She never went out without looking her best. Her earrings matched her outfit, which matched her shoes, which matched her purse. She wore stylish things, not what she called, “old lady wear.” For her 80th birthday, she asked for a pair of leather pants. I obliged. Although it wasn’t easy finding leather pants and vest to fit an 80-year-old. She wore them with pride.
Just about every morning I would call Grandma and talk about the day’s activities, or whatever may be. She was my sounding board, my confidant, and in many ways, my best friend. Her memory had been slipping these last few years. And I teased her that I didn’t mind one bit, because then I knew my secrets were safe.
And here I was, forced to say goodbye. I wasn’t ready. Even though she was 89-years-old. I wasn’t ready. But I tried to pretend it was OK. I spent time with her, just holding her hand. Telling her that I loved her. She slipped into a coma that night. We had to make a decision not to extend extreme life saving measures. We had to prepare to let her go.
On Monday evening, I went to the hospital with my older brother. To our surprise, Grandma was more alert and responsive than she had been since being brought in to the hospital. When we were getting ready to leave, I thought for sure that she was making a rally. Perhaps she was going to be OK after all. I gave her a kiss and asked if I would see her the next day…she shook her head no.
And that’s when I knew. I had been given a gift. A gift of one last moment.
Grandma slipped back into a coma, and passed away Wednesday morning.
August 11, 2010.