“Death is nothing else but going home to God, the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity.” ~Mother Teresa
I took a lot of comfort in those words in the days right after my Nana died. They say you don’t know death until it touches someone you love. And in that moment, when my Nana passed away, I suddenly understood what that means. I’ve been thinking about her a lot today. I think it’s because I am wearing the sweater I was wearing that day- the day that changed everything forever- for the first time. It’s been just over 4 months and the grief comes over me in sporadic, sudden waves.
We knew it was coming. The weekend she died, Jon and I traveled back to Illinois to see her, not suspecting all that would transpire. I can never thank him enough for his strength, his understanding, his support and his gentle kindness. The night before we departed, he told me, “ it’s okay to be sad.” And I knew in that moment that he would be there to hold me up when I needed it, and boy did I need it. I felt safe and comforted knowing that he was going be there by my side as I faced this.
A few weeks before she died, she complained of chest pains and my Papa took her to the emergency room. For a week, doctors ran tests and pumped her full of medicine and then finally called my Mom and Dad and told them they needed to come home. Every day for the next two weeks, my mom drove from her parent’s house to the hospital to stay with her mother. Some days were better than others. Nana would rally, everyone would get their hopes up, and then she’d regress. It was an emotional rollercoaster, especially for my Mom.
A week before Nana passed away, my Dad called me and I could hear the worry in this voice. When I was younger, I was the emotional one in the family and everyone tried to protect me by keeping painful realities from me. I could tell he was doing that to me now, so a couple of days later, Jon called to find out what was really going on. When I arrived home from work that day, he sat me down and told me the truth: that my Nana’s pulmonary fibrosis had progressed, that there was neither treatment nor cure for it, and that she was dying. He said he wanted to prepare me for what we would encounter when we traveled there the following weekend. As he talked, I was calm. Death is a part of life, after all, right? We all have to experience loss of this magnitude. Eventually, everyone we know and love dies. I was fine. I could wrap my head around it. I was prepared to face reality.
The reality is I wasn’t grasping reality. I wasn’t thinking that my Nana was really going to die. I could say it over and over again, but my brain would not allow it to sink in. She was going to be fine.
And so it went- my husband and I packed up a weekend’s worth of clothes, made arrangements for the dogs and headed out. We arrived at the hospital around noon. When we rounded the corner on my Nana’s floor, we saw my Mom, standing there, looking out the windows. She heard us and turned with tears streaming down her face. I ran to her and flung my arms around her. The “death-is-a-part-of-life” fortress I had built around myself was obliterated. It was the first time it dawned on me that Nana might die, but I let it in for only a second. We listened as my Mom talked about the conversation the doctor just had with Nana about “do not resuscitate.” It was agony watching her in so much pain. And before we entered the room, she warned us that she didn’t look well.
I thought I had prepared myself. I felt the wall go up inside my head, but when we entered the hospital room, I was unable to control the tears. They sprang forth in unstoppable rivers as I sat next to my Nana to hold her hand. She had a breathing mask on and was slouched over in a chair. She looked so small. Certainly, this could not be my Nana… the Nana who held us when we were little, who scolded us when we were bad, who spoiled us rotten, who always had an opinion and always knew what to do…She smiled when we entered and tried her best to talk to us, though the mask made it difficult. As the day progressed, I started to feel better; I started to feel hopeful that she’d bounce back again and get to go home. We stayed with her until it was well after dark.
The next morning, I woke up calm. Again, the thought that my Nana may die was the furthest thing from my mind. I took my time getting ready (I didn’t sense any urgency), much to my mother’s chagrin, and around 10am we started the drive to the hospital. Halfway there my Mom received a call from the nurse on her cell phone. They couldn’t get my Nana’s oxygen levels up and the doctor wanted to have a family conference at noon. Without warning, my emotions surfaced again. The last half of that drive seemed to take an eternity.
We had a family meeting with the doctor when we arrived and he delivered the bad news. This was the end. All they could do was make her comfortable. Even then, I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen, nor for how quickly it would transpire. But, for possibly the first time in my life, I had one of those moments when you somehow find the strength and the clarity to say exactly what you want to say exactly when you mean to say it. I rushed to my Nana’s side, grabbed her hand and told her how much she had meant to me my entire life. She squeezed my hand, and through her breathing mask said, “I am thinking about all of the good times. I love you so much.” It wasn’t long after that that she slid into a coma and a few hours later, with all us gathered around her, she went home to meet her Jesus. I take great solace in the fact that she was ready to go and that she was at peace.
I miss her dearly.
*Photo above: That’s me, sitting on my great grandmother’s lap, with my mom (right) and Nana (standing, center)